Video gaming has come a long way since Pong captured the imagination of the world in the 1970s. Graphics are more immersive than ever before, while storylines and gameplay have grown enormously in complexity. Despite all the advances in the gaming world, one thing has remained largely unchanged. Devices, whether they are gaming consoles, PCs, or smartphones, still largely process video games locally.
As mobile technology continues to advance, how video games are distributed, sold, and played could change drastically in the near future. No more discs, downloads, or even consoles. A device with a good internet connection is all that’s required to play the latest titles. The technology that could reshape the global video game market is called cloud gaming.
What is Cloud Gaming?
Streaming movies, TV shows, and music has become almost second nature to many of us. Cloud gaming aims to bring the convenience and flexibility of video and audio streaming to the gaming world. Instead of putting the latest titles on discs or offering them as large files for download, remote servers would do all the heavy processing while streaming a video of the gameplay to the players. Cloud gaming services, such as PlayStation Now and GeForce Now, offer hundreds of titles to their subscribers, giving players access to their favorite games no matter where they are.
But the benefits of cloud gaming go beyond convenience, especially when graphic demands and storage requirements for premium-titled games continue to increase year after year. Upgrading hardware or purchasing the latest console was for years the only way to keep up. But with the processing work done remotely on servers, cloud gaming would free gamers from having to regularly upgrade their devices. An example of a service that gives gamers remote access to immense processing power is Shadow, which allows users to control and play demanding AAA titles on high-end PC specs without physically owning the hardware.
By eliminating the need for dedicated gaming devices and high-end PCs, cloud gaming could also help developers increase the reach of their games. In addition, developers could improve and update games without having to worry about the capabilities of the device players are using.
Opportunities and Technical Challenges
Cloud gaming holds tremendous potential to reshape how video games are designed, distributed, and consumed. From Google Stadia to Samsung’s partnership with Xbox, many leaders in the tech industry are beginning to realize the potential of the technology.
While the cloud gaming market is expected to grow, a few significant technical challenges still lie ahead.
If there’s one thing that unites all gamers, it’s the disdain for lag. Latency is easy to manage, and almost unnoticeable with the right hardware, when all the data processing, graphics and video renderings are done locally on devices. But this becomes much more difficult to control when content execution moves into the cloud. Even a delay shorter than a blink of a human eye can make a game unplayable when being streamed. On top of that, players who are located closer to data centers usually experience less lag, giving them an advantage over others in multiplayer games.
The issue of bandwidth is less of a problem in media streaming services, since content only goes downstream to users. But in the case of cloud gaming, not only do networks need to stream different views to different players, they also need to receive inputs from users and respond in real-time. Google Stadia, for example, requires a much higher download speed to stream games in 720p than streaming 720p videos on YouTube. In short, overcrowded networks could cause problems when cloud gaming services start to scale.
Unlocking the Future of Cloud Gaming
The commercialization of 5G network presents a significant solution to the connectivity problems faced by cloud gaming. The next-generation network will provide significantly faster data transfer speeds as well as minimal latency, making it a critical foundation for building a real-time gaming environment. Following the commercialization of 5G in 2019, for example, cellular carrier LG U+ is now able to offer Nvidia’s cloud gaming service GeForce Now to consumers, delivering next-generation gaming experiences.
The growth of cloud gaming will also generate an increase in network traffic. This will, in turn, drive growth in the server and data center market. Not only will more servers and data centers need to be built to ensure comprehensive distribution of network resources, the hardware capabilities of these facilities will also need to be optimized to meet increased processing demands. High-performance components specialized in graphics processing, such as GDDR6, will be required for fast high-definition video and graphics rendering, while High Bandwidth Memory holds the key to reducing bottlenecks.
Developing a connectivity and processing infrastructure capable of delivering seamless cloud gaming experiences is still a work in progress. But as 5G network continues to mature along with the increase in processing power of servers and data centers, realizing the potential of cross-platform, cloud-based gaming services may not be too far off.