The 5G hype machine is in full swing, and rightly so. Networks, platforms and innovators are now jostling for position as the new frequency starts to roll out. While the change 5G promises will take a while to impact, when it arrives it will be fundamental.
To get ahead of the seismic shift we need to identify early-impact sectors. Gaming is at the front of the queue and the change here will come fast. Mobile will develop from entertainment seeing to entertainment doing; it won’t be about watching Game of Thrones, it’ll be about actively engaging in a new experience.
There are 3.2 billion active smartphone users and, according to Techjury, a staggering 21% of Android and 25% of iOS apps downloaded are games, accounting for 43% of all smartphone use.
Games insight specialist Newzoo says 46% of all gaming currently happens on a mobile device, that’s up a huge 9.7% year-on-year. The split between casual and dedicated gamers has been driven by access to processing power and connectivity, making in-depth gaming a home activity and mobile gaming casual.
However, 5G rewrites the rules of what’s possible for the mobile gaming experience. 5G offers bandwidth that can transfer data at 100 times the speed of current 4G networks and do it with super-low millisecond latency. Both of these changes open the possibility of remote game processing, or edge computing, where cloud servers do the hard work and gaming experiences are streamed to a mobile device as a movie would with Netflix.
This means the audience’s gaming experience will no longer be limited by their device’s processing power, and immersive 4K experiences will be available with little impact on battery life. In the same way that in the 90s and 00s consoles caught-up with arcade machines and then totally out-stripped them, edge computing gaming will rapidly match high-end console experiences and then start to pull ahead.
This shift to streamed processing power on offer to everyone will produce two key changes we need to anticipate now.
Follow the new money
The first change is economic. This new flow of data will open up new business model opportunities. The Sprint network in the US has already signed a deal with start-up Hatch to offer Android users free access to their cloud gaming platform. Pitched somewhere between gaming publisher platform Steam and Netflix but with social platform elements, Hatch promises instantly available recognisable games and their remote processing means there’s no app download, no logging in, no install or set-up, just instant always-on gaming.
With money flowing through to the platforms that have the games people want, networks are going to want to reach for exclusivity with valued providers or even look to acquire them. Networks will want to avoid becoming the ‘dumb pipe’ providers simply letting data flow through them.
It’s also worth recognising that that data will be flowing both ways. 5G throws off the ability to understand the behaviours of users in more detail and at a greater scale than ever before. This behavioural data will be enormously valuable and whoever controls its supply will be able to name their price. For users, economies will also change. We’ve already seen gaming revenue models shift through the introduction of loot boxes. More gaming and deeper gaming will mean a further merging of real-world and in-game economies.
Users will be able to digitally earn as well as digitally spend, throwing up new career possibilities just as Instagram and YouTube created influencers. What’s for certain is that all stakeholders in gaming will use 5G as an opportunity to rethink models and seize more control. Deep is the new high-res The second fundamental change 5G brings is that it won’t just make the gaming we know faster, it will change the very nature of gaming.
5G bandwidth and speed opens up the possibility of smooth and responsive Augmented Reality experiences. Google’s recent introduction of Live View augmented reality directions for Maps on smartphones is just the start. Apple and Microsoft are preparing their own mass-market AR hardware to take on smartphones and billions of dollars of VC money is backing hundreds of other potential rivals.
What’s for sure is that this will change the very nature of what it is to be gaming, as the real and virtual worlds merge. Gaming experiences will be measured by their ’immersivity’ – a magic combination of visual richness, responsiveness, engaging story and integration with social or physical reality. As with all new media channels that emerge, IP will be the catalyst to drive user scale.
Those publishers that have established IP such as Candy Crush or Plants vs Zombies will be able to move fast, but expect games publishers, networks and platforms to reach for other established IP outside of gaming to give them an edge, as Niantic has with it’s AR Harry Potter game based on the Pokemon Go engine.
Gaming and beyond
Whether you’re in the middle, on the edge or totally outside the gaming sector, all this stuff matters to you. Why? Because where gaming leads, the rest of the industry will follow. The disruption and innovation we’re about to see in mobile gaming won’t stay in that sector, it’ll ripple out to hit everyone. New user monetisation models, new entertainment habits that will take brains and eyeballs away from established media, and new advertising opportunities will all change the relationship between brand and audience wherever you’re from.
Don’t just love the player, love the new game.
Guy Wieynk, global CEO, AnalogFolk