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Cloud Gaming
by Daniel Siconnelli on 05/03/10 07:04:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Cloud Computing is both an abstract concept which can reffer to every logical grouping of software services provided by one or more companies which may or may not be on the same hardware architectures.

It also stands for the physical architectures involving SOA (services-oriented architecture) systems, server farms and a lot of hardware to provide on demand services 24/24 no matter what may happen.

Not matter how one sees it, it's all about regrouping services and taking responsabilities off from our good old PC or laptop standing on our desk.  Of course it's a 2010 buzzword and I am personally seeing some kind of Terminal Server (Mainframes anyone?...) à la sauce New Millenium coupled with web technologies.

So, since it's a buzzword, any IT actors out there wants to plug in the word cloud when they're talking about their product, services or philosophy.  What I forsee is that the gaming industry will not be stranger to it.

The thing is... Cloud Computing along with Software Virtualization are really promising.  I put the second one with it because everything is about having almost nothing on the client side.

Imagine a world where you don't have to invest every year (or 6 months for some of you...) in the new Alien Technologically Advanced 4D Quantum Player (to watch the downloaded 10th reedition of Fritz Lang's Metropolis from some store in the Cloud).  Of course, you would have to PAY for every use of the movie but that's another debate.

The idea of having every service in the Cloud is to ensure that eveything you need is always available from wherever you are on the planet.  You don't need your PC or Laptop anymore.  You just log into the cloud and there you have your account and your services, may they be games, movies or any software.  And with the huge Mobile market, you're about to have any of your services right there in your pocket.

Recently we've forseen the launch of OnLive.  When I saw that I thought "this is it" we're already there.  While the gaming service is still to be launched on june 7th, it appears as a pratical Cloud concept to me.  You have your numb machine in the living room, you open it, it logs into your account and then you can play your games from the servers while it "streams" the game to your console which shoots it to your TV.

The gain is quite interresting while the numb console standing beneath your TV will have a very long life as long as it can receive huge amounts of data from the streamed game.  You won't have to change it.  The servers on the other side can evolve to offer you the latest technology in gaming.  The company will be upgrading the "server farm" often (I hope) to keep the pace with the ever evolving power of Graphic cards and CPUs.

The downside I see to this is : you will have to pay to play.  You will not be able to buy the console, buy games and then play with your games without paying until buying another game.  It's a service like a mobile phone service.  You don't pay?  You don't use.  Otherwise, the device becomes useless.

The upside however : you will never lose saved games, never break game discs, never have to worry about bringing your games with you to play at a friends house...etc. 

For me I prefer the good old way as I want to pay and go away with the thing and bring my game discs with me.  I'm still wondering everyday "man why do I keep paying for my cell phone to work?". 

But before OnLive launches with a promising full package, we can just go back a few years and see that's it's already there with XBox Live since the first XBox, beside, aren't any MMO back since Ultima Online some kind of SOA?  Lately any gaming company have been offering DLC for more and more games as well as complete old and new games... Those are downloadable and not "streamed" from the servers but I see it as a transition.

And if I keep looking back, what I see?  BBS (Bulletin Boards System for the younger ones).  If you read on the subject (begin with wikipedia) you will find similarities with the actual models.  It has evolved, it offers much more and is more reliable but... the thing it was still and is still today the same old concept of SOA to me.

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Sean Farrell
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I don't think that cloud gaming can work very well; at least for fast paced games. And this is purely on a technical level. The server is someplace in the internet and thus your have a latency of at least 10 ms; realistically more like about 50ms. That is input lag. People are already fretting with 1-2 ms input lag. Until they don't fix that; which is technically almost impossible, cloud gaming is dead before it even was launched.

Nick Schommer
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Sean, I think you are speaking mainly to "twitch" based games (Call of Duty series, Halo, etc.) and lag is definitely an issue. However, when playing multiplayer (which most people do) you have the same setup with sometimes as much as 120ms "lag". I agree that the game experience suffers from this for the person on the lagging connection, but more often than not, they continue to play. Cloud computing could solve a lot of this as ALL calculations are done on the server and then streamed to the console. No more differing GPU lag, no more "I have the newest processor and will crush you!", everyone gets THE SAME experience. Now whether that is applicable remains to be seen.

Terry Matthes
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I don't really see the advantages to this personally. I like to play my games at home and don't feel that paying $300 for a console system every 4 years is unreasonable. This whole set up just seems to take control away from me and give me a monthly bill in its place.

Welcome to the future. Own nothing, pay for everything.

Michael Smith
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Network lag and input lag are significantly different. Input lag has a greater effect on playability. People won't have the same experience -- it will still be dependent on their distance from the server and their internet connection bandwidth and reliability. The speed at which frames need to be compressed results in more compression artifacts than you see in most videos these days. The end result -- you get a worse looking, slower responding gaming experience for roughly a similar cost. The only benefit is the lack of potential headaches maintaining a system, but that's because they take all the control away from you.

Sean Farrell
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As Michael points out what we see now is network lag. Network lag is compensated with interpolation; guessing and dead reckoning. What you see is still a seamless experience. You might wonder why you did not nail that one shot, but when you turn the camera it turns instantly.

With cloud gaming you have that 50 ms or so between he point you push the button to when you see the effect. (input lag) It's already not fun when you have a lag of 1-2 ms... There is no way you can compensate for input lag, but removing the lag.

Daniel Siconnelli
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The lag is still the great problem but the biggest one I think is when "the line breaks". It all comes down to the reliability of the bandwidth. Besides the lag, the problem with every SOA service (may it be games or not) is when the line breaks. Feels like sailing on a sea and suddenly the sea is all gone. Doh!

There has to be some mechanism to protect the user's progression. Of course if you are modifying a text document in Google Docs if you lose your WiFi connection in a café ... so what. You may lose a bit of your work.

In a game it's different. If you lose the line and you are disconnected AND your character/avatar doesn't disapear in the virtual world (MMO or not), monsters or even Player Charasters will have a great pleasure tearing you to pieces and... you may be sorry when you finally have your line back.

After some some strong mechanics to protect the player is well implemented (like going into warp in the MMO Eve Online), the lag remains the second biggest issue to me. But it rapidly gets the most anoying one.

I believe the Cloud Gaming model could bring a lot of money into the pockets of companies of course since you continue to pay (like in MMOs) as long as you play the game. But this model SHOULD allow greater and more frequent upgrades to the Infrastructures widening the bandwidth.

If the back-end technology doesn't allow to get rid of this latency, I still think many games genre could go into the cloud but as soon as some action is included into the gameplay, the game is doomed. I wouldn't imagine playing BlazBlue, Gears of War or Devil May Cry with a 40-60ms of latency.

ba nguyen
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I think we can expect Google to take a step into cloud computing for the gaming industry now. For example O3D is taking your graphics card and pushing it on the browser, so you can run graphics that compare against Halo 3, FF 13 any of the 3rd gen consoles (ps3, xbox 360) all on your browser. No matter where you go you can always access the same thing through the net. That is Googles statement anways, to bring services to everyone and anyone anywhere and everywhere.

I definitely agree with Terry on owning your own console, it's just more traditional that way, and growing up I'm still deeply rooted in old school console gaming.