The Future Of Online Gaming
Today, I begin with a simple statement: cloud hosting is the future of the games industry. By tapping into the considerable advances made in networking technology over the past several years, gaming can expand itself to entirely new frontiers, reaching users who might otherwise have never picked up a video game. In so doing, it will also serve to foster widespread acceptance of the cloud, as more and more users familiarize themselves with its workings.
Cloud computing is hardly unfamiliar territory for the games industry. Valve, for example, offers the Steam Cloud – a system which allows its users to upload their profiles, key-bindings, and saved games to an online server, at which point they can be accessed from any computer on which the Steam platform is installed. Many game developers also use the cloud to an extent, relying on a cloud-based infrastructure to deal with server load.
These implementations are somewhat rudimentary compared to what’s to come. I speak, of course, about game streaming.
Currently, there are two types of cloud streaming: video streaming and file streaming. The former hosts a game on a server or a cluster of servers. This infrastructure handles virtually all of the graphics processing and computing required for the game to run. All the end user has to do is log in – the cloud handles the rest.
The latter, meanwhile, deploys a thin client on a user’s device, initially downloading a small portion of the title to allow the user to play immediately. While they play, the rest of the game downloads in the background. I needn’t explain what this could mean for digital distribution.
The implications of this technology are positively staggering. By offloading heavier computing requirements to the cloud, developers will potentially be able to offer breathtaking graphics, physics, and AI regardless of the end user’s system specifications. What this effectively means is that a particular title’s system requirements – once one of the greatest barriers to entry into the PC gaming space – could end up being largely irrelevant. Everyone could be a gamer, regardless of income or device.
There are also some very real uses for cloud hosting where hardware emulation is concerned. On both PC and console alike, there is a massive library of games which simply cannot function on modern hardware, meaning they run the risk of fading into obscurity. Similarly to how computing requirements can be offloaded to the cloud, so too can emulation; older titles can be run in a virtual environment and streamed to a newer system.
Already, we’ve seen glimmers of all this in Sony’s dealings with Gaikai. Through the use Gaikai’s cloud service, the PlayStation 4 allows users to instantaneously stream demos and downloaded games to their system. It allows users to play games for one another over the PlayStation network. It even lets users play PS4 games on their significantly less powerful PlayStation Vita.
The number of vendors expressing interest in cloud gaming has been steadily increasing as well: just this week, Amazon announced that its AppStream cloud technology is now available for game developers, while organizations such as OnLive and G-Cluster have offered their services to game developers for quite some time.
I still remember the first game I played – Megaman 5, on the Nintendo Entertainment system. If you’d told anyone back then that they’d one day live in a world where any game could be played on any device, they’d likely call you mad. Today, though? Such a world is within our reach.
Cloud hosting is the future of gaming – and that future is already here.
John Mack is a technical writer for Datarealm, one of the oldest web hosting companies. You can follow Datarealm on Twitter, @datarealm, and check out more of their web hosting articles on their blog.