Gaming in the Cloud: Will it Replace the Game Console

You’ve played your favorite games on a gaming console for the last decade or more. Why change now? The truth of the matter is that games are getting bigger, taking up more space, not only on your console’s hard drive, but in your living or game room. Speaking of hard drives, new consoles have them. Remember the old Nintendo Entertainment System? In those days, a “hard drive” didn’t resemble a personal computer as much as it did a novelty.

Today, game consoles can almost pass for a computer. In some cases, the console is replaced with an actual PC laptop – a gaming computer – literally. To keep up with the demand for more realistic, larger, and multiplayer gaming, manufacturers and developers are turning to the cloud.

Enter the Cloud

The cloud is all kinds of good. You probably are familiar with companies, like www.Vuze.com, that provide a bittorrent client that does peer-to-peer file sharing – it’s great for passing around copyright-free files, games and other copyright free content. It’s simple, direct, fast, and it just works. The problem is that, like all systems that depend on local storage, it doesn’t work too well when the file sizes grow to be several GB in size, and you have intense graphics that need to be packaged up with the game (and don’t forget save data too).

Here’s where the cloud comes in. With cloud computing, you don’t need to store anything locally. You can have everything up there in the cloud – or rather, on the company’s servers. It reduces your footprint, increases the company’s profits (they don’t have to make and ship all those expensive consoles and games), and you can play literally anywhere. Everyone wins.

Companies like OnLive and GaiKai have already figured this out. In fact, Sony snapped them up for $380 million – that’s how good their idea is.

Problems with Cloud-Based Gaming

There are a few problems with cloud gaming, even with all of the good things, that might diffuse the idea entirely. First, there’s the matter of consoles. If you build a $99 dumb box that’s just good enough to get online and access the servers, instead of a Godbox that sells for $300, you immediately increase the company’s profits.

It’s no secret that Sony, Microsoft, and even Nintendo lose money on the sale of the console. They make money on all the games people buy. With a dumb box, they would make money on the console. What’s bad about that? Well, the infrastructure isn’t really there yet.

The only company who could reasonably tackle this is Microsoft. Even Sony used Microsoft Azure to build its huge virtual computing platform in the cloud.

There’s also a small matter of cost. You see, more and more ISPs are switching to metered or tiered plans, and moving away from all-you-can-eat broadband. It worked well for the telecoms in the cellphone market, and companies like AT&T are a bit of both – they already cap data usage for things like Uverse at 250 GBs.

Some users are still stuck on DSL too, which might not provide the HD quality that gamers and developers want to see for a cloud-based game.

No company wants to saddle their best customers with a bigger cable or Internet bill or face the prospect of a degrading user experience because the connection just isn’t up to snuff.

There’s a lot at stake right now, and no one seems to be getting off the fence just yet.

Ben Woods is seriously passionate about gaming. He enjoys researching the industry’s news and tech trends to share with other enthusiasts.

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