The Impact of Cloud Servers on Gaming

"Cloud servers lighten the processing burden on the consoles"

“Cloud servers lighten the processing burden on the consoles”

Having moved everything from Microsoft Office, music management and entire operating systems onto the cloud, it’s not surprising that this would be a possibility that the gaming industry would look to for in its constant mission for smoother game play and easier game access. Recent titles have already gone onto the cloud on part-time basis-some Xbox games use the Xbox live cloud dedicated servers, and artificial intelligence in games like Forza 5 and Titanfall also use the cloud. Here’s a quick look at cloud involvement in gaming, and where it’s headed.

Distribution and Availability

"Through cloud you can access multiplayer option at an affordable scale"

“Through cloud you can access multiplayer option at an affordable scale”

Online gaming is gaining traction, with rising Esports coverage for games like Starcraft and League of Legends, and the market expected to hit $11 billion by next year. The cloud takes this to a whole new level by also lowering barriers to publication, allowing developers to release titles without waiting for larger scale print and digital distribution channels. Games like DayZ may even be released before they’re ready, acting as something of an official beta.

With the cloud, processing can also scale according to real-time demand, making it easier for games with see-sawing popularity to capitalize on their fan bases. Smaller teams can now also access multiplayer option at an affordable scale through the cloud. The cloud has also played a role in gaming socialization, storing data on what games players have engaged with recently, and sharing that with their friend network, a function that Valve has monetized through the purchase, trade and customization of backgrounds and trading cards. From technical perspective, the cloud can eliminate the need for developers to find, rent and maintain servers, and should help keep a consistent, low latency connection to players from their local datacenters.

Current Cloud Platforms and Adoption

Several cloud hosting services are available and more are on the way. Google Cloud Platforms has started its own push towards the gaming community, and big buzz was generated by Microsoft’s Azure which, as mentioned, has already been partly integrated into some Xbox games, Nvidia’s GRID, and more recently, the Sony PS Now.

The Nvidia GRID is powered by Amazon’s cloud services, and is available on preview basis until June 2015. It’s a game streaming service that intends to operate at 720p with 60 fps, and pushes traffic towards the Shield tablet, which is the only hardware compatible with the service. The initial game list includes about 20 titles like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Borderlands 2.

The GRID is meant to compete directly with Sony’s PS Now cloud beta, which offers backwards compatibility, letting you play PS3 games on your PS4. It runs on a Steam-like platform called Gaikai that makes over 100 PS3 titles like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear available for download and streaming.

Microsoft has also designed a software called DeLorean that predicts the next set of moves coming from a players, and loads the image frames needed for those action sequences at your device at home, resulting in almost lag-free gameplay. However, DeLorean uses two to five times more bandwidth than a standard setup, and has not yet been put in trials with multiplayer sequences.

However, the major disadvantage to cloud gaming remains its low latency, lag rate, and tendency to crash, qualities of particular annoyance to FPS gameplayers who often suffer death and fragging during lag time. Sony’s PS Now has also been criticized for its pricing, with downloads and rentals often more expensive than outright buying the game discs, and a lack of flat monthly fees. While there is still plenty of optimism towards the future of cloud gaming and what it means for the industry as a whole, there is still quite a ways to go before those ideas become reality.

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