Better start saving up for that PlayStation 5, Xbox Two, or Nintendo Swatch (that last follow-up name idea is a freebie, by the way). That generation of consoles might be the last one ever, according to Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot. After that, he predicts cheap local boxes could provide easier access to ever-evolving high-end gaming streamed to the masses from cloud-based servers.
"I think we will see another generation, but there is a good chance that step-by-step we will see less and less hardware," Guillemot said in a recent interview with Variety. "With time, I think streaming will become more accessible to many players and make it not necessary to have big hardware at home. There will be one more console generation and then after that, we will be streaming, all of us."
That relatively quick shift to a streaming-centric gaming marketplace might seem hard to believe from the vantage point of 2018, where even streaming a high-end game from a console inside your own house comes with plenty of headaches. And while workable streaming services like PlayStation Now and GeForce Now have their niches, they don't seem in imminent danger of replacing high-end local gaming hardware altogether any time soon
But when you put yourself in the mindset of 2027 or 2028—when the follow-ups to the "next generation" systems might be expected—it might seem more plausible. Consider that, according to Akamai estimates, average broadband speeds in the US ballooned from 3.6 Mbps in 2007 to a whopping 18.7 Mbps at the beginning of 2017 (itself a 22-percent increase over 2016). In 10 more years, we could see another order of magnitude increase in average bandwidth or even more if gigabit connections become more popular. Combined with technologies to combat apparent latency, games running on a far-off server farm could someday be indistinguishable from one running in the same room.
When any screen with an Internet connection can run the same high-end gaming content, Guillemot suggested, a big change will come to the way games are played. "It is going to help the AAA game industry grow much faster," he told Variety. "We have to work on the accessibility of those games, to make sure they can be played on any device, but the fact that we will be able to stream those games on mobile phones and television screens without a console is going to change a lot of the industry.”
Guillemot has a history of making grandiose predictions for the direction of the gaming market. In 2007, he predicted gaming would be "twice as big as music" by 2011. And he was right, by the way: in the US market, at least, games were a $16+ billion industry in 2011, compared to about $7 billion in revenues for the music industry in the same year.
Guillemot also recently made waves by announcing that Ubisoft would be pivoting to "a model which is less dependent on releasing new games," focusing instead on live, multiplayer games that encourage "longterm engagement" and "recurring spending." Such titles are more profitable in the long-term than "traditional games," which see revenue drop off more quickly, Guillemot said in a recent annual report.
While that shift toward multiplayer gaming appears to be here to stay, the move to a streaming-centered gaming business still has yet to fully develop. But who knows? In 10 years, we might look back and see OnLive's early failed attempts at a game-streaming business as just being really, really ahead of its time.