8 valuable lessons video games can learn from... Netflix
Do cross the streams
Providing you have decent broadband girth, there is a 99.998% chance that you have streamed something online at some point. Theres even a good chance that youre using your console as a Netflix box. But now imagine that instead of watching The Raid again (which you should totally do as well), you called up a streaming service and started playing the latest in the critically adored Man Shooter series. That would be pretty handy, right?
Streaming has been playing a huge part in the worlds of music, film, and TV for ages. However, this year services like Playstation Now, OnLive, and Amazon Fire are trying to get gamers to embrace a discless and download free future. If theyre going to succeed, they need to sit down and take a cheeky peek at the notes of their older streaming classmates.
Obviously, you use Netflix a lot. Here's our guide to the 50 best movies on Netflix (opens in new tab) and another on the 30 best TV shows on Netflix (opens in new tab). You're welcome.
Great games above ALL else
The ability to stream games is great, but--to the surprise of no one--the games really need to be ones that you actually want to play. Theres no use being offered games youve already got or titles so niche that barely anyone wants to spend time with them. The most important aspect of this is filling the gaps that already exist in the libraries of gamers worldwide.
Netflix might not have the very latest releases outside of a few notable (and Marvel-shaped blockbusters), but it certainly has plenty of great films and TV shows that would slip past most people. Any game streaming service would obviously need some AAA games to entice customers, but they would stay for the games theyve barely heard of, let alone played. Heres to seeing forgotten curios like Mark of Kri, The Saboteur, and Metro 2033 getting a second shot at glory.
Don't bury the good stuff
You know what you should do when you have a load of interesting films and TV shows you want people to know about? Bury them in layers upon layers of menus and give them no way of saving titles for the future. Oh, wait, maybe it isnt. But that was Netflix UK for a good while after it launched and while it made finding films exhilarating--Ill admit to a certain amount of excitement when I discovered Indie Game: The Movie on there--it was also a major chore.
Game streaming services should easily sidestep this issue by not burying content within a labyrinth of menus and sub categories. I want to discover games quickly, not have to trawl through page upon page of search results. Basically, as long as its possible to quickly search for a specific game AND browse around in the hope of discovering a gem, then thats a job well done.
Get the price right
For people like myself who use services like Netflix or Amazon Video to help cut down on the amount of money they spend on films per month, one of the most important aspects of any game streaming deal is making sure that the price is affordable. When you take into account that buying a brand new game on average costs 40/$60, theres certainly an opportunity for streaming to become an affordable alternative to pretending bills dont exist every time a decent new game comes out.
Currently, the average for streaming prices seems to be around 8/$10 a month. Netflix is 5.99/$7.99 a month, Spotifys premium service comes in at 9.99/$9.99 month and--purely for us lucky Brits--Now TV is offering its television entertainment package at 4.99 a month. Gaming streaming services might be running a more intensive operation, but its unlikely that gamers will want to part with their cash if prices arent in this ballpark, offering a decent saving over buying a game outright.
There's a need for speed
In the best alternate universe, everything is free, Timesplitters 4 exists (its amazing as well) and theres no such thing as latency. Lag, as all the cool kids keep calling it, is game streamings biggest issue and one that has no easy solution, outside of relocating every single customer to just outside their server rooms. That would be lovely, but isnt exactly feasible. Add on dealing with internet service providers (Netflix is currently having fun with this) as well as the issues with sharing a connection and... well, you get the idea.
Is there anything more annoying than streaming a video online only for the quality to drop in and out seemingly at random? Yes, probably, but its still pretty irritating and would only get worse if you were playing at times where anyone else on your internet connection was attempting heavy data usage. If theres a lesson to be learned about speed, its making sure that users know what to expect when their broadband starts chugging along like a Sunday League veteran.
Many players, one account
Like a gentlemans code of conduct, account sharing is something that is never particularly brought up when it comes to streaming, but is pretty much tolerated. Netflix offers you the choice of creating profiles for family members, and Now TV will let you register a certain amount of devices that let you watch content from one account. Congratulations if youve already figured out where Im going with this, because game streaming should be no different.
From a business standpoint, it makes plenty of sense early on in a services life. One person lets his family and friends use his account until they decide they like it enough to go ahead and sign up themselves. But thats the boring aspect. Basically, account sharing is the new form of lending your mate a game you like and then when/if they return it, you get to gush about how awesome it is. Just because I dont physically own a game doesnt mean I dont want to share the experience with other people.
Bring on the exclusives
Where would Xbox be without Halo, Forza and Gears of War? Or Playstation without Crash Bandicoot and Uncharted? Or the Jaguar without, er, whatever the Jaguar had. Fledging platforms have always needed something to set them apart from the competition and game streaming platforms should be no different. Without an iconic title that no one else has, why should any gamer make your platform a priority?
Exclusives for streaming platforms elsewhere have also been creating a bit of buzz recently. House Of Cards turned Netflix into a 'very big deal' and shame on you if you havent laughed yourself silly with Arrested Developments fourth season. With Amazon getting into this game streaming malarkey and already acquiring Double Helix studios--of reboot Killer Instinct fame--it might not be long before exclusive games are beamed through the cloud rather than shoved through your letterbox.
Open access for developers
Im going to bend my argument here, but one giant of streaming that I've neglected to mention so far is YouTube. Its been a ubiquitous part of the web and gaming culture, giving anyone with a camera--or capture card--the chance to broadcast themselves to the world (whether the world wants it or not is debatable, but still...). Now, imagine a game streaming service that offered a gateway for anyone to release their game how and when they wanted.
Whether its developers looking to test out a concept or a weekend coder who just wants to dabble with game design, it would give them an open platform to share their work with a large audience. Gamers benefit from getting to try out indie games without the commitment of having to purchase anything outside of the subscription and everyone benefits from the argument about Gone Home's length compared to its price tag becoming irrelevant. As long as devs are able to get money for their hard work, this could make streaming services a natural home for indie games.
Any game, anywhere
Remember when you had to be at home in front of your computer to watch men falling over, or angry nerds raging about Call of Duty on YouTube? That was--at best--five years ago, but in such a ridiculously short space of time, its almost insulting when a streaming service isnt available on everything you own, including your fridge. I dont need milk, fridge, I need to catch up with Archer. Anyway, if you were so inclined, you could get up and watch Netflix on your laptop in bed, before carrying on with it on your phone on the bus, sneaking in a cheeky episode at work and capping the day off with watching it on your console.
So, obviously game streaming cant just be limited to PCs or a console. Tablets, phones, smart TVs, microwaves, the kitchen sinkBasically, anything with an internet connection should give us the option to continue with whatever game we were last on. Considering there are now more than a few controllers for phones--as well as the OnLive controller--it doesnt even have to come with severely limited touch screen controls. No excuses streaming big wigs, if I cant play Splitters 2 everywhere, then whats the point of living in your fancy-ass Cloud?
Living the stream dream
Those are the main lessons that game streaming should learn from those that have come before it. I hope they do, as the idea of taking a game wherever you are makes the thought of work bearable. But do you think that game streaming will finally take off or are PlayStation Now and OnLive (amongst others) doomed for the pile of ideas that didnt quite work out?
Hmm, you're still here. Okaaaay, this is awkward. Um, why don't you read some of our other features, then. Here's one on 10 Games That Make You Feel Like A Badass (opens in new tab). And another on Gaming Secrets You Were Never Meant To See (opens in new tab). And here's a dog dressed like Sonic the Hedgehog (opens in new tab).