PC Game Streaming Is Going to Be Huge

Millions of PC gamers won't need another console.

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As Sony and Microsoft prepare to launch their next big game consoles, there’s something far more exciting on the horizon.

It’s the idea that if you already own a powerful gaming PC, you might not need a dedicated game console at all. Valve and Nvidia are both working on ways to deliver high-end gaming to any television, and to other screens around the house. Your gaming rig would handle all the intensive computing, then it would stream the video and audio to a less powerful device over your wireless router.

Valve now says it will begin beta testing in-home streaming through its Steam service later this year. And judging from the language of Valve’s call for participants (“stream games from one computer to another”), you won’t even need SteamOS or a Steam Machine to take advantage. A powerful desktop PC and a cheap laptop, with Steam software installed on both, could be enough. Dedicated streaming boxes will likely follow, piping your PC games library into the living room for cheap.

madcatzmojo

Mad Catz

Nvidia, meanwhile, has been experimenting with the same idea, using its Shield gaming handheld. Shield can connect to desktop PCs with supported Nvidia graphics cards, and stream games over a local network. Nvidia has dubbed this feature “GameStream,” and recently moved it out of beta.

Shield is more of a tech demo for Nvidia processors than a mainstream product, so I’ve wondered if GameStream might land on more devices with Nvidia’s Tegra 4 processor inside. On Sunday, Engadget reported that Mad Catz is in talks with Nvidia to enable GameStream on Mad Catz’s MOJO game console. For an Android-based game console, M.O.J.O. is pricey at $250, but PC game streaming could be a killer feature.

Inevitably, when talk of PC game streaming comes up, some people wonder what the point is. (See the comments section of this Polygon story on Steam in-home streaming as an example.) I think the promise of this technology is clear:

  • You only have to buy good enough gaming hardware for a single PC. Other laptops and set-top boxes can stay cheap and low-powered.
  • The powerful PC rig can stay in a separate room, eliminating the need for a huge, noisy box in your entertainment center.
  • No need to have a separate game library on a dedicated console, or to worry about backwards compatibility. The games you buy for PC become universal and not tied to a particular generation of hardware.

I don’t want to neglect what Sony and Nintendo are doing with the PlayStation 4 and Wii U, respectively. Sony has already announced that users can stream PS4 games to a PlayStation Vita handheld over a local network, and the Wii U’s GamePad allows users to play certain games on the smaller screen while the television is being used for other things.

But Sony’s and Nintendo’s approaches share an inherent drawback: Neither console is designed around downloadable games like the PC is. The PS4 is more download-friendly than the Wii U, with 500 GB of storage and all new games being available as downloads from day one. But that storage space will run out quickly, and console gamers may still be conditioned to favor physical media (hence the brouhaha over Microsoft’s original disc-slaying plans for the Xbox One). If you have to pop the disc in to play the game, it takes away the effortlessness of in-home streaming.

nvidiashield

Jared Newman / TIME.com

That’s not to say there are no drawbacks or potential roadblocks on the PC side. So far we haven’t actually seen Valve’s implementation, and there are no details on system requirements. As for Nvidia, some reviews of Shield say that streaming can be occasionally glitchy, though its latency doesn’t seem to be an issue.

But over time, those technical hurdles should shrink on their own. The type of Nvidia graphics cards required for GameStream will become more affordable, and dual-band wireless routers that allow for fast, uninterrupted streaming will become the norm. Eventually, in-home streaming could even be enabled on phones and tablets, allowing users to connect a game controller for a console-like experience.

At the same time, Steam now has more than 65 million active users. I’m wagering that a good percentage of those users would use in-home streaming if the barriers to entry become low enough, and the benefits are clearly explained. Traditional game consoles will stick around, but in-home streaming will allow PC gaming to invade the living room in ways that weren’t possible before.

