Cloud gaming has a perception problem; ask a gamer what the cloud can do for them and they’ll most likely dismiss you with a shake of the head and a roll of the eyes.
And who could blame them? From the original OnLive cloud gaming service which collapsed in 2012, to the massive hype in the lead-up to the Xbox One’s launch about how the cloud would make games more ‘immersive’, many of us may have been left a little weary by the onslaught of such hyperbole – and more critically from a developer's perspective, wondering how to actually use the cloud to enhance gameplay.
Every Cloud, A Silver Lining
There have been several success stories, though. that have shown how a well-managed cloud strategy can be deployed effectively in the gaming space. Developer Respawn’s use of the cloud's on-demand resources and elastic scalability in 2014’s Titanfall is already well-documented; the tech allowed the game maker to implement a host of significant features, from aiding in matchmaking to handling NPC AI.
Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport 5 – and subsequently Playground Games’ Forza Horizon 2 – have found equally innovative ways to exploit the cloud’s potential via the games’ ‘Drivatars’, those eerily lifelike recreations of driver behaviour based on actual player driving data, which in turn populate other players’ games bringing a much-needed human feel to competitor AI.
Away from the spotlight of triple-A blockbusters and the cloud is enhancing video gaming in a myriad of other compelling ways. From the practical – storing game save data in the cloud and syncing it across multiple devices – to creating new gameplay options. For example, a ‘second screen’ that is able to display critical in-game data or, more intriguingly, gamers using a free companion app to a particular game on their tablets to disrupt another gamer’s playthrough on the console version.
Go Third Party
The cloud is also helping smaller developers hit their targets in the social, web and mobile gaming spaces. These sectors are notoriously difficult to plan for because of their unpredictability; it’s a scene that can dramatically transform overnight due to the amount of simultaneous players, their geographical location, and more besides. To help deal with such potentially crippling infrastructure issues, savvy developers are turning to third party cloud providers to take the strain instead.
Swiss games developer KUULUU, for example, uses SoftLayer’s cloud hosting platform to deal with its ever-shifting logistical goalposts. The platform is able to scale on the fly, ensuring players always enjoy an optimum gaming experience while freeing up the developer to focus on creating games instead of worrying about the financial and organisational issues of their infrastructure’s backend.
Full Stream Ahead
Another critical area – and one seen by some as the true future of cloud gaming – is the potential for streaming games on to consoles, PCs and other devices. While latency remains an issue in many territories, the buzz around game streaming is increasingly positive.
OnLive has risen from the ashes while industry heavyweight Sony is rolling out its PlayStation Now service, which allows players to stream and play PS3 games (with PS1 and PS2 games to follow) across multiple devices. It’s surely only a matter of time before Microsoft follows suit with its own service, and Shield tablet and handheld console users are already enjoying cloud gaming via Nvidia’s currently free Grid Game Streaming Service.
Year of the Cloud
These developments could see the cloud finally reaching its much-touted potential over the next 12 months, at least in the minds of gamers – analysts are predicting that cloud gaming could reach a tipping point by the end of 2015 with 150m people getting their gaming kicks via the cloud compared to the 30m at the end of 2014.
It’s clear then that the cloud’s influence over the videogaming scene is set to deepen, not diminish – and developers, both big and small, need to act now to fully realise the potential of what is shaping up to be a genuine game changer. No hype required.