Jack Tretton: Cloud gaming won't take off until it's profitable for new AAA releases

Former PlayStation executive Jack Tretton waxes philosophic about the future of cloud gaming, ponders the the delivery of its all-digital promise, and poses questions regarding a cloud-based gaming business model.

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It’s safe to say Jack Tretton knows something about console generations. The former head of PlayStation’s US division, who was with the console from its initial launch in 1995 through to PlayStation 4, now heads up Interactive Gaming Ventures, his own independent investment company, and he has some thoughts on the much-hyped shift to cloud gaming services.

Speaking on stage in an interview with GameDaily’s James Brightman at the start of games industry conference Casual Connect in London, Tretton was clearly excited about the prospects of streamed gameplay from a consumer point of view. “From a technology standpoint it’s very exciting to think that you can stream a game without latency direct to consumer,” he said. “I think those technological hurdles will get cleared, if they’ve not already been cleared, to the point that it can be a viable format.”

He seems less convinced that moving to a cloud gaming service will make sense for developers and publishers, at least in these early days. “The biggest thing that I’m looking forward to understanding is the business model,” Tretton continued. “Any type of streaming service, any kind of catalogue subscription download, is great for games that have kind of run their lifecycle and are part of a selection of games that you can play when you have some spare time.

“But if you’ve put your heart and soul and development dollars into building a game that you want to take to market, and you have opportunities on every platform to monetize that for whatever price you’re selling it at, how does that work as part of a cloud gaming service? What are you going to pay the developer to have the right to their game? If I can just sign up for X dollars a month and play that game to my heart’s content by streaming it, why would I buy it on another platform?”

Jack Tretton, former head of PlayStation
Jack Tretton, former head of PlayStation

That was the hook for PlayStation Now, Sony’s first foray into the streaming landscape, and one of the last PlayStation brand extensions that Tretton oversaw before leaving Sony. For a platform holder with a library of archive titles, it makes a lot of sense. There’s still some way to go before launching a brand new blockbuster via the cloud becomes appealing from a commercial point of view though. “As a developer and an investor,” he continued, “I’ve got to see a business model that says it is as profitable as console and PC to bring it over to a cloud streaming service,” Tretton explained. “To me, the establishment of that being a viable marketplace for Day One releases is when cloud gaming becomes relevant.”

As such, even with Sony and Microsoft now joining forces on cloud gaming solutions, Tretton doesn’t buy into the theory that we’re seeing the death of the standalone console. “The one thing that you can always count on at the launch of any new generation is that people predict it’s the last generation of consoles, and it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t think it’s going to happen in this generation. The machines can go away, and you can stream content directly to consumers, but at the end of the day most people aren’t doing this as a hobby. They’re doing this to make a living, and I think all gamers would love everything free but you get what you pay for and to get great games, people need money and they need to be able to sell their games.”

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