Could You Soon Be Gaming on a Cloud?
With each generation of game console, the capabilities increase, but so does the price. The next generation of units are starting at $399.99 to $499.99
The most popular games now cost around $60-$70 each and efforts are being made to limit or eliminate game swapping or used game sales.
So, just getting started with a new system can set you back a lot of money, not to mention hefty subscription fees and accessories.
But, what if you didn't need all that?
What if you just needed a PC, laptop, smartphone, tablet or a TV-top device?
The concept of streaming games in nothing new. It was pioneered several years ago, but making the idea practical and getting gamers behind it has taken a little time. Currently the race is on for companies to get their systems together and out to the public.
OnLive (www.onlive.com) - One of the pioneers in game streaming, the company was founded in 2003, but did not go live until June 2010. Now, they have millions of subscribers in the U.S. and Europe. They offer hundreds of well-known titles for a flat $9.99 a month service fee.
Gaikai (www.gaikai.com) - Now a subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment, Gaikai launched in June 2011 and had reached 11 million users by the end of the year. The company has major deals with with some heavy-hitting developers like EA, Capcom, Warner Bros, Machima, and Ubisoft.
Ubitus (www.ubitus.net) - Another pioneer in cloud gaming and boasting the largest customer base, this Taiwanese company promises a large popular library ported to broadband users in the U.S. and Asia. And at E3, they just announced their new partnership with LG, one of the biggest producers of HDTVs. LG will be working with Ubitus for their next generation of SmartTVs.
CiiNOW (www.ciiNOW.com) - A relative newcomer, they claim to have pioneered a new approach called hybrid streaming. Hybrid streaming consists of streaming graphics primitives as well as video simultaneously. It utilizes some processing on the receiving client to achieve better quality at lower bandwidth.
Their website boasts speeds and latency that beats their competition. CiiNOW swears their connective is actually faster than a local X-Box 360.
GamingAnywhere (www.gaminganywhere) - This outfit just broke out on April 13th. They are promising an open source cloud gaming system. The concept of open development could garner them some quick attention.
Numerous other firms are looking into this potential frontier and many of the heaviest hitters are taking notice or already involved.
Just to clarify, on-demand companies like Valve's Steam are not cloud-sourced as they still require downloading and managing applications on your device.
It's All About the Games
Fortunately, many game developers seem to be getting behind this concept. Cloud gaming has its advantages for them too.
First, they don't have to produce a case, a game disc, manuals and other costly overhead. So, the cost per package drops dramatically.
And developers can post DLC and updates whenever they're ready. No waiting for patches to download, install and take up precious space on your console. You would be running the patched version the next time you play.
Another barrier that would likely come down are the console-exclusive games. Certain titles have always been monopolized to either the X-Box, Playstation or Nintendo systems. But with Cloud Gaming, this could be a thing of the past. They could all be played from a single connection and play together nicely.
So, how does this work? How can all your favorite titles be piped to you and run just as fast as your console?
Each brand has their own systems and software for doing so, but across the board each provider relies on some similar concepts.
Game Converter - Each title must be converted to a format the streaming system can port. For the most part these appear to be specific to each brand of cloud gaming application.
Server-Side GPU (Graphics Processor Unit) - The game itself is converted to a stream at the starting end, since the game could be played on any supported outlet. So, the heavy lifting of processing must be done before it's sent to the user.
Streaming - This includes the bulk broadband streaming of game content and video streaming, but also game interaction to provide the needed controller feedback. And all of this is happening in milliseconds.
N-Screen - Converting the stream back into a visual format for the player(s) to perceive and respond to. This can be a critical juncture due to potential latency issues. All of the providers promise their systems are fast enough to produce smooth playing, but only time will tell if broadband loads can keep them at the needed peak.
Christmas May Never Be the Same
Receiving a new video game console at Christmas has become for many families as traditional as having egg nog. Many of us, young and old, have vivid memories of ripping off wrapping paper and bows to see Mario's face grinning at us.
The major console producers make their biggest splash each year on Black Friday and it makes up a large portion of their annual sales.
Having that familiar box on the TV stand is a common sight. But, for how long?
Cloud gaming piped through your cable box, or maybe someday direct to your SmartTV, Blu-Ray, PC or mobile device may mean we'll have some shelf space open up. But, are many of us willing to give it up?
Like many people who still prefer paper receipts and hard copies of their bills, some may not want to give up having the hardware and software in the flesh even if it costs more. After all, there is a certain prestige associated with having the latest and greatest on your entertainment center.
So, the real challenge to these cloud gaming companies may be convincing us that we don't.