Games streaming could be a strategic dilemma for Apple

Earlier this week, Google presented Stadia — a streaming service that promises the future of one unified cloud platform for games. Games would be hosted and run right in the cloud, so as long as one has the access to high-speed internet connection (and, probably, an active subscription to the service), a library of video games would be accessible from almost any device, unconstrained by hardware computing limitations. Discovering and launching a game would be as easy as clicking on a YouTube link.

The next era of gaming is streaming

Stadia is a genius move by Google, as it leverages all core competencies, resources and assets Google has. Running a cloud-based streaming service makes all the sense in the world for a cloud-first company. Google already has data centers and infrastructure, and of course it owns YouTube, which is already a key element of video games discovery and engagement, but with Stadia, YouTube will become a storefront, and probably an additional revenue stream for influencers. Of course Google has search game knowledge data accessible through Assistant. This will start a new era for games reach, accessibility, discovery, engagement, advertisement, and marketing.

Apple’s services narrative

One company curiously absent from this list is Apple. For Apple, gaming is a huge part of revenue stream for App Store, but the company has been historically not paying much attention to gaming and hasn’t expressed much of their interest towards controlling the medium beyond casual market. But it’s time for Apple to become more hands-on — as the games have become such a dominant force in entertainment and a part of global culture code, it’s hard to believe Apple would not want to own the space similarly to how it now approaches music, video, and news industries.

Apple and games — media content or software?

Games have always been at the intersection of media and software. Music, video and news are pure media content for Apple, something that has no ties to Apple’s hardware and software and is not enabled or leveraged by it. Games is another story. Apple treats games as software, not media, and rightfully so — game apps on all Apple platforms run on Apple’s proprietary hardware and use low-level APIs and technologies like Metal, SceneKit, SpriteKit, and others. For Apple, games is software that differentiates their hardware, and Apple evangelizes using their tech and APIs with third party developers.

If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will

And yet, the promise of cloud streaming gaming described in the beginning of this article seems real. Unlike cloud-based productivity apps and services that arguably in many aspects feel inferior to native software experiences, games as a medium would likely benefit tremendously and would become better, not worse, by moving to the cloud (latency and input lag issues aside). If playing massively multiplayer MMOs of unprecedented scale, from any device, with one-tap launch from YouTube or Twitch, integrated with Google Assistant and Alexa — something that apparently can only be achieved through cloud runtime — would become the new norm, what play will Apple have in this new era of entertainment? Will native games on their platforms would be good enough to offer the sustainable long-term alternative to cloud streaming gaming? Will this alternative be good enough for developers to invest resources in writing native games for Apple hardware in addition to cloud streaming services?