Despite Google Stadia stumbling over the starting line this year, the fact that Google have been willing to invest so heavily into streaming video games shows that they believe that it is the direction that gaming is heading in – and, I agree with them.
Sure, I love owning my PC and consoles now, but I’m not convinced that come the end of the 2020’s I’ll still own anything other than a streaming box and a subscription to a streaming service.
That thought is bittersweet – it is so very different from everything I’ve known gaming to be throughout my three decades of being a gamer, but would mean no more upgrading systems at the end of each console cycle, losing all of my games and starting fresh, and no upgrading graphics cards every 2-3 years (I’m an idiot, I know).
But, that isn’t the biggest concern for me. It’s the ownership of games, and what that could mean that worries me the most.
We already live in a world where we lose online-only multiplayer gamers forever when the developers pull the plug on their servers. But, that could be a fate that comes to affect single-player games if they only exist on hosts servers, such as those owned by Google. In a decade or two, we could see a new game being released only via streaming, with no physical files or downloads to be preserved or modded down the line. Head down the line another decade or two and we may never be able to return to those games with the next generation of gamers, particularly indie titles and those that were less popular. We already see games and apps disappearing from mobile stores every other game, and that could become the future for video games that aren’t successful enough to justify patching into the future.
This isn’t going to be another article focused on the loss games (I’ve already written about how I feel for the kids who won’t be able to return to their first games), but rather, the loss of the option to mod games.
Skyrim is my go-to example for mods, because it is a game that would likely only be referenced in “best game ever lists” today if it wasn’t for an active modding community keeping Bethesda’s classic game current. If the Skyrim source code and files only existed on a Google server via their launcher, the modding community we see continuing to thrive today wouldn’t exist. We would have to rely on Bethesda or the server host to keep the game alive – two entities I wouldn’t trust with anything of value.
Older Grand Theft Auto titles have benefitted from being moddable, with the release of GTA Online showing how having an online-only component can create a noticeable difference from the core game and the improved experience available when modders have the freedom to create. It can feel restrictive having to go offline just to play GTA with mods, then having to ensure that everything is deactivated before hopping online with my friends. If GTA was only available via streaming from a remote server then playing with mods just wouldn’t be possible.
Minecraft may also not have been such a resounding success without a community of modders taking the experience far beyond what the creators could have ever imagined. If we were stuck with just the vanilla experience, it could have been a game that dominated the charts for a year or two before fading, not the juggernaut that it has become.
I love the thought of the convenience afforded by game streaming. Being able to play the same games on any capable piece of hardware just by loading up a program will be amazing, especially on those long road trips when you can’t pop home to fire up your PS4 and mess with Remote Play. It’s a future that I’m excited about, but also one that I hope the modding community can find a way to overcome. Losing ownership of games is something that gamers are already having to come to terms with, but losing the ability to mod them is another significant drawback to the direction that the video game industry is moving in.