The Dangers of Cloud Gaming


I suppose it's a combination of video compression technology, good ideas, and fast internet that led to it. Cloud gaming is an insanely cool idea, but one that I think needs to be developed and used carefully so it doesn't ultimately hurt the players. Services like Xbox Game Pass and PS Now are relatively cheap and convenient. Virtual machine services like Shadow and Paperspace are even better, letting you just use a computer through the Internet as if it were your own. I wouldn't use them for anything but playing games due to security concerns and the fact that it's not literally a computer that you can own, but it's an extremely convenient and useful thing to have regardless.

I will say, however, that I believe Google Stadia (just like any other Google service, really) represents the potential destruction of video games as we know them. I'm dead serious about this, even if it seems unlikely given that Stadia's launch and continued run have been pretty terrible.

I'm saying this because Stadia is the only service I know of that has had, or tried to have, exclusive games. Think about that for a moment. Game streaming, meaning technically nothing but a video signal is reaching your computer, in which certain games are exclusive to the streaming platform. So what happens to the game once the service goes down? What if the contract between the platform and the publisher ends? If Stadia no longer has the rights to host the game, it's just taken off the platform. What if you paid for it already? What if you have saved progress, or what if you just want to revisit it?

It doesn't matter. It's not really your game, so Google can do anything it wants with it. You might look through your library on Stadia to see one less game in the list, with the only trace of its existence being someone's VOD on Twitch or YouTube.

The notion of streaming-exclusive titles is awful for this reason. I would absolutely never trust my games to be safe with Google, given their track record with countless other services they've killed. My fear is that other companies will start to pick up on this idea and try it for themselves, forming the video game equivalent to the current disgusting situation with all the disparate streaming services like HBO Go, Hulu, Netflix, CBS All Access, and probably half a dozen others I don't even know about.

The solution, like with any kind of software, of course, is making all games free and open source. Understandably, nearly any game company would find the idea to be completely ludicrous. The next best thing would be to make all games DRM-free, but then anyone can just upload copies for anyone else to download without any penalties.

For what feels like the past two decades, nearly every medium to large game developer or publisher has been in an utterly rabid and psychotic downward anti-piracy spiral, grafting increasingly invasive and user-disrespecting anti-cheat and DRM programs into their games that in 100% of cases only slow the inevitable, in most instances only by hours. The scary thing is that they might not have to do any of that anymore, the reason being that games on streaming services cannot be cheated in. If you're using Stadia, how are you going to load a trainer and cheat while playing in a multiplayer match? How are you going to pirate a game in an encrypted video stream?

There's no full access to a virtual machine, no way to run any other software, no way to sideload anything at all onto the service. It's like pay-per-view, but you can't steal your neighbor's cable or insert a hacked card into your satellite box to get free content. Streaming is the ultimate anti-cheat, the only anti-piracy that will ever be needed again.

And that's bad because what? Because you no longer own a copy of the game you're buying*. Because the game you purchased will never be archived. It'll exist for a number of years, and then it'll disappear in a puff of candy-colored bits forever. All for the sake of control, all at your expense.

So what can you do about it? I would say purchase or support free and open source games first, DRM-free second. Don't use streaming services with exclusive titles. If your streaming service starts to advertise streaming-only games, cancel your subscription. If you want to stream games, rent a VM, or better yet, build a gaming PC from used or older parts and install Windows to it, connect it to your network, and use Moonlight. Cloud gaming is an overall very good thing, but we have to use it in a player-respecting way.

In my next post, I'll talk about some really cool game streaming applications and services and some potential FOSS solutions and ideals.

*I understand that videogames have technically been licensed for play rather than owned for a very long time. But even if a game is said to be licensed, if you own a cartridge or disc and the console doesn't have CD keys or other DRM, you effectively own game and can sell or use it in any way you want.