That is, until now.
This week, Apple unveiled the first look at its new video game subscription service, Arcade. Meanwhile, Google will launch its Stadia streaming service in November, and it also just announced the launch of a separate video game subscription, Play Pass.
The new products from Apple and Google are very different in scope and scale, but both companies' efforts have two big things in common:
- No console. Neither Google nor Apple requires you to buy any hardware. They all work on your existing phone, laptop, etc. (Stadia does have an optional controller.) Good timing for them: the big video game console makers like Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are very worried that the China trade war will hurt their business this holiday season.
- Big bets on a new market. Neither Apple nor Google says this outright, but both are betting that there's a huge, untapped audience of casual gamers out there. These are people who like games, but who haven't been serious enough to buy consoles.
That's what they have in common. Here's what else we know about each platform.
1. Apple Arcade
We'll start with Apple Arcade, after Apple gave us our first big look this week.
According to Apple CEO Tim Cook's presentation, Apple Arcade will be the first platform that lets you sync games across myriad devices, say across your iPhone, MacBook, iPad and Apple TV.
The subscription cost is low: just $4.99 a month in the U.S. It will have about 100 games on offer as of its launch next Thursday, and its own tab within the App store. The games are mostly or perhaps all exclusive to Arcade, meaning that so far they don't have versions of popular games that people play elsewhere.
Also key to the Arcade setup (and a difference, as we'll see from Google Stadia), is that it's not really a streaming service.Instead, users will download games directly to their device, and be able to play without an Internet connection.
That keeps bandwidth requirements low, but it also limits the size of games -- and along with it the definition and perhaps quality of play. We shall see.
Also: It's only available for iOS systems, which means Apple is targeting a smaller market than Google.
2. Google Stadia
I've written quite a bit about Google Stadia since it was announced in March, and I'm looking forward to its release in November.
Like Arcade, it doesn't require a console; users are supposed to use their current devices.
That's where the similarities end, however. Google touts Stadia as a real, high-end playing experience, comparable to what serious gamers are used to on the latest Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox or Nintendo consoles -- and with many of the same titles.
Doing that with a purely no-console platform means that Stadia will need to eat a ton of bandwidth. Google seems to think that this won't be a problem, but there are a lot of skeptics out there.
Additionally, Stadia has features that are downright Twitch-like, such as the ability to upload games to YouTube, and enable others to start playing from where you left off.
Finally, Google's targeting the exact opposite market as Apple in a way: at launch, it won't be available on the iPhone.
3. Play Pass
Last but not least, we have Google Play Pass. Reportedly, it will be more like Arcade than Stadia will be -- a lower price point (maybe also $4.99 a month), and a perhaps a download experience, versus a streaming one designed for Android.
As of now, there's not even a release date, however. Just a tweet that Google posted the evening before Apple unveiled Arcade.
It's almost time ️ Google Play Pass is coming soon. pic.twitter.com/vTbNmRehLm-- Google Play (@GooglePlay) September 9, 2019
Will Apple or Google win? Will both? Will they be also-rans? Is there some smaller, upstart player out there who will outsmart them both (and let's be honest, probably wind up getting acquired if they get any momentum)?
It all starts next week, and we'll have a pretty good idea where things stand by the end of the year.