Cloud Gaming Has Brought Back My Old Bad Habits

Throughout my life, there have been a couple of periods wherein I would commit the sinful gamer act of never finishing a game; gleefully hopping from title to title, genre to genre, unconcernedly and without remorse. As a child, this was sheerly due to the desire to see my PlayStation 2 catalogue grow. The quality of the games didn’t matter, just that there were more of them. As such, rummaging through GameStop’s (EB Games for us Canadians back in the day) bargain bins was a common occurrence. It was to the point where if an opportunity arose where I could trade in one title for two in return, I would do it, regardless of the quality; precisely why I traded in Shrek 2 for FIFA 2003 and Dog’s Life. Was I a fan of football (soccer) or particularly interested in playing an action-adventure game as a dog named Jake? Of course not. Was Shrek one of my favourite films as a child? Absolutely. However, is 2 greater than 1? Yes, yes it is.

I couldn’t tell you what was going on in my mind back then, just that I found joy in owning those iconic black boxes with the “PlayStation 2” header, seeing them stacked atop one another, and reading all their paraphernalia. Whether those boxes encased a Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or The Chronicles of Narnia, wasn’t important. I can’t tell you how many games I finished, or even played over 50% of, during my childhood, only that the number would be very small. What I can tell you is that a similar situation arose a few years later when my parents and I moved back to Bangladesh. Though my country has developed quite a bit over the past decade with video games in particular becoming more accessible–albeit more expensive–Bangladesh in the mid-late 2000s was a pirate’s dream.

Want to purchase Skyrim two weeks after its release for your modded Xbox 360? That’ll be $2.50, please. Since this was the only means by which gamers could play the latest and greatest games since most gaming shops in the country weren’t going to spend their quarterly budget to import original titles, you can imagine most teenagers’ rooms, mine included, were flooded with essentially the entirety of the 360’s library. This means, once again, I was on a tear playing through the first handful of hours of some of the 360’s biggest games; just until an iota of boredom seeped through for me to make an excuse to run off and jump into another seven-hour adventure within a twenty-five-hour title.

Piracy & Gaming
These plastic wrappings are oh-so nostalgic. Image from Reddit user: shadow_hunter104

After I’d made my way back West, and after a short hiatus from gaming, I would return to the medium with a newfound passion – one instigated after completing the original The Last of Us. However, this time, I made a promise that no matter what, I would do my damndest to complete every game I picked up henceforth. The decade following would see me (mostly) do right by that promise, playing through games to their end credits no matter their challenge or even if they’d grow to my unliking. If I started a game, it was likely that I was going to be finishing it. If I’m honest I was quite proud. It may sound silly, but I was. Committing myself to seeing something through not only gave me a sense of accomplishment but also a better and fuller understanding of the games I was playing, even those that didn’t particularly resonate. Much of this, of course, was made possible by the fact that I was, at this time, in my twenties and living in some of the most expensive cities in the world, so having to pay $60 for every new game, or even $20-$30 for an older/used one meant that I had to be financially mindful of my purchasing decisions. Long gone were my seafaring days when a game would cost as much as a pack of ramen.

I was quite happy with the run of games I completed from when I’d made that promise, and was still driven to continue the practice. However, recent years have made this endeavour quite challenging as companies have slowly but surely begun transitioning to a new model by which we consume their games: cloud-based subscription services. Though the mass adoption of the technology is still slow compared to that of the film industry, it’s clear that these services are here to stay. While many within the gaming space have and continue to be (understandably) skeptical of these services in terms of their quality, reliability, and what it means for their media ownership, I’ve been on the other end trying out nearly each of these services with great joy, to the detriment of my backlog. From Xbox Cloud Gaming, Nvidia GeForce NOW, Amazon Luna, and MaximumSettings, I’ve had active subscriptions to at least one of these services for the past four years, and my experience thus far has been quite positive.

Balder’s Gate 3 on Logitech G Cloud
Baldur’s Gate 3 on Logitech G Cloud

Convenience and cost will always be the two factors that sway my purchasing decisions. Although I realize that corporate greed has led us to come full circle in the post-cable television space, where active subscriptions and the reintroduction of mid-roll ads have effectively made the experience and costs of watching television akin to when we all still had cable, cloud gaming is still in its infancy and the convenience, cost of entry, and library of games make the purchasing of a $500+ console increasingly hard to justify. Being able to play Horizon Forbidden West, a Sony exclusive, via MaximumSettings without needing to purchase a PlayStation 5 (or a $1000+ PC), is quite the feat. With that said, however, this new abundance of choice brought on by convenience has once again led me down a path I had worked for so long to not reenter.

Currently, I’m about eighty hours into Baldur’s Gate 3, which I’m playing via GeForce NOW. Around fifty hours into Horizon Forbidden West, which as mentioned I’m playing on Steam via MaximumSettings. In the latter half of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, a few hours into Fallout: New Vegas, and just starting Assassin’s Creed: Mirage, all of which I’m playing via Amazon Luna. This, of course, doesn’t include games that I’m playing locally like TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge, Moonlighter, and Into the Breach, games I’m playing on my iPad via a Netflix subscription. Then finally, I still have Lies of P and Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot still installed on my Xbox Series S, games that I’m enjoying quite a bit and need to get back to. The question remains, however, is if I actually will get back to them, seeing as there are only so many hours in a day, within which I still need to do actual human adult things. But most of these games wouldn’t have even made it into my circulation if I hadn’t either gotten them for “free” via an existing subscription or had access to them in some cost-effective way or another. With how rapidly cloud services are growing, I can’t imagine this problem getting better.

Now, I am completely aware of the triviality of this “problem,” especially given the current state of our world. This is an utter non-issue that simply needs some resistance and discipline on my part. Nevertheless, as someone who grew up always needing to be wary of finances, having an abundance of games at my disposal at any given moment, either for a few dollars a month or access without the need for an expensive console or PC, is something that the child in me finds difficult to not feel giddy by. I’m sure in a few years gaming companies will find a way to make the cloud gaming experience rife with exploitative monetization practices, inconsistent libraries, and whatever else that makes things miserable for the end user. But for now, though I’ll do my best to keep my old bad habits at bay, I’ll allow myself to bask in my ever-growing backlog in the cloud for a little while longer.

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