Cloud computing is vital to the future of gaming, says Silicon Knights' Denis Dyack (Too Human), and he says such technology could "profoundly change the industry forever".
But he began his wide-ranging talk at GDC Europe in Cologne with a focus on commoditization: the concept that the technology drives down the value of products. Technology is eroding the value of intellectual properties for many cultural mediums, he said, particularly music -- where people feel they can download music rather than buy it.
Similar issues are rampant in the game industry, where piracy is a growing concern, he said. "People aren't paying for the games when they feel they can get them for free," he noted, adding that some countries don't even acknowledge piracy in the same way that we do. "This talk's not going to change anything like that," he quipped.
Cloud computing may be part of the solution, Dyack said -- the cloud can act as the "firewall" behind which the interactive content lives.
The Rise Of The Cloud
Linear media like music or movies delivered via cloud can still easily be pirated, Dyack pointed out. But for non-linear media like games -- "assuming people can't break into the cloud" -- Dyack said cloud tech could eliminate piracy and "profoundly change the industry forever."
Cyber Empires, Silicon Knights' first title from the early '90s, is no longer easily playable or buyable and has effectively lapsed into "abandonware," said Dyack. But although the company "may do a remix at some point", it would be much easier to set up the correct emulators on the cloud to make games of any era run.
Costs will decrease on digital distribution versus the physical, noted Dyack, and migrating development systems to the cloud will change hardware standards a lot.
He suggested that a fairer, more level playing field for all games would result. Right now, games like Resistance and Gears Of War don't really compete against each other -- because they are on different console systems.
If all shooters could compete against each other on a cloud platform, the "artificial walls that have been built up by proprietary consoles" will be broken down, Dyack suggested -- actually encouraging better games as a result.
In addition, the existing plethora of consoles makes it a lot more difficult for regular consumers to work out what systems to buy, and Dyack argued that standardizing on the cloud would help.
Dyack defended his recent comments on a one-console future, noting that those who think this method "allows for monopolies" are incorrect. His standpoint is that an open platform -- actually accomplished via cloud computing -- will allow fair competition for all.
Not One, But Multiple Clouds
Assuming the developer has the resources, there could be a cloud for his company's games, commented the Silicon Knights founder. There may not be just one cloud computing network -- Dyack thinks of clouds as cable channels, "just a connection" to a set of games, and Nintendo and Sony could have similar but separate clouds.
The biggest criticism of cloud computing right now appears to be lag and latency, according to Dyack. But those issues are "distractions", he said, not an ultimate long-term block to rise of the technology.
In addition, Dyack said that the "endless bickering" over which console is better "really hurts the community", and so he hopes -- perhaps idealistically, but for the benefit of developer economics -- that as hardware becomes irrelevant, the games become everything.
As for not having physical games to keep hold of, Dyack referenced iTunes in his Q&A as an example of a digital method that has replaced the physical. "Our belief in physical media is... going to become dated," he said. Physical media "will always matter to some people", he noted, but on a large scale, it "will become irrelevant."
The changes will also defray the frustration that developers can encounter "when you stop a manufacturing run of your game" and they "start to see it picked up more and more by users" without the concurrent extra revenue -- something that's "tremendously frustrating."
Concluding, Dyack asserted he's not necessarily advocating for the current cloud computing companies. He said he doesn't know whether OnLive will do well, and "we might not see another cloud computing model for another four years". But he does believe that in twenty years, cloud computing will be largely the status quo.