Recently, James Gwertzman, the head of cloud gaming at Microsoft, spoke at length about the potential of cloud technologies for the future of gaming. He mused about games becoming more like platforms than services, about massively open-world games becoming commonplace, about the role of machine learning and AI for cloud gaming, and how cloud computing could democratize professional-level game development tools, ushering in a new era of creativity for game design. But what is cloud gaming at its heart, and what are its benefits over existing ways of gaming?
What is cloud gaming?
Simply put, cloud gaming is gaming done without the need for the traditional cartridges, discs, or downloads on which earlier generations of video game enthusiasts have always relied. Cloud gaming has been around in various forms since 2008. However, with the advent of cloud-based servers now powerful enough to run a game in a real-time streaming manner similar to Netflix or Spotify, the ability of cloud gaming to deliver a quality gaming experience is finally matching its promise. Cloud gaming could even do away with the need for consoles like an Xbox or PlayStation, as cloud gaming will allow you to play the latest games with just a quality internet connection.
Instead of relying on a traditional console or PC to game on, with cloud gaming the computing power needed for the gaming experience is happening remotely from the gamer, at a data center full of powerful servers. The cloud nature of this kind of gaming has multiple advantages, including:
- Players can game on any device—including phones, laptops, tablets, and TVs—without the need for the latest console hardware
- No waiting for games to download or update
- Shorter load times within games, depending on the speed of the cloud servers
- Eliminates cheating by players who employ hacks or mods
Who provides cloud gaming services?
There are various cloud gaming service providers, many of whom are household names in the software and electronics industry. Stadia is Google’s cloud game streaming service, launched in November 2019. Available through laptops or PCs with a Chrome browser, the Google Pixel 3 and 3a phones, or a Google Chromecast device, Stadia allows gamers to play from any device and then pick up right where they left off when they want to switch to another device. The service is available for a monthly subscription fee and access to a limited library of games, plus the option to purchase additional games on top of the monthly subscription cost.
While Google recently announced that they are stepping back from developing their own gaming content, third-party content continues to be available for all gamers. The Stadia system has its flaws, including lack of games, a large user base is necessary for its survival.
The major competitor to Stadia is Microsoft’s xCloud. Offered as part of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription and powered by Windows Azure server technology, xCloud is (for now) geared towards Android mobile devices. Currently streaming at 720p, Microsoft plans for xCloud to be available on PCs and Xbox devices and stream at higher resolutions soon. Just this month, xCloud’s beta for iOS and PC debuted. Its major attraction currently is the low subscription price ($15 a month) that gives the gamer access to over 200 games, including AAA games from past and present. Microsoft’s recent interest in Discord may play well into developing its cloud gaming platform.
NVIDIA’s GeForce Now offers gameplay in 1080p across mobile devices, computers, and TV and even includes a free-to-use subscription tier (allowing one hour of play per session). Unlike some other services, you buy and fully own the games you play on GeForce, including current releases. And it’s also the only way you can currently play Fortnite on an iPhone.
PlayStation Now, Sony’s cloud gaming service, comprises an extensive back catalog of 700+ PS2, PS3, and PS4 games for a monthly or yearly subscription. However, unlike other services, Sony does not make its brand-new marquee games available on the Now platform. And Amazon is currently working on its cloud gaming platform, Luna. Though few details are available at this point, it will harness the power of Amazon’s AWS server technology. The Luna Controller provides integration with games company Ubisoft’s library and online streaming service Twitch, popular with online gamers.
Cloud Gaming and Esports
Beyond just average gamers, cloud gaming has potential impacts on the world of eSport. Currently, eSports growth is partially hindered by the high bar to entry: professional players and teams have the best machines that money and sponsorship can buy. The speed of these machines makes them capable of performing far better than an average internet connection.
However, cloud gaming offers a way to effectively democratize eSports. By offloading to a cloud server the computational power required to run a game, it frees up a PC to run without that drain on memory, potentially eliminating the impact of hardware on an eSports competitor’s performance. Cloud gaming potentially opens up eSport access to everyone, removing a technological barrier that might currently be filtering out the best players who simply lack access to the right hardware.
Be the HERO in your portfolio.
Interest in cloud gaming has grown significantly since the start of the pandemic. With preparations for a post-covid world and ever-faster cloud servers, cloud gaming is poised to revolutionize the gaming industry.
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