Physical media and dedicated gaming consoles, we are told, have a rather bleak future. And the prime suspect for their demise is “The Cloud”. Guest blogger Jason Collins from Game Hub has a look at what The Cloud is and how this is likely to change gaming from both an entertainment and a 'serious games' perspective.
The Cloud is already important to most of our daily lives. Every time you access your Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail via a web browser, you're accessing, retrieving and interacting with your emails stored in The Cloud. Most internet users have also interacted with The Cloud when using Google Docs in which your docs, spreadsheets, presentations are edited online without ever being saved or used on your PC itself. The analogy of “The Cloud” is the place in which the files that you view and use online are stored and means not only do we save our hard drives from the abuse of saving thousands of emails and documents, but also that we can access them anywhere on the world, from any computer.
Looking specifically at the gaming industry, Cloud Gaming is set to cause the biggest shake up of the way we play games since the early 1970's when the first dedicated gaming consoles hit the shelves. The “Cloud Gaming” generation will not own physical media nor will they store video games on a hardrive. Rather they'll connect via the internet to central servers, on which the games are stored and the processing required to run them will take place. With all of the processing and media storage happening remotely, the only hardware the user will require is a box to coordinate the flow of information from your controller, through the internet to their servers, and then to receive that information back and translate it onto your TV or monitor. With the industry leaders currently claiming to have all but eliminated Lag (down to 1 millisecond), the gamer's interactions with the servers through the internet is planned to be as seamless and quick as interacting with a console in the same room.
Gamer > Controller > Console > TV
Gamer > Controller > 3rd Party Box > Internet > 3rd Party Servers > Internet > 3rd Party Box > TV
Let's make a few distinctions so everyone is reading from the same page. Cloud Gaming isn't the same as Xbox Live or the PSN. These services offer the ability to connect to their services, download the games and access them locally from your own console. With Cloud Gaming you don't download anything, you access the games, software or applications that are stored remotely on servers via the web. The same goes for services like Metaboli, which lets you download PC games and play them from your hard drive . Cloud Gaming means no downloading, no hard drive; rather playing them directly from 'their' server.
If we fast-forward into the “near future” of Cloud Gaming, how exactly does it work for the household user? With all software and processing hardware stored remotely and accessed via the web, your end of the bargain comes in the form of a new box and a subscription to a service like OnLive or GaiKai, through which you access their servers, to remotely interact with their library of games. In return you have access to a plethora of new and old games and continually updated hardware capabilities as they upgrade their servers and processing power. The Cloud Gaming generation will never physically, or via a hard drive, have possession of the game itself.
GDC 09: OnLive Demo
The implications for the video games industry are nearly as long as the combined list of pro's and con's but in this instance we're interested in how these issues may change serious games, games for education and edutainment. The issues confronting the living room gamer are in many ways greater and more substantial than those that edutainment gamers face. With broadband, logistical and attitudinal factors all arguably less of an issue for professional and educational use of games, the way is open for Cloud Gaming to march forward.
Of principle importance is the removal of the hardware barrier, combined with the disappearance of the physical distribution issues of the software. Since the processing and applications are stored and accessed remotely, a participant's only requirement is a way to interact, which opens up a multitude of possibilities for delivering processor-intensive and complex software at not only regional and local level, but within the home itself. Even at a scaled down model, less complex training programmes and training games could feasibly be delivered to the living room via the internet allowing participant's to take part, learn and progress in their own time, space and at their own pace. Not only do these issues cut distribution and manufacturing costs, but delivering direct to the consumer potentially cuts out a lot of “middlemen” which at an entertainment level are the video game stores themselves, but at a training and educational level, could be regional or local training and education centres. The cost cutting involved with this may bring costs down accordingly and make educational and training programmes available to those to which they weren't previously.
Rather than replacing, and therefore re purchasing training software/games or edutainment titles, they can be upgraded, modified and improved in one central place. From the participant's point of view they will have access to new or improved titles and courses with complete ease. From the publisher's point of view they can upgrade, modify or change training games, courses and environments in one central place, which will filter down through the Cloud to the users at a minimum of cost, communication and effort, which may have otherwise prohibited improvements or modifications. Whole training games, courses or environments and syllabuses, be it for the individual or for a regional training centre, can therefore be controlled from a central place.
The Cloud and Cloud Gaming is positioned to overhaul the serious games industry at least as much as the entertainment video games sector and is something that no one in the gaming industry can ignore, be it the CEO of a games publisher or the living room gamer.
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Serious Games Portal Site