“No storage limits, no downloads. Just bring your controller.”
That’s the promise of the sizzle reel for the Samsung Gaming Hub at its launch event in London on Monday, accompanied by action-packed footage from Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, Red Dead Redemption 2, Fortnite and more.
The Hub is an area on Samsung’s 2022 Smart TVs that gives users access to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, Nvidia’s GeForce Now, Google’s Stadia, Amazon’s Luna, and even PC subscription service Utomik, allowing them to stream games over the cloud.
In the communications surrounding it, there are references to unlocking gaming for those without a dedicated device – but what indication do these companies have that there is enough demand for such a service? Both Microsoft and Sony have repeatedly said that the demand for their latest consoles is greater than any previous generation, so those who would enjoy the titles on display certainly already own such a device (if not PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S , then probably one of their ancestors)?
“For our part, we know that there are three billion gamers worldwide, and we know that we are talking to the vast majority of those customers today,” said Pav Bhardwaj, senior global product manager at Xbox Game Pass. GamesIndustry.biz†
“For us, cloud gaming makes our product and service accessible to customers around the world in different markets. There are several reasons why people don’t buy dedicated hardware: affordability, accessibility, maybe they are expired gamers or already have devices for other platforms. We really think it’s about accessibility and choice.”
Gus Grimaldi, Samsung Electronic’s head of product for Europe, added: “People who already know all these AAA games probably already have their console or PC set up. [We want to] open the ecosystem so you can play these games and take the friction out so you can try the best games out there or maybe games for your kids or any other demographic in your home. You can all try and try it out. It’s about giving people the choice — not everyone is a professional gamer.”
That’s right, but billions of non-professional gamers with some inclination towards gaming almost certainly own a smartphone or tablet. These devices have become ubiquitous in most markets and already offer a wide variety of gaming experiences, from casual titles like Candy Crush Saga to AAA equivalents like Apex Legends, Call of Duty Mobile and Genshin Impact (and, prior to Epic’s legal crusade , Fortnite). Plus, these are all available for free — no subscription required, unlike the services found on the Samsung Gaming Hub.
Bhardwaj notes that Xbox Cloud Gaming is also already available on phones via the Game Pass app, as well as web browsers for low-end PCs and iOS.
“For us, this is just an extension and evolution of all the different places you can play,” he says.
Grimaldi points out the main difference between mobile devices and smart TVs: “It’s not like playing a game on a phone or tablet compared to a full-size screen. This experience is so much more fun, so much better. providing that to Samsung customers without the friction of being an expert at getting the games, it’s great for us.”
“It’s not that one is detrimental to the other, this is more of a rising tide, and it’s a really good place to offer all these different opportunities”
Pav Bhardwaj, Xbox
As mentioned, the Samsung Gaming Hub includes a variety of streaming services, although the partnership with Xbox certainly dominates the marketing. Sony’s own service, PlayStation Now, is missing; when asked if this could be added at a later date, Grimaldi was unable to comment, adding that Samsung “always has an open ecosystem”.
It’s worth remembering that Sony has actually already tried this. In 2014, the platform owner brought its PlayStation Now service — built on the foundations of Gaikai, who bought it for $380 million just two years earlier — to its own line of Bravia TVs. A year later, this was extended to Samsung TVs as well, but in early 2017 the service was taken off all but PlayStation 4 and PC.
Since the idea of bringing high-end games to the public without a console is nothing new, what’s different this time around? Bhardwaj highlights the hard work that both Microsoft and Samsung have put in to “meet the quality standard expected by today’s gamers”; 1080p, 60 frames per second, the lowest latency — the usual.
“We had to get the service to that level before we were comfortable delivering it back to customers and new gamers,” he says. “We had to make sure it was an experience they would want to continue to do, and that’s where we feel we are now.
“We also wanted to make sure that the cloud gaming experience is ubiquitous on our other devices. We didn’t want this substandard service — if you want to keep this promise, you need to be able to deliver Halo, Forza, all those other things great games, with really great quality with low latency. You should do that, we weren’t going to do anything else.”
