Gaming without expensive, high-end consoles and PCs has been a long-awaited dream for avid gamers. Now, playing cool, graphics-intensive video games on your smartphones and TVs without breaking the bank is possible with Cloud Gaming. Megha Agrawal digs deeper into this streaming technology and how it is going to reshape the future of gaming.
Repel an extraterrestrial attack on earth by blowing up an invading alien ship or run through the enemy territory on an impossible mission to save the world while things explode dramatically in the background – all this and more, beckoning in the insanely cool world of gaming.
No longer a passion for mere computer geeks, the massive worldwide appeal has propelled computer video games into becoming a multi-trillion-dollar industry. Today, Xbox and PS4s are common household devices, and mobile games like PUBG and Call of Duty have become global sensations with billion-plus downloads.
The existing gaming industry has barely made a dent in the limitless potential consumer base. Instead, this unexplored market has sparked a frenzied race between game developers to pour colossal amounts of money and research into cutting-edge technology to bring bigger, better, more immersive games to the market.
The advent of cloud technology promises a meteoric and unprecedented growth in online gaming. Cloud gaming aims to provide a frictionless, high-quality, seamless gaming experience with multiple device compatibility at a fraction of the cost and zero hardware dependency.
Ready player one
Cloud gaming may sound like a fairy tale but is, in fact, a huge evolutionary leap. The genius use of the remote cloud servers and internet has ushered in the era of ‘Game Streaming’. Similar to streaming videos over Netflix or Prime, you can now stream your favorite video games and play them on your smartphone, smart TV, or laptop without investing in expensive, high-end, gaming-centric PCs and consoles.
With this technology, the games are installed and executed on a host of cloud servers that hold humongous memory and operate at breakneck processing speeds to support high-end graphics. All the user needs are a high-speed internet connection and lightweight client software that gets installed on their local device. This software picks up the inputs from the player and relays them to the cloud server. Thus, the actual game gets played on the cloud computer with heavyweight, high specs hardware, and the user is saved the hassle and cost of buying and setting up the game locally.
Also known as Gaming on Demand, Game-as-a-service, or simply Game Streaming, this service is subscription based. By signing up with a service provider like Shadow, Nvidia GeForce, Google Stadia, Xbox Cloud Game, and Amazon Luna, users pay a small fee and simply download their app, sign up and pick up their consoles.
Another added attraction is the gaming library that comes with these subscriptions – hundreds of games, including AAA titles (Triple-A) – the highest graded games as per production budget. Generally, blockbuster games launched by major publishers like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Square Enix, and Activision and have development and publishing budgets similar to Marvel and DC movies are honored with this grade. Our culture is peppered with these games that seem a part of daily life – Call of Duty, Final Fantasy, or FIFA. Now, just pick up your device and play these titles whenever you want.
Cloud Vs. Conventional
Conventional console gaming requires users to download games on hard drives and play them on gaming consoles like Xbox and PS4. Multiplayer online games, currently the most popular form of console gaming, connects multiple players to the same game via the internet or wide area networks. Players log in through their terminals to participate in online multiplayer matches and tournaments. This is significantly different from game streaming and is a very hardware-dependent approach. What you pay for is what you get – so a better gaming PC guarantees a better gaming experience.
Mobile gaming, hugely popular in casual gaming, is also played similarly by connecting players online through sophisticated algorithms and having tournament plays and battle royale on game servers located strategically to keep the game fluid and uninterrupted. But mobile games exclusively designed for smartphones, graphically light and content sparse, do not have the complexity of narrative or graphics for the more heavyweight gamers to enjoy thoroughly. Their revenue-seeking mechanism of in-app purchases and interrupting ad content can also be frustrating. Since cloud gaming requires subscriptions at the very outset, it promises to discard this annoying feature of AD interruption.
Let’s dive into the minutiae of costing of our available options. With an Xbox setup, like the Xbox series X, the price is USD 459 in the USA. An AAA game title like FIFA 22 will cost around USD 35. So, a conventional working setup with one game title will set you back by an astounding 500 US dollars. Additional money will be spent each time you add to your gaming library. But this whopping cost will come with extreme processor speed, crystal-clear, high-resolution graphics (8K), and zero latency – meaning no delay in loading frames per second (fps). So, you will have a seamless experience.
