Why Call Of Duty will be on Chromebook
I think the console wars will be won by the web browser.
Recently Phil Spencer, the CEO of Microsoft Games, has been taking questions about his planned acquisition of Activision. He’s been doing one of those “Win people over so we can win a lawsuit” press tours.
Sony, the makers of Playstation, have objected to the purchase. They’ve accused Spencer of building a monopoly, and have asked how long Microsoft plans to keep publishing Activision’s trademark franchise Call of Duty on the Playstation.
Spencer’s answer is easy, “As long as there’s a PlayStation out there to ship to, our intent is that we continue to ship Call of Duty on PlayStation”. (Same Brain Podcast)
The internet was quick to pick up on the most interesting clause: “As long as there’s a Playstation?”
What was Spencer planning? How quickly does Microsoft intend to put Sony out of buisness? Nilay Patel pressed him on The Verge’s excellent Decoder podcast.
Patel: You recently have a quote that says, “You will have Call of Duty on PlayStation for as long as there is a PlayStation.” Which is a great quote by the way, because of the implied threat that it contains. I appreciated that.
Spencer: When I’m saying things like, “As long as there is a PlayStation,” there was no implied threat at all. I hope there’s a PlayStation forever. I do. I think PlayStation and Nintendo are great for the gaming industry. Hopefully I have been consistent in saying that. All I mean is that at some point you have to have the ability to run your business, and not just the console business.
Emphasis mine. What Spencer is getting at speaks to a larger shift in applications, computing, and gaming. It underscores how Microsoft is thinking about the future, and it gives me an opportunity to pitch my version.
My producer is telling me that Web3 and Web5 are already taken, so I’ll call this WebBoxSeriesX.
A little over two months ago, September 15th, Adobe (who’s business model is charging underpaid freelancers $240 a year to use Photoshop) cashed $20 Billion of their ransom money to purchase a company called Figma. Most of the internet, reacted like this:
Figma is an online toolkit of design and animation tools. Graphic designers who previously needed top-of-the-line PC’s to do their work, can use figma.com on a Chromebook. I made that collage in Figma. It lets me slap together graphic design (that previously, would only have been possible in Photoshop) on the web. Figma’s other website; FigJam, would let me do it on a digital whiteboard with the help of my friends.
The best way I can put it is that “Adobe saw a Google Docs coming for their Microsoft Word, and bought them.”
Did you know that Microsoft Word runs on the web now? In fact the whole Office suite does, and it works pretty well. Microsoft was late to the game, but I use their web suite over Google’s. It’s more powerful, just as fast, and only slightly less shareable. Right now I’m writing this in Word, in a Firefox tab.
Webapps(fully featured applications that are run in browser) are the future and it’s been obvious since Google Docs consumed their competition overnight. Ever notice how Spotify, Notion, or Discord are just websites pretending to be desktop programs?
You can run any of them in browser tabs, and I often do. More and more desktop applications become websites every week. Before Yahoo Mail and Gmail, most people checked their email on Thunderbird or Outlook which, and I can’t stress this enough, were entire applications. For email!
Give me your email.
Alright fine. Lets talk about Google Stadia. The ill-fated website was a subscription service that let you buy Assassins Creed. It might have let you purchase and play other games as well, but I don’t think so. The program was doomed by it’s bewildering business model, and strange marketing pitch that seemed to revolve around that guy from Game Theory.
Here’s the part we only admitted when Stadia finally went under: The website worked.
Not only that, but Xcloud(Microsoft’s version of Google Stadia), works. Xcloud will let me play Halo Infinite on my phone right now. Razer’s got one. Logitech’s version of Stadia works most of the time!
Even Sony and NVIDIA have charted a competing path with their “Now” branded services! Admittedly, PlayStation Now doesn’t really work and GeforceNow exists in a legal grey area that some publishers have called “a violation of our contract with Google Stadia”.
But largely; the future that MatPat saw on stage while wearing a weird leather jacket has come for all of us. You can play Assassins Creed Origins, in a web browser, anywhere in the world.
When Phil Spencer says “as long as there’s a PlayStation” he isn’t just doubting how long Sony will keep making the PlayStation. He’s doubting that anyone is going to have a box under their TV a decade from now.
The transition is already happening. Most modern multiplayer games are already inseparable from the servers they really run on. This improves accessibility, letting more people run your game on lower end computers, and gives developers more control over the game experience.
I think we’ll see this continue over the next decade. A gradual but accelerating process. The next few years of games will see more and more computation done remotely. This is increasingly feasible as internet speeds improve around the world, but particularly in the US.
Eventually, probably within the decade, some publishers will begin to offer players Xcloud-like experiences as a subscription perk. High frame rate, high fidelity gaming, anywhere in the world(with a good enough internet connection).
Sooner than we think possible, someone will have a hit game that runs either entirely in the cloud or via webapp. It’ll probably be something like Mobile Legends or Shining Nikki. Games with millions of users who are not of the traditional gamer demographic and are less likely to own custom PCs. Games that can either survive the delay of streaming(turn based games are great on Stadia) or are lightweight enough to be run by increasingly capable web rendering(like Figma and other webapps have demonstrated).
Here is a list of popular games that I think could be websites tomorrow:
Crusader Kings / Football Manager / Into The Breach
Dwarf Fortress / Factorio / Don’t Starve Together
Undertale / Celeste
League of Legends / Omega Strikers / World of Warcraft / Runescape
Hearthstone / Legends of Runeterra / Marvel Snap / Magic The Gathering
And here is a list of games that are already websites:
Quake Live (now discontinued but alive in community forks)
I’m not sure. There are upsides: people will be able to share games with a link, more people will have access to interactive storytelling than ever, more people will be able to join online communities and make friends than ever. It’ll be harder to exclude people from games.
On the other hand, as we’ve seen with Figma and Adobe, and before them with Spotify and iTunes: the more online a product is, the less you own it. We’re already at the iTunes phase in gaming.
All game ownership is a license agreement with Steam. In store game disks are just fancy game keys. But streamed or webapp games will be impossible to mod, archive, or reskin.
Obviously that’s a big deal if you live somewhere unlikely to get good internet in the next 5 - 10 years. But you probably can’t play Call of Duty anyway.
When I say that Microsoft is anticipating this shift, I really mean it. Their Game Pass model is perfect for a streaming future. They are one of two serious players in the web hosting game. In our future where all video games are run off cloud computing or even cloud streaming; realistically that means that all games are operated by Amazon’s AWS or Microsoft’s Azure. It's a dire duopoly that is of course, already broadly in effect. Many games use AWS for their game servers. Figma runs on Azure.
Phil Spencer sees a future where you play Call Of Duty on a $50 Chromecast, not a PlayStation, and I do too.
Regretfully streamed from Substack’s servers to your screen,
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