After much promise but a rather slow delivery, Cloud technology is beginning to take shape in the gaming community. Whether providing full-fledged, streaming games through GaaS (Gaming as a Service) or enhancing local games by outsourcing computational resources to cloud servers, cloud gaming is no longer some amorphous object looming in the horizon.
To be clear, there are two main types of cloud gaming: file streaming and video streaming. The former, which I’m not going to focus on much here, has to do with incrementally downloading games, allowing players to begin a game while the game is still busy downloading. However, video streaming, similar to streaming music and film, gives players the ability to seamlessly play a game over the internet without needing to download the game at all.
Nevertheless, what I find most intriguing is the cloud's ability to execute a game's performance-intensive graphics processing on a remote server, rendering the capabilities of the user’s hardware irrelevant.
When it comes to streaming games, NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, GaaS platform, boasts a pretty awesome service. Available on SHIELD, their sleek piece of streaming media hardware, it claims to be capable of running AAA titles up to 1080p at 60 FPS! Released nearly a year ago, the service, then called GRID, originally offered a free, though small, library of games. Still relatively low on games, GeForce Now gives users access to just over sixty games for $7.99/month. That's pretty good, however, at its cheapest, the system cost nearly $200. Game count and pricing aside, what’s really impressive is how SHIELD renders 3D games in the cloud, making the device’s actual hardware arbitrary—though it's not too bad for its size. Anyway, the device still has pretty far to go before it can compete with the likes of Playstation and Xbox, but the idea of a Netflix-style streaming game service is quite attractive.
Perhaps the most interesting use of cloud gaming is the hybridization of local games working with cloud servers. For instance, upcoming Xbox One title, Crackdown 3, appears to be a typical console game on the surface, however, it has the power of the cloud beneath it. The outcome of having the extra computational cloud-provided boost is a game with incredibly strong physics modeling. Crackdown 3’s online multiplayer will offer players a fully destructible sandbox environment that promises jaw-droppingly spectacular effects which current-gen Xbox hardware couldn’t muster on its own. Check out a video showcasing the effects below.
The biggest concerns for cloud gaming are reserved for latency issues and rendering performance. As with any sort of streaming media, network speed is always an important factor. However, with video games being an active media, smoothness is crucial—gamers hate lag! Also, outsourcing GPU horsepower to the cloud, from a gamer’s standpoint, means you are at the mercy of an outside entity to provide you with optimal graphics power. And, what if your connection to the cloud dies? Well, there’s always local gaming… right?
All in all, I’m really excited for cloud gaming. With the added potential of reinforcing current consoles with cloud power and huge strides being made in streaming games, the cloud is revamping the way we develop games. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.