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Are Clouds the Future of Gaming?

Crackdown 3

Console gaming is currently entering a period of transition some analysts feel could mark the end of games consoles as we know them. Microsoft’s revelation at E3 that the Xbox One Slim and the high-powered Project Scorpio will soon enter the market confirms the demise of the “seven year cycle” – the rough period of time traditional consoles such as the Mega Drive, PlayStation and Xbox 360 endured until they were replaced by the next generation machines.

Xbox Chief Phil Spencer is among those to talk of a changing age of technology in which rapid upgrades in smartphone technology and PC specs have altered consumer’s expectations of consoles. If consoles are to keep up with the rapid advances in technology the model will have to adapt. Could clouds be the answer?

Maurizio Sciglio, one of the founders of Edinburgh-based tech firm Cloudgine, believes so. Cloudgine have been exploring ways to allow games consoles to tap into online cloud resources to add to their power.

“Pretty much everything in a game is difficult to run from a CPU perspective,” Sciglio explains. “So what we do is offload the tasks and run them in the cloud. We’re essentially borrowing power from the internet.”

If this sounds familiar you may be acquainted with the story of Onlive, a cloud company once valued at close to two billion dollars that suffered a particularly dramatic fall from grace.

Onlive believed that the entire console experience could be performed via cloud. Players would simply need a control pad or keyboard and a broadband connection to play games that would be processed entirely on cloud servers.

The problem with Onlive’s business model was something most users of the internet are only too familiar with: latency. It may be annoying having to wait a second or two to view a link after you’ve clicked on it, but could you afford to wait a second or two for your gun to fire on Call of Duty or your character to dodge on Bloodborne?

Latency rendered many games frustrating or outright unplayable on Onlive and led to the collapse of the company and, some assumed, cloud gaming.

Sciglio believes that utilizing clouds in conjunction with console hardware rather than instead of console hardware can reinvigorate the concept of cloud gaming. If only functions that aren’t affected too severely by latency can be farmed out to servers the power of a console could be increased without the frustration of time delays.

Microsoft’s AAA title Crackdown, scheduled for release in 2017, will be one of the first games to test the theory. Crackdown will make use of the servers that power Microsoft Azure to perform functions such as the detailed rendering of collapsing buildings but key functions such as character animations will still be controlled by the console to ensure that they are as swift and fluid as ever.

Watch this space. Clouds could yet be the future of gaming. How will this affect the wholesale video games business? We will wait and see.

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