GDC Online 2011: Cloud Gaming is Coming

GDC Online 2011: Cloud Gaming is Coming

Cloud gaming has been a huge buzz word for gaming both for PC, console, and in mobile.  The shine of excitement has dulled over the past year despite the rol-lout of the hyped up OnLive cloud gaming system.

On smaller fronts, cloud gaming is slowly growing.  As well as OnLive, there is Apple’s iOS 5 introducing the iCloud, and Gaiaki bringing gaming into the cloud.  Their work has laid a lot of the foundation of how cloud gaming is slowly seeping into the mainstream in carefully planned steps.

Riot Games’ Brandon Beck moderated a panel with David Perry (Gaikai), Brian Prince (Microsoft), and David Wilson (GameStop); all of who are working with cloud in different ways.  Their opinions and ideas explain how cloud gaming is affecting the industry right now:

Beck started formal questions by asking whether gamers should actually play cloud based games.

David Perry took the longest to answer by stating that the idea of cloud gaming was to lower the friction between gamers and playing the games themselves.  He used Steam’s first-time user setup as one of the worst examples of friction for gamers when trying to start playing.

Even beyond the setup, there was the action of downloading gigabytes of data locally before even playing the game.  Perry stressed that Gaikai’s goal was to make gaming more accessible by using the cloud, having players log-in via browser to experience games and their gameplay as quickly as possible.  He said that he didn’t see the difference of having games move in the same direction as movies with cloud based streaming services.

Prince and Wilson had agreed on some points, but also differed in that there are constraints with cloud gaming.  Some aspects of the system work while other parts still have issues.  The influence of cloud on social systems can be huge.

Beck’s next question to the panel was if cloud should be used with next generation consoles.

The panel all agreed that cloud should be used for consoles on some level.  While it didn’t mean full integration, there needed to be some type of function with the cloud.  Perry again emphasized using cloud to reduce friction for users.  At the same time, the three panelists talk about the use of cloud would make gaming on next generation consoles more consumer friendly.

After their responses, Beck then asked if cloud should be used in the creation of games.

The consensus of the panel was that with cloud, hardware was no longer the limiting factor.  Since devices could connect to servers that did most of the computing power, it took less for devices to display the data that could be streamed.

Perry added that every game should have a PC build.  While that might have been a slight advertisement for Gaikai, it makes sense for larger games to include a PC version.  While the core of the game could be developed on a PC for that specific build, games should be formatted for multiple devices.

Beck brought back the media hype that occurred a couple years back with the mainstream introduction of cloud and how it would revolutionize everything.  His specific question was when cloud would really become a reality.

The answers that were given were very realistic.  Cloud computing, storage, and gaming currently exists.  Things are slowly changing towards more widespread use of cloud as a service.  There won’t be a total conversion overnight, but finding the specific uses for the service would help more with more widespread acceptance.  There are already services that utilize cloud computing like Dropbox, Google Docs, and the latest being iOS 5.

The end of the panel asked what the biggest challenge for cloud gaming would be.

Perry, Prince, and Wilson all had similar opinions stating that it was not about the technology, but the infrastructure of the system was the issue that was holding everything back.  The trio also said that no one had found the right formula for pushing widespread usage of the cloud, especially in gaming.  Companies were trying different models, but there still didn’t appear to be one that fit the best.

Prince said that the cloud should be transparent and businesses needed to give up a level of control to successfully implement the cloud for their products.  Overall there were great experiences with cloud, but there is still a journey ahead before it became less of an abstract thought for mainstream consumers.

Cloud gaming is still on the outskirts of the gaming industry.  But from the perspectives of the trio, cloud gaming is the second step behind digital distribution.  Each trial that companies are experimenting with show that the technology is going to become a major new system, it’s just going to take more time than the marketers thought it would.

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