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GDC Online: Cloud Gaming's Fast-Approaching Future

GDC Online: Cloud Gaming's Fast-Approaching Future

October 12, 2011 | By Kris Graft

At a panel during GDC Online in Austin, TX, experts addressed the future of the cloud gaming, and how it can change gaming and game development.

Cloud gaming has been a hot topic in the games industry in recent years -- cloud gaming companies host games and stream the game data from remote servers to users' hardware. It eliminates the need for large client downloads and doesn’t require users to have the latest and most expensive CPUs and graphics cards.

"Cloud gaming should be totally invisible to the user," said David Perry, CEO of cloud gaming company Gaikai (pictured). To him, accessibility is one of the biggest advantages of cloud gaming.

"[Players] don’t need to know [how cloud gaming works]. Our goal is to be completely invisible," Perry said. "Today, that's not the way it is. Games are incredibly high friction… We keep putting barriers in front of people."

Perry said he asks himself, "What would it take to make video games as accessible as movies or music?… We'll never get there if we don't make [games] accessible."

He said cloud gaming is still a work in progress, but it's going in the right direction. "It’s a nightmare to build a global server network… but we've found people willing to fund this. It's not a question of can it be done, it's just a lot of work," he said.

"There are good reasons to use the cloud, but there are reasons not to use the cloud," said David Wilson, head of cloud gaming firm Spawn Labs, which major retailer GameStop recently acquired.

He claimed the competing streaming game service from OnLive (which was conspicuously absent from the panel) didn't resonate with consumers because he believes that the company pitched the system as something that could replace consoles.

"I don't think OnLive has proven anything yet, except that the technology works," said Wilson. He admitted that there are still challenges to cloud gaming such as bandwidth caps, maintaining acceptable video quality, and reducing latency.

When asked if he believed whether the next generation of consoles would implement cloud gaming capabilities, Perry replied, "They would be insane not to. You don't want to be a console that doesn’t." He added that at a recent cloud gaming convention, there were over a dozen people from Microsoft, a handful from Sony, and one from Nintendo, which he speculated probably represents the level of interest from those companies.

In the past, consoles were all about accessibility -- plug in a cartridge, turn on a switch, and start playing. But Perry said somewhere along the way, consoles lost that accessibility. "Fundamentally, we have to get back to that -- how easy can we make [gaming]," he said.

But that's going to take time. Wilson criticized the hype that surrounded OnLive, which some people said would marginalize traditional kinds of delivery services. Streaming technology is on course, however. "Cloud gaming got over-hyped… but it’s happening. There's no overnight success, you don't overturn an industry in six months," said Wilson.

He added that at this stage, game developers don't need to do much different on their end to have their games work on the cloud. But in the future, developers will want to fine tune their games to take advantage of what is essentially unlimited computing power.

"Long term, there will be more considerations, because people will be building for the cloud. Right now [developers] don’t really need to do anything," he said.

Perry also stressed that cloud gaming makes PC game development as important as ever. "You would be nuts [not to have a PC build]," he said. If you're not, you're "just throwing money away." Gaikai's service currently lets users jump right into a PC game demo from a web ad. "This future is coming, trust me. We're well-funded. This is going to happen. OnLive is already making it happen. You need to be prepared for that."

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