March 2019 marked the beginning of a new era of video gaming as tech giants Apple and Google joined the fray with ambitious new gaming services and big spending to match.
According to the Financial Times, Apple is setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars on Apple Arcade, a new subscription-based gaming service that it announced on March 25th. Meanwhile, Google is investing an unprecedented $13 billion dollars in new infrastructure this year, some of which will go toward supporting its new cloud-based gaming platform, Stadia, that it promises will make high-end games instantly available "on virtually any screen" at a blistering 60 frames per second.
Apple Arcade: Netflix for games
For Apple, its new gaming subscription service is an effort to capitalise on its hundreds of millions of iOS users that already use the iPhone and iPad platform for gaming. At its March 25th services event, the company said that more than a billion users had downloaded games from the App Store, making iOS the most popular gaming platform in the world. Yet most of the games played on Apple devices have been free; though many offer in-game purchases.
Apple Arcade provides a different set up. By paying $10 a month for an Arcade subscription, users will gain access to a huge library of premium games, including some that will be developed exclusively for the platform. Apple Arcade games will have no in-game purchases, no ads, and all customer data will be unavailable unless users give explicit consent to share with third parties. Games will be playable on a range of devices, including iPad, iPhone, Mac, and Apple TV.
In the long run, analysts from HSBC expect Apple Arcade to be Apple's highest revenue service offering by 2024, outstripping Apple TV+ and Apple News+. It is also likely to be the most profitable; while Apple is spending upwards of $1bn on its new streaming service, its Arcade budget is expected to be closer to $500 million. Apple says the new gaming service will be launched in the last quarter of 2019 in over 150 countries.
Stadia: the platform-less gaming platform
Google, meanwhile, sent tremors through the video gaming industry last month after announcing its cloud-based Stadia. Backed by Google's globe-spanning networks and data centres, Stadia will deliver "instant access to your favourite games on any type of screen-whether it's a TV, laptop, desktop, tablet or mobile phone...in resolutions up to 4K and 60 frames per second with HDR and surround sound."
Like Apple, Google is also building off of its strengths; YouTube's huge number of gaming-related video creators and audiences. According to Google, there are currently "more than 200 million people watching game-related content daily on YouTube". What Stadia adds is the ability to make many of those games instantly playable for viewers.
Google says that a "play now" button will be added alongside YouTube videos that feature games in the Stadia library, a change that will make the transition from audience-member to participant as simple as a click of a button. What Google has not said is what minimum internet bandwidth requirements will be needed to support the service.
The only Stadia hardware being offered by Google so far is a dedicated controller, which will become available as the new service comes online "later" in 2019 in the US, Canada, UK, and most of Europe.