Opinion: Why Steam Must Bring PC Streaming to Mobile

Whether it's using Steam In-Home Streaming, or playing Xbox One games on a PC, game streaming technology makes games more portable than ever. But Steam's plans for the technology should reach further than the living room.

14

Although some might consider it to be little more than a cute little gimmick, streaming games from one device to another could be one of the most impressive innovations to hit gaming within the past few years. Practically every game console has the ability to do it in some form, including how the Wii U can stream to its GamePad and the way the PS4 games can be played on a Vita, an Xperia mobile device, or the PlayStation TV. Microsoft is taking a reverse approach by letting Xbox One games stream to Windows 10 PCs. But I want to focus specifically on Steam In-Home Streaming.

Streaming is an especially important innovation for PC gamers because it frees them from being chained to a desk, usually located in an isolated corner or the house. By streaming from one device to another, you can play games on a less powerful device without compromising on graphical fidelity or performance. That way, PC games can be brought to large screen televisions in the living room and played on incompatible devices like Macs.

While there are other ways to bring PC gaming to the living room, like purchasing an relatively inexpensive micro computer or hooking up a gaming laptop to your television, streaming presents one of the best options for ease and quality. Steam Link, a dedicated streaming device, promises to make the technology small enough to fit in the palm of your hand while retailing for the relatively low price of $50. Yet, in all of Steam's efforts to bring PC gaming to the living room, it might be missing the bigger picture. Although it's a great first step, the distance from the computer room to the living room doesn't go far enough. PC streaming needs to extend to mobile devices.

Although there are a number of hurdles involved, the least of which being the low power of many mobile devices. While the technology might appear as simple as streaming an online movie, playing a high-end game over a network does require a decent amount of processing power. However, the PS4 remote play on Xperia devices demonstrates that it's possible with the current generation of hardware.

More importantly, the Nvidia Shield Tablet (despite its overheating problem) can stream games from an PC (equipped with the right video card) to a remote Wi-Fi network using GameStream. Although the remote streaming feature is still in beta, and suffers from occasional hiccups, it works. Given some time, I'm sure many of the kinks will be ironed out, especially as more powerful devices come out. So, there's no reason the technology can't be applied can't be applied to Steam and its mobile app.

While Steam is often credited for pushing PC gaming forward, it has been remarkably slow to develop in the mobile area. Steam's mobile app spent a long while as little more than a catalogue and alert app before extra functionality like chat and remote installation were added. A new update to the app, which adds streaming capabilities, is a long time coming. Players should stream games to their tablets, and it wouldn't hurt to have virtual controls, either. At the very least, In-Home streaming should broaden its reach to remote networks.

As the largest PC gaming service, Steam needs to take the lead in freeing gamers from being stuck in front of a desktop all the time. It already makes it possible for players to bring their games anywhere by downloading it from the cloud and installing onto any computer they log into. Streaming to remote networks would be a natural extension to that portability. Gamers can use their PCs as game servers and access it from remote locations like a cafe or a friend's place. It could solve the problem of having to wait hours for a game to install before playing. But most of all, it gives gamers freedom to game from any location with Wi-Fi.

The Nvidia Grid service, which streams games from the cloud to Shield devices, would be a viable solution if it weren't limited to select devices. Even if it weren't, its library rarely includes the latest releases, nor does it have a collection as broad as what's available on Steam. However, Nvidia should be credited for at least trying to make PC gaming more mobile by porting games to Android and streaming from the Grid, even if those games are limited only to Shield devices. Steam should be taking a step in the same direction.

Allowing gamers to play their favorite games, at high quality, from their tablets would go a long way toward making PC gaming as publicly commonplace as consoles. Not to mention, there's a immense sense of satisfaction if being able to play The Witcher 3 without having to be trapped inside the house. No more jokes about getting more sunlight.

Managing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 12, 2015 2:35 PM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Opinion: Why Steam Must Bring PC Streaming to Mobile

    • reply
      August 12, 2015 3:15 PM

      Good article. I'm surprised a curious coder at Valve hasn't put together something like that for newer iPads already.

      • reply
        August 12, 2015 4:07 PM

        Also tie the stream to a Buy This Game Now button on the store in the app.

        • reply
          August 12, 2015 7:15 PM

          You can only stream games you already own though.

