Liam Hall (Senior Research Analyst)

At its core, cloud gaming allows you to run games on remote servers, while streaming them directly to your device – shifting all the heavy lifting of the processing power off your device and onto a company’s servers or “the cloud”. In theory, this means you don’t need to have the most up to date hardware to enjoy the latest and greatest games.

As long as you have a basic device (and a decent internet connection) you’re good to go.

There’s no doubt that lockdowns have directly increased the audience for gaming; people are social creatures and gaming offers a great way to interact with friends when you can’t meet with them in person. It also helps that there are some really great games available right now, but that’s another conversation…

More people than ever are playing games, as evidenced by the active concurrent user spikes in Steam data, but they are also linearly interacting with games more than ever. There were record levels of Twitch viewers, reaching 22.7 million peak daily active users while lockdowns were most widespread. Also, eSport viewership was introduced to a whole new audience who looked for competitive entertainment after traditional sports were forced to cancel.

Even I, who am active in gaming research and regularly play League of Legends, didn’t take the plunge to watch eSports until the premier league was suspended.

Cloud Gaming Steam
Source: Steam Database 2020

This increased gaming exposure has coincided with constrained consumer budgets. We have seen huge spikes in the consumption of fully-fledged gaming PCs, but COVID-19 and lockdowns have impacted consumers in different ways.

While a lot of people have been able to continue working from home, others who work in more impacted industries, such as hospitality and tourism, have been less lucky. Gamers that maintained their employment and perhaps forwent a summer holiday, had some extra cash for a gaming upgrade.

However, furlough schemes and layoffs have left others in a less financially comfortable position. In uncertain, unstable times, upgrading expensive PC gaming equipment isn’t something they can necessarily prioritise.

Enter Cloud Gaming

Shifting all the heavy lifting of games processing off the consumer’s device and onto the provider’s servers opens the doors to AAA gaming on non-gaming-dedicated hardware. This is particularly pertinent during lockdowns for some of the aforementioned people itching to play games but without the financial stability for a device upgrade, or multi-resident-single-device households that can unearth and dust off a 4+ year old PC to play games together.

The barrier of entry to this space was lowered even further by offerings from some of the major providers, such as Google Stadia, which was made free in April, with a two-month trial for Pro tier, while the capacity of NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW Founders was exhausted in Europe during the March and April spikes.

Double-edged Sword

Cloud gaming has benefited from lockdowns providing an opportunity to demonstrate its key value proposition, with many consumers testing the waters for the first time. A growing installed base is definitely beneficial, but first impressions are pivotal in attracting and retaining these users.

For an adequate performance, cloud gaming requires both a fast and stable internet connection and proximity to game servers. The current generation of streaming services require between 10Mbps to 35Mbps. With a reasonable broadband package, most urban households in the UK can achieve these requirements. However, under normal circumstances, there will be a bit more congestion around peak time, typically between 8pm and 10pm, when people come home and relax with TV streams or video games.

Under lockdowns these peak hours have been extended considerably. Widespread unemployment and furlough schemes, with limited access to entertainment beyond the walls of your home, have meant that broadband usage has been higher at all times of the day. What’s more, everyone being at home has meant you were likely competing for latency against more connected devices under your own roof.

People with very strong broadband connections may not have suffered too much, but those, like me, who are on the cusp of the requirements and living in a very device-heavy household, noticed a clear difference to the pre-lockdown standard.

Conclusion

Overall, the increased audience and broader exposure to cloud gaming as a concept will be beneficial for its future success. Although bandwidth congestion impacted player experience, particularly in anything fast-paced and multiplayer, the doors were still opened to a lot of gamers who otherwise would have no options elsewhere.

It is unlikely that cloud gaming adoption will really hit its stride until the latency wrinkles are ironed out. Most of the pieces seem to be in place, it remains to be seen whether 5G will be the solution.

 

Read more:

Will the Rise of Games-as-a-Service Lead to Longer Game Lifecycles?

Development Trends and Risks in the Gaming Market

Digitization: Leading Games Into a Digital World

If you want to learn more about this topic or have any questions, please contact Liam Hall, or head over to https://uk.idc.com and drop your details in the form on the top right.

 

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