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Myth-Busting Cloud Gaming: What It Actually Means for Consumers

Mat Kemp
Oct 23, 2019, 5:51:12 PM

With the launch of new systems such as Google Stadia, Nvidia GeForce Now, PlayStation Now and others all touting in the new era of ‘cloud gaming’ it’s easy to get confused. Basic questions like, ‘What Is Cloud Gaming?’ and ‘What Are The Benefits of Cloud Gaming?’ are not being answered clearly and people are unclear. 

Cloud Gaming has been touted as the new frontier of personal entertainment, offering players access to new levels of computer processing capabilities that previously wouldn’t have been achievable without heavy investment in a top-of-the-range device. 

I presented a talk on this very topic at EGX in London recently to clarify what Cloud Gaming means for consumers, and developers alike:

Previously, if you had a low-, or even mid-spec PC you would never have been able to run AAA games on high settings because your hardware wouldn’t have been able to cope with the computing power needed. 

By comparison, cloud gaming is now offering players the opportunity to play highly-demanding, AAA games on any level of machine. To take this even further, because none of the actual computing processing is happening on your device, you could run a highly-demanding game on a 5-year old, low-tier smartphone.

The way this works is through a connection to the internet, specifically to a game server. Your device acts simply as a vessel through which the game is streamed (shown on your display) and registers the inputs (your controlling the game) which is then input to the server, processed, and then displayed on your device.

The area which is a potential blocker here is in your connection to both the internet and to the game’s server.

If your internet connection is slow then the game may struggle to stream the game to your device. This could be worsened by your ISP or by the debate regarding net neutrality, particularly in the United States. This is why bandwidth is a critical component for cloud gaming to succeed. In the worst case scenario, you could play your game before your connection being cut and a black screen showing with your character being mercilessly destroyed on a server because it doesn’t receive any input from the player.

However, even if your internet connection is lightning quick, if you aren’t in a somewhat close proximity to a game server then your experience will be even more frustrating. 

This is because, even though the game may be display, it may have a lag between what you input (e.g. making your character jump) and when it’d displayed on the screen. You can imagine the frustration; if you told you character to do something and it to take a couple of seconds for it to actually happen, it could lead you to rage quitting quite quickly. This is why latency is another important facet for the service as the further you are from a server, the worse the latency.

Luckily, with services being offered by the likes of Google (Google Cloud) and so on, these issues are hopefully being accounted for – which will be integral for Stadia to succeed. For example, Google has data centres across the world and has long-standing relationships with many ISPs globally which leads them to confidence regarding Stadia.

It’s worth stressing however, this is only the first wave

Right now, with services like Google Stadia, developers are simply porting existing games onto cloud servers. A well-known example is Ubisoft whose Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has been used as a launch title for the service but it’s simply an evolution of existing processes, rather than revolutionising their development process.

Cloud gaming actually offers so much more, especially to developers. The opportunity of developing for cloud gaming has not been a major part of the conversation – but will be in our follow up post. 

In the mean time, see my slides from EGX below:

 

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