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Video Game Evolution: Cloud Gaming
The Evolution of Video Games
The 1970s saw the dawn of the mass-market video game. Although there is debate over which game was ‘the first’, Computer Space and Pong were among the first video games to be made available to a mass audience. Since these early days, as technology has progressed the standard and quality of video games have also evolved. If players of Pac-Man and Frogger in the late 70s and early 1980s were given the chance to play a modern video game, they would likely be startled by how different games have become.
Games today have first-rate graphics and game play options that allow the player to roam freely around an environment and choose how their storyline will develop. Games consoles can now ‘see’ the movements of a player and convert their jumps and arm waves into actions within the game. Though many new games are utilising new technology such as motion capture and touch screens, one of the most recent innovations in the video game arena is ‘cloud gaming’. A great deal of the technology industry has started to embrace ‘the cloud’ for various uses, such as hosting, storage or computing - it is fairly unsurprising therefore, that the gaming industry has also made the move towards the cloud.
What is Cloud Gaming?
So what is cloud gaming? In very simple terms it is a form of online gaming that utilises cloud hosting. There are already a variety of online gaming options available - such as Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network for example - but cloud gaming differs from these options in a very particular way. With the usual methods of online gaming you still need to own a games console in order to play on the game and in most cases you will also need to own an actual copy of the game. Cloud gaming is completely different.
Instead of needing a physical console to actually run the game, the required processing power and the actual game data itself are all hosted in the cloud. You will only require a computer or a console that has an internet connection and access to a cloud gaming service. The game you want to play will be run in the cloud, utilising the much faster processing and rendering speeds available on a cloud server, and streamed to your device. Button presses on your controller to control and play your game will be sent to the cloud servers instead of simply to your device. Cloud gaming is a logical step forward from the popular video-on-demand services like the BBC iPlayer or 4oD.
Cloud gaming has a number of benefits over traditional video gaming. One of the biggest benefits of cloud gaming is how instantaneous it is. If you see a game you like and want to play then you can do so instantly. You do not have to trek out to shops to buy a physical copy, wait for an online order to be delivered or endure long downloading times. The game is there and ready to be played through your internet connection as soon as you want to play it. Secondly, cloud gaming reduces the need to have a computer or a console with high graphic and processing specifications. The games will actually be running on cloud servers and devices that have much greater power and capabilities than a home device, so you do not need to have the newest and best console in order to run the latest games. Thirdly cloud gaming is arguably a much more cost-effective option. As previously mentioned, with cloud gaming there is less of a requirement to buy expensive high-performance devices. The price of subscribing to a cloud service is also, in many cases, much cheaper than buying new physical copies of games. Lastly, cloud gaming may lead the way for platform independence. As the game is run in the cloud it will not matter as much what operating system your console or tablet uses.
There are several disadvantages of cloud gaming that will need to be addressed by any company planning to offer cloud gaming services. Potential customers may avoid cloud services because they may feel they are paying for something that they do not own. Buying a physical game gives you a sense of ownership, that you have bought that game and can play it at any time. With cloud gaming you are paying for a game that you will not have a copy of - if the service goes down or goes out of business then you will be unable to play any of the games that you have paid for. Another potential disadvantage of a cloud service is that, because it is a fairly new technology, there are bound to be a number of initial technical problems and issues that will need fixing or patching. The ‘newness’ of the service may also mean that multi-player games will have a sparse user base until more people sign up - leaving customers with no one to play against. The second-hand game market will suffer, and likely disappear, if cloud gaming becomes the norm - but this could be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on where you stand.
Cloud Gaming in the UK
Despite its initial flaws, it seems likely that cloud gaming will be an important development for the video game industry. It has a great deal of potential and really fits in with the variety of internet-based services that are now the norm. One barrier that may hold it back, however, is whether the service can be offered across the whole country. Currently, the UK has an average broadband speed of 8Mbit/s in cities and 3Mbit/s in the countryside. While it is less of an issue in big cities, many people across the UK do not have access to the 5Mbit/s broadband required for cloud gaming. This situation may change with the development and rolling out of 4G internet and with the government’s plans to give more areas in the UK access to superfast broadband, but at present many people cannot access the service at all, while others are complaining of lags. There are still several hurdles for cloud gaming to cross before it can really take off - it is also unlikely that cloud gaming services will completely replace physical copies, many people still like to have something real in their hands.
In recent weeks, cloud gaming has re-emerged as a hot topic in the technology industry after a few quiet months. Most recently Sony announced their next generation console at an event in Manhattan on the 20th of February. The PlayStation 4 will have an improved processor and graphical capabilities, but more importantly will put much more focus on the cloud and streaming. Sony purchased the cloud gaming company Gaikai last year and appear to be making the move to integrate their services with their new console. Though the PlayStation 4 console was not revealed at Sony’s event, they did give a preview of the new controller. With the controller players will be able to share video game clips over the internet and allow their friends to watch them play. According to journalists and bloggers the event was very much focused on cloud gaming. Previous to the event, Sony registered various ‘PlayStation Cloud’ domain names - only serving to underline their focus on the cloud.
The Future & Beyond
Though Sony’s announcement is the latest in cloud gaming related news, there is likely to be even more news in the upcoming months as the next generation Xbox will also be announced. Steam may also become an important player as they have already established themselves as an important provider of games over the internet. The video game retailer Game also has plans to set up their own cloud game streaming service in the latter part of 2013. Though there are some sceptics of the cloud in the video-game industry, most notably the Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, it seems that cloud gaming will become a burgeoning sector in the next year or so.