Here is an unpopular opinion; the future of gaming is almost certainly going to be cloud-based and if it hasn’t arrived in a big way by the time the new console generation has, it will be firmly in place for the generation after that.
We know that it is not an idea a lot of gamers, particularly console users are that into. Cloud gaming if you weren’t already aware, works exactly the same way as Netflix, Amazon Prime, or any other streaming service out there, only it’s more interactive which automatically makes it more interesting.
Basically, the cloud gaming service streams video of gameplay directly to you as the user and in turn, your input actions thorough your controller are sent over the network back to the cloud gaming server. On paper, this completely eliminates the need for gaming PCs or consoles with such powerful hardware as the cloud will be completely handling all of the heavy lifting for the user.
Of course, if it’s so great then why hasn’t it taken PC, console, and mobile game development companies by storm?
The most immediate answer is that technology isn’t just there yet. But if all it does need is the internet then what is the problem?
Well, it is one thing to stream ten seasons of F.R.I.E.N.D.S to your laptop over and over again. But the concept of sending input actions back over the network with minimal lag has proven a stumbling block for many companies.
So, let us take a detailed look at the level of problem-solving that needs to be done in order to take the cloud gaming system to the global stage:
The Issues with Cloud Gaming
Now, while game streaming services differ in terms of game selection and monetization they all follow the same rudimentary technical procedures. The user’s device takes the input and forwards it to the server; the server then flings the processed data back to the user.
In theory, this means you could run games in 4K at 60FPS with no problems at all, as long as the server you are using is capable of rendering that many frames in that resolution. But unfortunately, the theory doesn’t always translate into practice.
All in all there are four major problems that stop cloud gaming from earning respect in the gaming world. These are Input Lag, Video Compression, Hardware Selection, and System Requirements.
It doesn’t matter if you want to create an app for a digital marketing resource, an online retail store, or for a gaming platform, input lag is one of the issues to talk about.
As I just mentioned the data has to go all the way to the server and then back before it can product any visible results on your monitor and no matter how fast and efficient your internet connection is this process results in a healthy dose of input lag.
The closer to the data center one is the less noticeable the lag he suffers through. But it will never beat out a native gaming experience. Now, this isn’t as horrible as it might sound at first, the companies that offer the users streaming services are constantly developing new ways to mitigate issues with input lag.
As things stand the technology is good enough to offer an enjoyable single-player experience, but as far as competitive or casual multiplayer is concerned, it is hard to imagine if cloud gaming will ever be a viable replacement for the good old desktop PC gaming.
Here we are talking about network places where the data transfer system is closely knit and the internet speed is top notch. Globally it would take serious advancement in order to be able to enjoy even the single-player experience.
The problem with video compression comes pretty much from the same place as the input lag. When you send your input to the server the server then renders the frames and sends them back and the only way this can be accomplished in a relatively quick manner is by resorting to video compression.
It should be noted that most of the current games streaming companies use only the best video compression available. This allows them to retain the highest quality image possible which sacrificing very little in terms of speed.
But unfortunately, even the best video encoding at the moment pales in comparison to uncompressed video. The end result is that playing a game through these streaming services can feel more like you are watching a let’s play video on YouTube rather than truly experiencing the game.
You can expect a decent dose of compression artifacts and color bending and worst of all nausea inducing motion blur is all but guaranteed in fast-paced games with lots of camera movement at the moment which really takes the sting out of the regular gaming experience.
Another problem with cloud gaming at the moment is that the servers use server-grade hardware. The problem with server-grade hardware is that it’s optimized for the needs of a server and the needs of a server are very different from the needs of a gaming PC.
For example, a virtual machine running on a shadow server will be allotted eight threads on an Intel Xenon 2620 CPU. This sounds like the bargain at first, especially if you know how expensive CPUs like 2060 are. Even assigning that many threads to network processing do not solve the problem; this is rather suboptimal for gaming where single core performance is paramount.
Now, you may be thinking about isn’t the whole idea of cloud gaming is avoiding the need for system requirements? It’s definitely true that cloud gaming lets you game on some pretty ancient hardware and software. But you still have to meet a couple of requirements before the magic can happen.
The most important requirement is having a fast internet connection and I am not kidding when it says fast, in fact, we are talking ludicrously fast for some parts of the world and stable too. So, keeping all this in mind most of the world will never have the perfect setting for an immersive cloud experience to happen.
So, to return to the original question, is cloud worth it? Well, the answer is not yet. With all the input lag cloud gaming is only really tolerable for single player games at the moment. As things stand it simply does not offer enough to be a viable substitute for PC or Console gaming.
But as for whether it is the future of gaming, we can’t entirely say “no”. With the mammoth task of taking cloud gaming mainstream, it does have the potential of becoming a viable alternative for mainstream gaming. But things like this don’t happen overnight.