At GDC China, Microsoft cloud evangelist Brian Prince discussed developing for the cloud, often referencing the company's new Azure cloud service, which the company has spent billions developing. The servers alone, of which there are six, cost $2.5 billion, according to Price.
Right now there are a few options. You can build games to scale to the cloud yourself, or you can send your games into cloud gaming services like Onlive and Gaikai. "These are really gaming platforms as a service," says Price. "There are some limitations here, but I really do think this is the distant future of gaming in the cloud."
In terms of the drawbacks though, "typically these platforms focus on AAA PC game titles," he says. "If you're not in that space, they don't want to talk to you as much. Another problem is that your gamers need high speed internet access. That's fine if you live in a city, but most of America doesn't live in a city, for example."
There's also a slight lack of control as a developer or publisher. "You lose a little bit about how people are finding and playing your game, which can be important," he says. "And this is yet another publisher you have to deal with. Sometimes publishers are a dream, but it's another contract you have to sign." Still, he thinks it's very important, and the way games are going in the future.
Price, of course, advocates using Microsoft's new Azure SDK, which he says can easily allow developers to save game states, allowing players to resume playing games across devices, from console, to iOS, to the browser. The Windows Azure SDK is available for free download here
Price promises that this will be more usable than other Microsoft products. "At Microsoft we generally write everything as though everyone's a .Net developer,," he admits. "Turns out not everyone's a .Net developer. So we wrote the toolkits for those other developers so it works how that expects."
How do you pay for these servers, though? "From a compute perspective, not data, you pay by the time of the server, not the CPU level," he says. "So if your server is empty and doing nothing, and your CPU is flat, you pay the same as if your CPU is 100%." "Since you're using it, you're paying for it. Like a hotel room, even though I'm not in it right now, I'm still paying for it."
While Price can't address cloud gaming on the console directly, he says that "you will be seeing things in the Xbox platform that's cloud-specific. I'm already doing it, it's really exciting, but I can't tell you about it or else I'll get fired."