It's been a big week in mobile gaming announcements, with two industry titans setting out their ideas for the future of the sector - Google with its new Google Stadia cloud gaming push, and Apple with Apple Arcade. Now that we stand in the wake of the announcements, let's look over how the two measure up.
Google Stadia: Game StreamingOn the 19th of March, at its GDC keynote, Google took to the stage to announce its new cloud gaming service, Google Stadia.
Running within the Chrome browser, Google Stadia is closer to a streaming platform, wielding the power of Google's preexisting data centers. During the keynote we saw games like Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Doom Eternal running on it, with players even able to change to a different device midgame.
In addition to the screen swapping there were some other cool features shown off - like the ability to share world states (like passing saves), and also boot games from a Youtube interface.
Apple Arcade: Game SubscriptionJust yesterday, on the 26th of March, Apple announced Apple Arcade, a game subscription service which will be available for all iOS devices when it launches.
Apple Arcade is a subscription service which runs on all current Apple devices: iPhone,iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. The arcade is a solution to the deluge of games on the storefront, offering a tailored catalogue of selected games for a flat monthly fee.
While we don't know the price point for it, there are some impressive names attached to the service, with Klei, Annapurna Interactive and SEGA already specifying games for it. New games from Hironubu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy), Ken Wong (Monument Valley) and Will Wright (The Sims) are all attached to the service as well.
Apple has gone on record saying that the discussed games are exclusive to Apple Arcade, however, we don't know quite what that's going to mean because some of the games (for example, Klei's Hot Lava) have already had beta tests on PC. Maybe they mean that they will remain only available through the Arcade package, that they will not reach other mobile storefronts, or that Apple have already made moves to shut out the games from appearing on Google Stadia.
It might seems a lot like comparing apples to oranges, but both major mobile OS providers taking a step toward gaming is something to reflect on, so here we go.
The Tech and its ForebearsBoth Google Stadia and Apple Arcade are things which we have seen, experienced, or been promised before - although when it comes to standing on the shoulders of giants, sometimes it takes large companies to really push big technological ideas into the hands and heads of the public.
Google Stadia as a streaming service is a fascinating offering, but streaming services haven't been adopted by the mainstream for a variety of reasons. The most obvious reason is the cost of mobile data and the wide variety of internet services out there. I moved two postcodes away earlier in the year and have had to take a 60% hit on my internet speed due to providers being different around the corner.
If the games can't be downloaded or pre-prepared through Stadia then Google instantly lose the commuter market, and if the consumer's internet quality is not good enough then they won't get their frequently discussed 4K resolution.
While talking to Eurogamer, Phil Harrison and Majd Bakar talked on a recommended minimum internet speed of 25 megabits per second, however any kind of gateway instantly puts a block between pre-installed data and streaming. We may see the Google Stadia simply become a gimmick for those with reliable internet, with the rest of the world left behind.
Meanwhile the Apple Arcade is similarly nothing new, at this scale, outside of the mobile gaming market. The subscription service is very similar to Microsoft's Games with Gold and Sony's Playstation Plus, each of which is already well established with over half a decade on the market.
While Apple Arcade seems to be the less ambitious of the two, a curated selection of games which can then be installed and played on the commute definitely fits conventional mobile gaming a lot better. Also, early moves to secure exclusive titles for the service is a surefire way to increase the adoption rates. And user numbers will be the battleground between the two.
The Audience and The CostApple already has an established user base through its mobile phone sales, and with 40 million phone sales per quarter the audience is only going to keep growing.
Google, on the other hand, had well over 2 billion chrome installations back in 2017 according to TechCrunch, and has the benefit of Chrome being able to run on most devices worldwide with a simple browser installation. Apple, however, operates region locking.
So, we then have a geographic quandary.
Google Stadia's restrictions are geopolitical; in countries where the wealth distribution or public services are not well structured the majority of people will not have access to stable or substantial internet. Silicon Valley and the suburbs will love it, but you probably won't find it being adopted en-masse outside of those pockets of wealth and white-picket fences.
Apple Arcade is also gated by wealth, of course, iPhones are among the most expensive handsets out there, and a subscription model requires a set amount of disposable income. Their 150+ launch regions might stretch from Spain to Sri Lanka, but their maximum userbase is defined by the amount of devices in the field - extensive though it may be.
As for the pricing on the two services? We have no idea as of yet. Microsoft's Xbox Live, and Sony's Playstation Plus come in at around £40 a year, and other streaming services like Utomik and Jump start from around $5 a month.
But, is Google even going to charge a monthly fee? At the moment it could charge premium prices for larger games or run a one-size-fits-all subscription model - we simply don't know. With Apple Arcade set to launch in Fall, and more details on Google Stadia due in Summer, we won't have long to wait to find out.
The ConclusionIf I had to take a guess at which one of the two services is going to see greater adoption then I'd say Apple Arcade. Subscription services for games are already established and a viable business strategy, and many people will be interested in the curation that it offers an otherwise flooded marketplace.
That said, Google has enough data centers out there that they might be able to master the latency and tech requirements of streaming (as long as the world can keep up) otherwise it's destined to go onto the same pile as OnLive and Gaikai.