He continues: “Compared to eight years ago, so much has changed in terms of bandwidth, technology… but at the same time people’s expectations have increased. The point where we can deliver cloud gaming services through Smart TVs in the same way as Disney+ whether Netflix is delivered, at that level [of quality] — and you don’t need a console. That’s the magic of the experience.”
Again, there is the reference to no longer needing special hardware. As evidenced by the media streaming services Bhardwaj mentions, other forms of entertainment have long since ceased to require dedicated hardware: movies and TV shows can be experienced in exactly the same way, be it via mobile, tablet, set-top box, smart TV or internet browser. It was much harder to disconnect video games from their traditional devices.
Executives, developers and industry experts have been predicting a world without consoles for years — at least a decade, in fact. Google’s gambit for Stadia was that next-generation gaming wasn’t limited to a box. Still, consoles persist and, as mentioned earlier, demand for Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 suggests they’re not going anywhere for now. Will the rise of cloud gaming services fuel the fires behind these age-old prophecies and revive the idea of a console-less future?
“Some people will always enjoy playing on consoles, having a console in their living room to download and have that experience,” Bhardwaj acknowledges. “I love consoles — this is just another route, another option to open up gaming to other people. It’s not that one is a disadvantage for the other, this is more of a rising tide, and the is a really good place to be in to provide all of these different capabilities. There’s still a PC out there, and new form factors will come out in the future.
“Consoles are loved and cloud gaming is just a great alternative.”
While streaming has irreversibly disrupted the other entertainment sectors, games will likely always remain an outlier. The mainstream public is concerned with the products of this industry to those of other media; a Netflix subscriber is likely to watch dozens and dozens of movies and TV shows over the course of a year, while regular gamers — and even much of the core audience — will only be on a handful (especially if they prefer hugely popular multiplayer games like Fortnite, FIFA or Call of Duty).
†[We want to] opening up the ecosystem, removing the friction… It’s about giving people the choice — not everyone is a professional gamer”
Gus Grimaldi, Samsung
It is an additional challenge for any company that has a subscription-based service that is focused on providing a huge and continuously expanding library of games. But, as you might expect, given the extent to which Microsoft has shifted its gaming business to this model, Bhardwaj is optimistic.
“If you factor in buying two or three games a year, I think there’s an equivalent in annual subscription costs,” he says.
“There’s also an element of being introduced to genres of games that you would never have played before, because you would never have bought them. If you have a catalog of hundreds, you’re constantly exposed to new types of games, and there’s a community element and where your friends play certain types of games that you may not have played.”
Grimaldi added: “It’s about the search and discovery experience. The Gaming Hub gives you the ability to watch all kinds of games, no matter what you want to play… we can take that all the way to the top so people play games , discover new games, without having to understand the entire gaming ecosystem. The Gaming Hub brings together everything related to gaming to aid discovery and search, similar to what we do with the ‘media’ portion of our TVs, bringing all apps like Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon Prime video together.”
He adds, “It’s only natural that we’re going to bring all these experiences you already have with the media services to gaming.”
As for the idea of discoverability, and going back to the very nature of cloud gaming itself, there’s one last factor to its advantage – and it harks back to Bhardwaj’s comments about cloud and console being complementary. While the latter offers the superior experience in terms of stability and crystal clear graphics, the former is much more accessible.
Downloading a game for console or PC, even one that you have access to through a subscription at no extra cost, takes time. No doubt many Game Pass users have waited hours for a title to install, only to play for less than an hour, decide it’s not for them and then uninstall it (whether subscriptions make games seem more “disposable” , is one for another time). While cloud gaming allows you to taste a title in minutes; Since the feature launched on Xbox, I’ve definitely used it to gauge whether a game is worth downloading.
With little to no game rentals (what are you for, Blockbuster?) and very few major new titles shipping demos ahead of launch, could cloud gaming become an important tool to explore? Bhardwaj thinks so.
“I’m the kind of person who will find they have half an hour before they go out and want to play a game,” he says. “Should I sit around and wait for something to download, or do I jump into the cloud feature? It was great to jump in and play a brand new game that’s launched, and I can try it out and if I like it, can i i will download it while i go out.
“It’s another layer of accessibility in gaming in how quickly you can jump in and play it.”