8 comments
LeroyGreen
LeroyGreen

Look a step further when broadband speeds are faster and more available (google fiber comes to mind).  Then you don't need a PC at all and services such as OnLive can flourish.


But for now, I'll be happy with in-home game streaming.

FabrizioSilveri
FabrizioSilveri

I totally agree with this article.
Gaming consoles are becoming less powerful (compared to a high end PC) and more complicated (the mandatory installation for some ps3 games was a serious drawback, to me), and thanks to Steam the PC gaming has never been so cheap.
If you already have a mid-range PC you can keep it up to date with less than 200$ (you won't have the best on the market, but you'll still have better performance than in a console), and you'll usually save 20 to 40$ by buying a game on Steam (on release day, probably more with the sales).... so if you're a hardcore gamer, a PC could much cheaper!
The problem now is only that, unfortunately, not all games are sold on PC!
For example the games I can't live without are the ones from Nintendo and Quantic Dream.... so how can I live without a console?

IntangibleGuy
IntangibleGuy

Hardcore gamers prefer keyboard and mouse which are not available in the living room.

All others probably won't opt for a +1000 $ PC just to get the same experience as when going for a $500 gamine console. The trippy Shield device comes close in price to a full blown gaming console. So on top of a choicest gaming PC I'm required to purchase the Shield console which tallies up to a considerable sum.

Let alone this mumbo-jumbo only works with high-end NVidia graphics cards leaving AMD users in the lurch.

Another half-cooked idea destined too die.

supamonkey77
supamonkey77

Well you forgot about me, the cheap consumer. I PC love gaming but really can't justify a top of the line $1500 gaming desktop with grad school and other expenses. I can however afford to buy a brand new PS3(4) 2-4 years after its released for half the original price and buy used games off e-bay.

khamal2009
khamal2009

download dolphin it emulates wii games on your computer and if you get an adapter you can use gamecube controllers on it 


therealduncan.woodward
therealduncan.woodward

@IntangibleGuy  Whether or not it will die is yet to be seen, but I'd like to point out a couple of things you said that I disagree with.


You state that hardcore gamers prefer keyboard and mouse, and while yes, KB/M offers a greater level of precision, when playing console ports, or racing games, or flight sims (when I don't want to dig out my HOTAS) I tend to use an XBOX 360 controller. 


My computer cost me $700 and it plays most games at 1080p on high settings with 40-60FPS. It is also more than capable of streaming to my Shield, which is does often. When I do the math (and I do love math) it comes out like this: Shield + Computer = $950. A console gamer still needs a computer, and remember the Shield is a mobile gaming device that can also be used as a console on your TV, so for someone else: Average Computer + XBOX/PS4 + DS/Vita = $1050-$1150. Yes it's considerable, but compared to alternative, it's cheaper. Then throw in the fact that I get my games for PC at a fraction of the cost a console player does (think 50-95% off) and after 10 games, the price comparison is now $1150 for my setup and $1500+ for a console players, and that's for only 10 games that are required to even make use of this system. Heck, that's leaving out the cost to rebuy games/buy games for your mobile system, whereas most of my android games are free, and PC games don't cost me twice! Arguing that a console is a cheaper solution is a fool's game, my friend.


If you refer to a GTX 650 (costs about $150, and is the minimum requirement for Gamestreaming) as "high-end" you've made it clear you aren't a PC gamer. 


I think this idea was well thought out, and shows that both NVIDIA, Valve, and Sony (3 massive names in the gaming industry) all agree that streaming video games is going to be a thing, and I have to say I agree.


Cheers!

Sythriox
Sythriox

@supamonkey77  as 320marc said, you can buy on PC for like 600 bucks, I know cause I did. I can play just about any game including Crysis 3. $1500 PC are when you get into triple monitors, SLI, and stuff that isn't necessary.

420marc
420marc

@supamonkey77 You can easily build a top end computer for $500-$600 dollars, i dunno where people pull such figures from with 1.5k for a high end pc, it's ridiculous.