First of all an apology: I haven’t written on my blog for the past 2 months. This is the first time ever since I’ve started writing (for a quick recap of my first year of blogging, read here). I could find excuses such as my vacation this summer (Excellent one by the way!), my work (juggling with 11 products and 18 major versions not counting Service Packs and a few hotfixes) or my new hobby (running … Planning to run the Marathon in November !). But they’re all bad excuses. If you’re in the mood for writing, you always find some time. So there, I said it: I wasn’t in the mood and didn’t feel like writing. Blogging should remain a hobby, not a job !
But enough of me ! Let’s discuss what’s exciting me today: Gaming-as-a-Service (GaaS !) or Gaming in the Cloud and why I think it might be close to prime-time and why it brings some uncertainty for next-gen console. If you’re a hard core gamer (I’m not anymore. The only game I play is the occasional Fifa 09 on my PS2 or Chess on my Nintendo DS) your choice is simple: Either you have a high-end PC with 8 double-core CPU, 2 high-end graphic cards or you have a PS3 and/or XBOX 360 (Nintendo Wii doesn’t count for hard core gamer). You spend quite a bit of money for the hardware itself (especially the PC part) and more and more money for games. All the processing power is on the client side and if you play multi-player game over the Internet, network latency is not an issue as only a limited amount of data is being transfered over the network. How about getting the same kind of game, same game play and same performance at a fraction of your yearly cost for gaming? How about playing your favorite game from multiple devices from your Desktop, Laptop, Mobile or TV (probably soon …)? How about not worrying about applying patches or new version of a game on your device? This is the type of services company such as Onlive and Gaikai are trying to bring to you.
Is Gaming-as-a-Service really new? Not really. If you think about it, Second Life was the first application of such kind with a fully-customizable world created by users. Because of this flexibility (as compared to games such as World of Warcraft which has a fixed world) data about the world are being kept and processed on Linden Lab data centers. When they first started they were operating with 2 data centers in San Francisco and Dallas. Guess what? Performance was slow, Latency was sky high and the user experience was not all that good. But with Cloud Computing going mainstream, Second Life was given what it needed to sustain its growth ie. Partnership with Cloud provider, including Amazon S3 for storage. If you’re interested to learn a bit more on how Linden Labs was able to scale, I urgently recommending you to read this article: What Second Life can teach your datacenter about scaling Web apps.
Now, Second Life is 3D but remains fairly simple. If you want to process the 3D data of a game such as Crysis in the cloud, you’re going to need a massive amount of processing power ! It looks like OnLive was able to crack that nut and build an infrastructure to render everything from the cloud and send to all the player the data they need to play on their low-end PC
and you can easily imagine these games running on Mobile which remain a huge market for gaming.
OnLive is currently only operating in the US and probably has a limited audience for now. The first feedback from gamer are fairly positive, especially around performance (This is a good feedback article from a gamer) but I’m curious to see if it can scale when they get the success they’re expecting. OnLive has investor such as Warner Bros., Autodesk, Maverick Capital, AT&T, British Telecommunications (BT) and The Belgacom Group and are planning to deploy their service in Europe (UK) at the end of 2011. We’re talking major investor here …
Could Cloud Gaming be a threat to console? Nintendo President Iwata doesn’t seem very concerned: