Gaming has long been a driver of PC hardware sales; gamers spend thousands of rands upgrading their rigs, because they want the higher frame rates, prettier graphics, and the ability to run games at ever-higher resolutions that newer, more powerful hardware brings.
Those useful outcomes are the real drivers here, and this is also apparent in the cloud world. Businesses want the flexibility, agility, and ability to scale their operations up and down according to their ever-shifting requirements, and that’s exactly what the cloud enables. Like gamers and their desire for faster frame rates and prettier visuals, businesses are motivated by their own desires, in this case the need to operate more efficiently, cost-effectively, and to get things done as quickly as possible.
But if it wasn’t for the very real benefits of upgrading their gaming rigs that they see demonstrated online, in gaming videos, at friends’ houses, gamers wouldn’t necessarily feel the spark of that desire to spend all that money on upgrades.
And the same applies to the cloud: without some way of actively demonstrating the kinds of things the cloud can do, people aren’t going to flock to it, preferring instead to stick to what they know (whether that’s good for their businesses or not, people being people).
So how do the two correlate? Well, two of the biggest names in gaming, Sony’s PlayStation brand and graphics-card-maker NVIDIA, have spun up cloud-based services that allow them to deliver games to gamers via the cloud, that run exactly as they were intended to by their creators without requiring the gamer to own high-end hardware.
That’s a pretty compelling illustration of just how powerful the cloud is, and how it can improve the experience of end users that choose to subscribe to a service via the cloud, rather than buying and maintaining their own hardware on which to run them locally.
Here’s how it works.
Games as a Service
Running games on datacentres and streaming their output to gamers over the internet in the form of a highly-optimised video stream allows Sony and NVIDIA to provide their own “Games as a Service” offerings, where gamers pay a subscription fee to play games that don’t actually run on their local hardware.
And, like the cloud offerings businesses are familiar with, cloud gaming means the games are always up-to-date on the supplier’s end, there are no multi-gigabyte downloads required before you can start gaming, no fiddly drivers to mess around with, and all the end-user needs to do is pay a modest monthly fee to play and enjoy their games.
In the case of NVIDIA, its “GeForce NOW” game-streaming service streams games to the company’s Shield device, an Android-powered computer that doesn’t have supremely powerful graphical capabilities.
But with GeForce Now, the Shield can play games at 60 frames per second at up to 1080p resolution, in full detail, as GeForce NOW games are powered by NVIDIA’s top-notch GeForce GTX 1080 desktop graphics cards and streamed to gamers using NVIDIA’s exceptionally-efficient GameStream video-streaming technology.
There is one catch, however: the GeForce NOW service only supports games that the user already owns on Steam or uPlay – it does not offer a selection of games to play for just the subscription fee. There are currently 150 games supported, with more to be added over time.
There are plans to expand the service to PCs and Macs; a beta test for these is currently underway (see the video below), and GeForce NOW will eventually expand to those platforms in a final form, meaning gamers with low-power hardware will likewise be able to game as if they own a beastly gaming rig for a modest monthly fee.
In Sony’s case, its PlayStation Now service delivers a selection of PlayStation games (Wikipedia says over 600) to PlayStation 4 consoles via an app that runs on the PS4 and PC. It’s how Sony is able to let gamers play previous-generation titles on their current-generation consoles, as well as a handful of current-gen titles as well. It performs the necessary emulation on its end and streams the game to the gamer’s PlayStation 4 console or app-equipped PC over the internet.
In enterprise terms, it’s the same as running a business app on the corporate datacentre and accessing it via terminal services; the power of the end-user’s PC is irrelevant because performance is determined by the power of the datacentre, and how quickly it can serve the necessary data to the end-user, which is dependent on the speed of the user’s internet connection.
Using highly-efficient video-streaming codecs, Sony and NVIDIA are able to offer gamers a gaming experience over the internet that’s comparable to playing games on hardware that is sitting in the room with them.
How fast must my connection be?
Sony recommends at least a 5mbps connection to enjoy PlayStation Now games; NVIDIA recommends a minimum of a 10mbps connection.
Sadly, the same limitations of accessing cloud options from geographically-isolated South Africa apply here too: availability, and latency.
Our physical distance from Europe and the US – where the nearest PlayStation Now/GeForce NOW datacentres are located – means latency, which impacts on the services’ performance, which is most likely why neither service is available here. Licensing issues between content providers may also play a part in this (but this is unconfirmed).
Still, cloud gaming remains a fantastic illustration of what the cloud, and the power of other people’s datacentres and accessing desired content on a subscription basis, can offer.
The arrival of cloud gaming options that deliver a very good streaming experience and their relatively low cost of entry means gaming will inevitably become more accessible to a larger number of people than ever before – potentially even more so than games for mobile phones.
Affordability, the ever-increasing speed of internet connections and their dropping costs, will conspire to encourage people to consider a cloud-based option instead of buying their own hardware. Exactly as is happening in the business world today.
Once these services mature and roll out to more regions, the sky’s the limit in terms of how many people will sign up.