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Is Cloud Gaming About to Take Off? Here Are Three Reasons Why the Stars Are Aligning
by Rohan Relan on 11/14/12 04:10:00 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.

 

After reading the news about the collapse of one of its highest profile companies, bystanders may perceive the entire notion of cloud gaming and the industry behind it as being in serious trouble. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, there are several reasons why cloud gaming is poised, at this precise moment, for unprecedented growth.

There is a new wave of cloud gaming emerging, but why and how? All the right circumstances are coming together at just the right moment to make cloud gaming a feasible reality. Just as streaming video providers like Netflix and Hulu have pushed the DVD player to near extinction, we are now faced with the question of whether cloud gaming will do the same to packaged and downloaded games. The benefits of cloud gaming are enormous. First, it can break down the barriers of time and space with the capacity to play anything, anytime, anywhere; second, cloud gaming provides a serious barrier to piracy, which is still a major problem with PC piracy rates reaching up to 95 percent in some regions; and third, developers can build once for the cloud rather than 15 times or more for different consoles, TVs, tablets, and computers. 

The three major factors that are aligning to take cloud gaming into its “2.0” generation are: 1) The emergence of true GPU-based clouds that can handle heavy graphics on demand; 2) The progression from just PCs and consoles to multiple, smart devices like connected TVs and tablets; and 3) the availability of a new breed of tablet- and TV-ready controllers. The convergence of these three essential elements means that the cloud gaming ecosystem is ready to take center stage as the method of providing truly compelling games to users anywhere, at any time.

1.    A true GPU cloud that supports the flexibility and capital efficiency game publishers need for mass distribution.

As the first generation of providers like OnLive and Gaikai revealed, cloud gaming has historically been capital intensive. The need for expensive, dedicated, and often proprietary GPU-enabled servers located close to users required massive upfront infrastructure investments, which scared away many publishers and sunk startup businesses. However, the creation of GPU-enabled open clouds by Amazon Web Services and the like has fundamentally changed this equation. This newfound flexibility, combined with ease of deployment, allows publishers to experiment with multiple distribution and business models, without expensive upfront costs and high risks. The open cloud’s elasticity means that the streaming service can scale up rapidly as gamers play during the day and release servers at night while players sleep. With networks of cloud servers located all over the world, we now have a truly extensive and pliable infrastructure to support powerful graphics on any device. 

2.    Universal devices that take games wherever you are.

Since high quality graphics are no longer exclusive to the physical console, gamers shouldn’t be tied down by their hardware, either. We now have such a diverse array of multipurpose and multimedia platforms and devices—tablets, smart TVs, iOS, Windows 8 and Android devices—that a box made just for gaming seems superfluous. Tablets especially are emerging as an ideal vehicle, not just for the Angry Birds variety of games but also for many types of console-style games as well. Using the cloud, game developers can give users unlimited access to their games on tablets and TVs, on-the-go or at home, with console-quality graphics.

3.    Innovative next-generation controllers with that familiar Xbox feel.

With the advent of universal access and the ability to game on non-gaming specific devices, there’s been a subsequent burst of innovation in controllers designed to enhance the gaming experience on this new wave of devices. Joypad makes use of tools you already have, letting gamers play on an iPad and control the game with their iPhones. For gamers looking for a more hardcore experience that’s still entirely portable, Wikipad is an Android-powered gaming tablet with a detachable game controller that offers the familiar feel of a traditional console controller. Discovery Bay Games and Gameloft have teamed up to create the Duo Gamer controller, an iPad controller with the feel of an arcade machine.  Even Razer, a company known for its hardcore audience, is demonstrating a new Windows 8 gaming tablet.  These are simply a few early examples of a trend of new game controllers that are being created to transform our everyday mobile devices into powerful gaming machines.

Cloud gaming has been waiting for its moment, and now, thanks to the right technical advances and more efficient business models, it’s ready to take off. Very high-quality games, originally designed for expensive gaming PCs and consoles, are now in the middle of a perfect storm to successfully jump onto mobile and connected TV devices in a way that’s easy for developers and convenient for gamers. Game publishers looking to support cross-platform play and bring their games to a truly universal audience should be looking to the cloud as their answer. 


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Comments


Ian Morrison
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I find the comparison to streaming video services like Netflix to be a bit off. The problem that streaming services solve for movies and television is availability, but for games it adds another problem: latency. Since games are fundamentally interactive, this is a pretty big issue and not one easily solved. I myself typically find myself extremely fortunate to have a 90ms ping to a typical server, and that delay would feel hideously clunky if that's the delay between me interacting with my machine and getting a response. That's certainly not playable for an FPS, for instance.

I can certainly see cloud gaming working for certain kinds of games... perhaps a graphics rich turn based strategy game or something, especially if the UI was done locally. However, any sort of action game (and, honestly, even slower paced games) would be hurt by the lack of responsiveness. The games that would work well on the cloud would have non-time critical gameplay, AND they would need to require enough graphical fidelity that they are both beyond the capabilities of the device they're running on AND good enough to justify the latency downsides of cloud gaming... and that's a pretty high bar to set. Based on those conditions, I think it'd be unlikely for cloud gaming to supplant the traditional "your machine is doing all the work" model as the standard.

Ian Fisch
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Having experienced OnLive at near optimal settings (land line, close to the data center), I can say that the latency of these types of services are just unacceptable.

I chose to play Trine on my ancient laptop at 320x240 (yes that's an option, amazingly) with the graphics on the lowest setting, rather than play via OnLive, where I was able to max out the graphics settings.

TC Weidner
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The US lags behind much of the world when it comes to high speed infrastructure. In order for cloud gaming to take off here, that and its hundred billion dollar price tag has to be addressed first IMHO.


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