Cloud Gaming is still a stranger to the mass-market. However, this could all change with the recent Sony acquisition of Gaikai, an open cloud gaming platform provider. Major brands are starting to take notice and it’s changing the way consumers interact with and obtain content.

But first of all, what is Cloud Gaming?

Incredible graphics on weak hardware – to put it bluntly. It’s a new type of online gaming that allows you to stream high-end video games, on-demand straight to your computer without owning or buying any expensive hardware. A thin client, like a simple phone or a tablet is enough to play a game that would normally have to be installed on a very expensive PC.

Could this be the death of 1st and 2nd generation consoles? Who knows?

I want to play!

You can, it’s easy. Well, so long as you have broadband access it’s easy and painless. Gamers can benefit from the new entertainment channel through an app on a smart phone or tablet, online via a computer and even by using a TV. Subscription services are available (with a monthly fee) for access to a range of PC video games to play at will. Alternatively, a license can be bought per game, depending on the provider.

How does it work?

For anyone connected to the technology or IT industry, cloud computing is nothing new and the concept is the same. Where cloud gaming gets interesting, however, is when we take a look at the dynamics and technicality of how it actually works during play.

When a request or action is sent from the thin client, the request is transmitted directly over the wire to a dedicated data center (where the game is hosted from) where actions are recorded and sent back from the server with a response to the request. Even the graphics, in fact, are also sent from the server. So the end result means that the user benefits from a high-resolution video streamed back to a smaller and less powerful device. Think Call of Duty on your android tablet.

Cloud gaming is of particular interest to hard-core gamers who want (or need in some instances), the ability to play a game and pick up wherever they left off, wherever they. All they need is a decent broadband speed, reliable network and a thin client.

The concept seems hard to believe, even in this digital era. But, the fastest way to get your head around it is to try Onlive for yourself. Onlive provides access to 100s of high-end video games instantly on your PC, Mac, TV, or mobile device. In less than five minutes you’ll be in neo-noir, shoot-em-up comic panels, answering to the name of Max Payne. All this from your vintage PC.

Major brands on the starting blocks

The research behind cloud gaming started about 10 years ago, when G-Cluster founders created a cloud gaming demo at the E3 in 2001! Although it was still only the beginning, the major brands were there, on the starting blocks.

Names like Samsung, LG and Sony that make the hardware are looking to integrate one of the top 5 (or so) cloud gaming provider solutions into their next Smart TV. The Set-top-boxes are also cloud gamers best friends; Vizio (US), Singtel (Singapore), Hot (Israel), Portugal Telecom, Bouygues Telecom (France), SFR (France) and Free (France).

One year ago, however, it was still quite difficult to see a clear trend. Now, the lines are moving and although the video games market in itself is worth over $52 billion, cloud gaming is already at $80-90 million and is expected to reach at least $400 million by 2014 (source: Strategy Analytics). I think we’re being slightly pessimistic when we think about the potential of this technology and how perfect this solution is during the recession with its advantageous business model for the consumer.

Geniuses behind this technology

When we take a closer look at how this works, we find ourselves wondering who manages, creates and provides this type of company.  We can only be impressed. For example, Onlive founder, Steve Perlman, was the creator of the Quicktime Codec and WebTV. Or take Gaikai, created by the video games veteran David Perry, a star of the late 90’s video games like Earthworm Jim. Lastly, Playcast, where one of the founders was part of the MPEG codec creation team.

Soon to be resolved, little flaws

With most young technology and anything in beta phase, there will always be flaws and bugs to slow down adoption by the mass-market and preventing hard-core gamers to be seduced by this technology.

Take for example latency, this is a major issue. Playing a hosted game will come with its problems. From the moment you press the ‘shoot’ key and the actual time where your character in the game has actually shot and killed your enemy, there will be a slight delay. But honestly, although this isn’t acceptable for a competition gamer, this is playable for 90% of other gamers. And given that some solutions have already been found thanks to NVIDIA Grid Cloud, we just to need to manage and mitigate the issues around low-latency which means us keeping updated with the next evolutions.

But what are the little issues in comparison to the benefits?

 

For the mass-market, a way to play to more games and spend far less money than ever. For the game editors, this is a new lab to explore some economic models like game renting or game subscriptions without the hassle and costs of physical distribution.

For the hosting industry, after the MMO blessing this could become an even bigger blessing and may dramatically increase the needs in high-end servers and data centers.

And for the hardware manufacturer, NVIDIA has launched their GeForce Grid Cloud cramming 84 GPUs per rack, reducing half the latency.

Knowing that an Xbox 360 is running at 240 billion floating point operations/sec and PC, 3 trillion. And in addition, the forthcoming Unreal Engine 4 from Epic Games will demand so much CPU and GPU power that it will put cloud gaming even more so in the spotlight.

And something to look forward to – Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai, the big starter of everything and anything, means we should soon see this landing onto PlayStation 3. Doesn’t it sound like a godsend for everybody? From my gamer’s eyes it is.

 

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