          • reply
            August 12, 2015 11:07 PM

            I only skimmed the article but I thought it was about watching Steam streams on your mobile device?

            Like one can already watch Twitch or Youtube on mobile.

            Also I don't know what Valve/Steam would have to do with streaming FROM mobile devices. That would be in Apple's or Google's wheelhouse since they control the OS, right?

            • reply
              August 12, 2015 11:16 PM

              Ah in-house streaming. Cute little gimmick. Don't think there is enough demand. Valve wants to sell their own SteamLink thing, also aren't their issues with input lag if Valve doesn't control both the controller and the mobile device? Nvidia's stuff works but only with their tablet and controller, right?

              • reply
                August 13, 2015 9:56 AM

                It's actually pretty solid. I've been messing with it for about a year now. There is input lag, but it's super subtle. Good enough that if you wanted to you could play a fast paced FPS game online with it. The handicap isn't any worse than playing a VS game over a P2P connection with someone getting host advantage.

                How good the experience is depends a lot on your how network though. In my experience without doing any sort of setup, it worked just fine. Allows me to get some couch gaming in without having to hook up my gaming PC to the TV.

        • reply
          August 12, 2015 7:19 PM

          so that Apple can take 30%?

          • reply
            August 12, 2015 11:10 PM

            Better than no sale because one was too lazy to buy it from home?

            • reply
              August 13, 2015 7:27 AM

              not if there's no longer profit in selling at 30% off

          • reply
            August 13, 2015 7:22 AM

            Would they still need to take a cut if the option launched the Steam Store iOS app instead, and prompted the purchase through that?

            • reply
              August 13, 2015 7:27 AM

              If you are using the app yes Apple gets a cut. If you sent people to your website to buy then they don't. However, Apple is just going to reject an app that has a buy link that leaves the app and goes to your store most likely.

              • reply
                August 13, 2015 7:51 AM

                Can't you purchase games through the Steam app? Seems like Apple is already getting their cut then.

                • reply
                  August 13, 2015 8:03 AM

                  if yes, then yes. It seems less bad for Valve (30% less from transactions that are mostly all profit for them) and worse for the actual suppliers (devs) who can't really tell Valve to stop selling their stuff for 30% less.

            • reply
              August 13, 2015 9:58 AM

              If it lauched the Steam website though the Safari browser and the purchase was made there, I think that could work.

    • reply
      August 12, 2015 4:07 PM

      I'm glad you mentioned Nvidia's GameStream technology but the topic of streaming PC to Android is vastly under researched. While Nvidia Gamestream will only work with specific video cards and Shield devices there are a few alternatives for those who don't have those options. For people who already have a supported Nvidia card -- basically anything from the GTX 660 to current -- they can used the Nvidia Gamestream service to stream to any Android device with the Moonlight Streaming app. It utilizes the same tech that the Shield devices do but it is device agnostic. This works with any phone, tablet, Android stick, or set top box and is a great app for anyone who doesn't want to shell out the money for a Shield device. For those with an AMD card (or an older Nvidia card), two apps will allow streaming from a PC to an Android device: Kainy and Splashtop. The only difference between these apps versus Nvidia's GameStreaming is that Nvidia's solution harnesses the h.264 chip on the new video cards to encode the video before it is sent. While this does show better performance in raw numbers, I have yet to see much of a difference between the two during my play tests.

      While I would like to see Steam push In Home Streaming to mobile, I don't see it as a priority feature. There are already many ways to replicate this effect already and I would argue that the Steam Mobile app still needs a lot of basic features added in before this one. Another unfortunate aspect is that Valve gains nothing from pushing In Home Streaming to mobile. It would drastically cut into hardware sales of devices like the Steam Link and Steam Machines.

      • reply
        August 13, 2015 6:14 AM

        Are Valve really worried about hardware sales? I don't believe so. All they care about is getting the Steam platform to a bigger audience since that is where they make their money. Right now the focus is on those you want to play games on their couch and in front of their big ass tv. I don't think they really care about how you access the ecosystem as long as you do.

        • reply
          August 13, 2015 10:27 AM

          That is actually a pretty good point. I hadn't taken into account how little they might actually be making off of each Steam Link compared to the percentage of each sale on Steam.

    • reply
      August 12, 2015 7:45 PM

      I would buy a mobile device that could that.