Now consider Xbox Cloud Game (Included in Xbox Game Pass Ultimate) – at a subscription cost of USD15 per month, it offers a preloaded game library of more than 200 titles. But, with a resolution of only 1080p and frames per second capped at 60fps to reduce latency, the game quality leaves a little to be desired. The graphics will be fuzzier on larger screens, and the experience may not be entirely seamless – akin to a delay in long-distance phone calls, there could be a lag in the play reaction on the screen versus your input.
Game streaming is also based on resource-sharing. Very few subscribers like Shadow provide one entire computer to one player at a time. Most services allocate multiple players to one cloud PC, meaning that when you log in, you might have to wait while a cloud resource frees up for you. You will also need a high bandwidth internet connection (16 Mbps onwards).
While at a glance, cloud gaming doesn’t have it all – it is inferior in graphics and performance to conventional console gaming and slightly more expensive than mobile games, it delivers effectively for its present nascent stage. As cloud tech advances (and it is advancing super fast), and internet connectivity gets better as more and more of the earth is getting covered in 5G (and later) mesh, with the promise of low orbit internet satellites on the horizon, the time isn’t far ahead when cloud gaming will surpass conventional gaming in quality of experience and mobile gaming in speed and portability.
The cloud spreads across gaming skies
Keeping aside the future, let’s sight the growth of this technology today. New Zoo has estimated that cloud gaming will rapidly grow from 1.5 billion USD to 6.3 billion by 2024. Right now, there are 2.4 billion mobile game players around the world. Out of which, 21.4 million are paying cloud gaming subscribers.
The pandemic helped the gaming industry bloom, with cloud gaming becoming a good workaround for hardware shortages to provide gaming access. Currently, cloud gaming is available subscriber-wise, with GeForce providing services across Europe and North America and reaching Asia and Australia via alliance partners. Japan, Australia, United States have the highest adoption rate, with Singapore, Germany, South Korea, and the United Kingdom also showing a steep rise. In UAE, telecom provider Etisalat offers cloud gaming in partnership with Gamestream. The basic gaming tier starts at AED 50 per month with over 40 game titles. Playkey.me is another launch in 2021 providing game streaming in the middle east.
Gaming companies are scrambling to capture the huge market with numbers expected to multiply rapidly. All over the world, a preferred strategy is partnering up with mobile service providers, TV manufacturers, telecom companies, etc. to quickly reach a wider audience. Microsoft is partnering up with Samsung to make Xbox Cloud Game a part of the new Smart TVs from 2022
Another easy way to access more audiences is through bundling services. For example, Amazon Luna plans to bundle its subscription with Amazon Prime. This automatically widens Amazon’s reach to introduce gaming to their existing consumer base of video streaming.
The cloud’s reach in the future Microsoft’s Xbox head Phil Spencer stated, “The business isn’t how many consoles you sell. The business is how many players are playing the games that they buy and how they play.”
He has also indicated that in the future, the competition will not wage between gaming companies like Nintendo and Sony but cloud services companies like Google and Amazon.
Subscription-based models are extremely profitable for publishers and gaming developers. This means that tech giants like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple are all gearing up to push cloud gaming into the mainstream market. Fortune Business Insights has predicted a 40 billion USD market for cloud gaming by 2030.
With burgeoning numbers, cloud gaming is like a tiny sun on the horizon. For now, it coexists with other planets in the market – mobile, console, and pc games. But with enough time, it will grow to overshadow and eventually swallow them.
Experts are of the opinion that the mobile gaming industry will continue to thrive. Still, mobile game releases will happen on cloud streaming to leverage superior technology and broader user access.
The cloud’s ultimate game
Gaming providers and publishers have an ultimate goal with cloud technology – multi-device compatibility without loss of quality, zero downloads, and no individual game purchases, with high graphics and speed and a superior gaming experience across devices, irrespective of hardware affordability. This is a tall order to achieve today, but then again, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
With ever expanding internet footprint, cloud gaming promises to become a gaming ecosystem that will have unprecedented processor power and graphics, the capability to stream on any device and infinite games to play anytime, anywhere. There is no shred of doubt that cloud gaming is in the future, just waiting for its infrastructural companions to catch up.