Cloud gaming is a new paradigm that utilizes processing capabilities of cloud computing for the purpose of gaming. It is also called games on demand, much like video on demand. The games are stored and launched from a host server in the cloud and streamed like a video to handheld devices, which have much lesser processing power. In essence, with a few taps, you can play a high-end PC game like Batman Arkham City on your smart phone or tablet. Not only you can play a game anywhere, you can also resume game progress. You can even invite and engage your friends in a multi-player game.
This revolutionary new model of gaming has its roots in Internet Protocol television (IPTV) from 2004, but was nascent until 2009, when the two of the biggest brands in the market, Gaikai and OnLive were launched. (OnLive was recently acquired by a third party firm, however operations will continue uninterrupted. More news on the company and cloud gaming here.)
These companies captured the advances in cloud technologies at the time and brought high end games to the Internet. Users could now play their favorite games almost immediately. The traditional ways of purchasing discs, lengthy downloads, installation, and registration procedures instantly seem outdated.
It is easy to get started. All you need is a smartphone or device, smart TV or a PC and a sufficiently fast internet connection (5mbps or more). Download app of a cloud gaming provider like OnLive on your device. To play, create a free account and pick any of the available games in free-to-try, rent, or full purchase modes. Follow this link for extensive hands on and review of OnLive.
The Backend of Cloud Gaming
The technology implications of cloud gaming are fascinating. It has essentially changed what is processed where and how. Just like the Central Processing Unit (CPU) is centric to the processing functions on a PC, the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) on the graphics card is the heart of graphics and visual processing.
Nvidia, probably the biggest newsmaker in the games technology, recently launched a revolutionary new Grid GPU technology using an architecture called Kepler. It allows for more processing capabilities on the GPU for more users at the same time. What this means is that for the first time, the GPU will not be in your device but in the cloud.
It’s interesting to know that a graphics card is churning out high-definition graphics on a remote server, and streaming it down your device in real time response to player’s control inputs. An added advantage is that there is now no need to break a sweat over upgrading computer configurations to play the next big game. The cloud will upgrade for you!
That being said, there is room for improvement, especially when Internet latency is a crucial factor in the experience. At present, the quality of service of providers like OnLive or Gaikai is dependent on the proximity of the user to one of their data centers. It is recommended that users must be within 1,000 miles from the nearest data center.
This places geographical limitations on users, and it will be a few years before most parts of the world can enjoy such a service. Phil Eisler, the general manager of GeForce Grid Cloud Gaming at Nvidia, has a positive outlook on latency concerns. In a recent interview, Eisler said, “People worry about the network latency, but actually, in the whole pipeline, it’s the smallest piece”.
Eisler is optimistic in the abilities of the GeForce Grid cloud to reduce latency significantly. However, cloud gaming providers will have to also address another major challenge: scalability to meet growing demand. Handling the computational demands of running simultaneous instances of high-end games for thousands of players will indeed be a challenge.
Where is Cloud Gaming Headed?
Cloud gaming in many ways is a promising prospect. There are benefits of an expanding market for game developers and publishers to utilize cloud technologies and propel new game ideas. Current issues such as piracy can be alleviated with easier access to an extensive collection of games for cheaper prices.
New businesses are launching and grabbing the market. For example, a cloud gaming service called CiiNOW, was launched earlier last month with features for lower latency and better performance. Established companies are also taking interest. Industry giant SONY entered the cloud service providers market when it acquired Gaikai for $380 Million in July 2012.
Coincidentally, it fueled speculations in online gaming communities on cloud gaming features in the new PlayStation 4 which is slated for release in 2013. As the market grows, more game titles will be released through cloud gaming service providers to reach an even bigger audience, thereby increasing revenues across channels.
For now, you can enjoy various game genres in top tier or casual games on demand. So next time you’re waiting in line or waiting for the next bus to campus, complete that agonizing level in Far Cry 2 on your tablet that you were struggling with on your home television earlier that day.
Happy Cloud Gaming!
I look forward to play more on the cloud soon. How about you? Comment to share your experiences, and feel free to reach out to me at abhilashachar [at] gmail [dot] com.