The Evolution of Gaming – A Cloudy Future

The gaming sector has been dominated for years by successive generations of console platforms from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. The present generation of consoles were the first for which online gaming became a real factor with Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus dominating.

Each console has a truly differentiated set of offerings, the two networks vied for loyalty and leadership just as hard as their many gamers do when playing against each other. However with the latest generation of consoles, the Xbox One and PS4, the emphasis has shifted more towards on-line or cloud-based gaming with far less differentiation in the offerings that the two dominant players provide. While previously it would have been the three dominant console providers we would focus on, Nintendo has fallen off the radar after finding less traction with latest generation consoles and being late to market with the Nintendo network. When the console was the key gaming device it was easier to differentiate – especially when a radical new technology was introduced, as was the case with the original Nintendo Wii. However as the emphasis in gaming shifts more to the cloud such differentiation is less easy to create and sustain. It is becoming easier for rivals to copy their competitor’s most popular features.

To a large extent the aforementioned consoles and their networks (Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus) use the cloud simply to enable massively multiplayer online games (MMO or MMOG). However this still requires the local use of consoles as well as the games that run on them – both at relatively significant cost.

The cloud is however enabling a far greater revolution that could eliminate the need for consoles entirely. Cloud allows access from an array of different devices with fragmentation being driven at one end of the market by PC-based Steam machines that are seeking to rival the console platforms, and at the other end by thin clients that are used for either video streaming or file streaming:

Video streaming: Similar to video on demand, video streaming uses a thin client to access a remote system where the actual game is stored, executed, and rendered before the resulting video is returned. The thin client can be any device capable of sending control signals and accepting the streaming video in return. With the best current high-performance broadband such remote processing is now starting to rival disc-based consoles, but lower bandwidth connectivity can still cause too much of a lag for certain game formats. 

File streaming: Conversely file streaming progressive downloads elements of the game file which are then run on the thin client. A small initial part of a game is downloaded with remaining game content downloaded on demand. Local processing eliminates lag, but requires a device with the processing capabilities to operate the game, and enough local storage to cache the elements of the game files.

Cloud gaming is enabling a proliferation of gaming options from high-end game consoles, to set-top boxes or smart TVs, as well as gaming PCs, and even mobile devices. Challenging the current generation consoles from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are not only a number of Steam Machines from Value’s hardware partners, but also the new Nvidia Shield console, Razor’s cloud-based Forge TV Android set-top box, and the Amazon TV set-top box that can all play games. There is also a growing range of games for tablets and smartphones on both Android and iOS.

I hope that this has set your mind onto the cloud gaming playing field, and that you are now prepared for this month’s #CloudInfluence Special Report. March’s report will be focussing on Cloud Gaming, ahead of the Video Games Intelligence Cloud Gaming Expo next month.

If this has sparked your interest in Cloud Gaming, you can register for the Expo here: Let us know if you will be attending, Compare the Cloud will be there, and we’d love to see you all there too.

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