The Technologies Driving the Future of Gaming
Mobile games, just like console video game titles, have seen some marked technological improvements.
Improved graphics capabilities, faster processors and changing consumer appetites mean the low-resolution, simplistic-but-addictive games that once dominated app store sales charts are being joined by deeper, richer titles that offer a more fulfilling experience for players.
With the improvements of these new games, though, comes a need for more memory. Many console games are over 50 GB, with some gobbling up as much as 105 GB before any add-ons.1 The hottest mobile gaming titles, too, can quickly swell to several gigabytes as expansions are released — and some games demand that much storage in their initial download. Along with ever-increasing photo libraries, the memory consumed by 4K video and other saved media (like music or movies) strains mobile memory—especially for players without extra budget for onboard storage.
The biggest capacity of any smartphone, as of December 2019, is 1TB, which comes with a $1,6002 price tag.
Worse, for manufacturers, at least, the increased cost of adding system memory cools consumer desires to upgrade their mobile device. But better streaming (like 5G) and storage technologies (like microSD cards) could allow game makers to worry less about size limitations while relieving players from the burden of choosing between their saved games and other media.
Game Streaming Is on the Rise
For years, the idea of playing the hottest console game of the day on your phone or tablet was a pipe dream. Why? Processors on those devices are insufficient and the memory requirements are much too high for mobile users. But that’s changing: Several top gaming companies are rolling out streaming services that allow gamers to play AAA games (that is, games produced by a mid-sized or major publisher) at the maximum graphical settings on virtually any screen without having to worry about having the latest and greatest processor, graphics card or console. Full versions of games on your phone eliminates the need for a stripped-down (and less visually appealing) “mobile” version.
That’s thanks to advances in cloud technology and, to a degree, the rise of 5G, which will offer tremendously faster bandwidth. It will also boast significantly lower latency, meaning connections are faster—and gameplay is, too. The speed 5G provides will let users play games that are centrally stored on cloud computers with the same reaction times they would see from a disc in their home console.
The wireless communications experts say users could see a 100x increase3 over today’s speeds.
More Streaming Means Subscription Gaming
With more streaming comes an opportunity for a new business model. Several publishers are considering a subscription model to go with game streaming, in hopes it will open that field of video games up to an entirely new audience.
“The greatest disruption of entertainment is the combination of streaming and subscription,” says Andrew Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts. “It’s not unreasonable for us to believe that … we might entertain an additional 100 million players through subscription than we would in the traditional model.”
That all-you-can-eat model of gaming is also making its way to mobile games. Angry Birds creator Rovio Entertainment has created Hatch Entertainment, a cloud gaming subsidiary that will let people access a library of over 100 mobile games on their smartphones and tablets without having to download them.
5G helps make that possible.
“For a game streaming service like Hatch, 5G brings of course added bandwidth benefits, but more importantly it enables ultra-low latency that is indistinguishable from native play,” says Joseph Knowles, director of communications for Hatch Entertainment. “Indeed it’s better than native play, because it allows you to stream richer games than could probably be hosted locally on your own device, and allows you to play them together with friends in real time.”
Games Need More Storage — Today and in the Future
Even though streaming means players won’t have to store the games they play locally on their devices, the games themselves will continue to need more storage and compute power thanks to things like increasingly better graphics, 4K video and even features like haptic feedback. For now, most of that storage happens in the cloud: One cloud services provider reportedly4 processes 92 million game events every minute for one of the most popular games in the market today, and the amount of data it stores for that game grows by two petabytes per month. While the cloud can handle the capacity for now, as games continue to evolve beyond standard console or mobile games and into VR and AR experiences, edge computing — along with 5G — will bring this storage and processing power into data centers closer to the gamers themselves, reducing latencies and supporting these immersive experiences.
Finally, even though the popularity of subscription gaming continues to rise, some gamers still prefer to own the titles they purchase — meaning in addition to more storage in the cloud or at the edge, companies that manufacture gaming devices are increasing the amount of storage available to customers. Many game consoles offer as much as one TB of storage space out of the box. Backup storage options like hard drives and SD or microSD memory cards are also becoming more affordable to augment storage for consoles, computers, or new gaming formats from portable consoles to VR/AR goggles.
The technologies powering the future of gaming are rolling out at different speeds — while 4K televisions and games are available for purchase today, 5G and edge computing are more limited in availability and will likely take longer to roll out. The good news for players? The gaming experience is only going to improve, whether you’re all-in on subscription gaming or prefer to have copies of the games you own on your hard drive — it just might take some time for the new tech to become affordable (and available) to power these new, immersive experiences.
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This content is produced by WIRED Brand Lab in collaboration with Western Digital Corporation.
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