cloud gaming: MMO* as a service?

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Is a bright future in store for cloud gaming (real-time video games accessed in the Cloud through thin clients)? Or is it just another marketing gimmick pushed on us by graphics card manufacturers in their quest to differentiate their brand through cloud washing?

It’s true that online gaming is a highly dynamic market. But cloud gaming offers extra advantages by helping us avoid investing every six months in next generation graphics cards and game consoles. Is the video game world about to go through the same revolution that transformed the music industry?

a major trend

It’s not yet a given, but the dominant trend is clearly towards an expansion of this model. As with other new uses for the Cloud, this trend has largely been spearheaded by the general public.

Many companies, such as Gaikai, G-Cluster, Nvidia, Onlive, OTOY, StreamMyGame and T5-Labs, are now working in cloud gaming. They offer services designed for thin clients on PC/tablets/smartphones and even TVs through a set-top box. Some of the giants, like Sony, have also shown some interest in cloud gaming.

gaming and graphics performance: coding and decoding

Most of the current MMO (Wow, Swtor, Guild Wars 2, etc.) rely on increasingly sophisticated 3D graphics engines running on a DirectX or OpenGL layer.

Two solutions are available to run these kinds of games from the Cloud: sending graphic commands (which use fewer network resources) to a fat client that will then render the graphics, or running the games on a high-performance server that encodes the display and provides video streaming to thin clients.

graphic rendering on devices

OpenGL is adapted to thin client terminals, such as smartphones or tablets, by using the graphics libraries on these devices. In addition, HTML5, which will soon be the standard for HTML, offers graphics capabilities (WebGL based on OpenGL ES2.0) that can run an OpenGL subset from a web page’s source code.

In the short term, it’s hard to see how we will manage to load our smartphones and tablets with the equivalent of the latest resource-intensive graphics cards that often cost more than a PC. For the foreseeable future, hard gamers aiming to have fun with their millimeter-thin tablets will have to compromise, though some of the newest tablet technology is nothing short of astounding: take the developments based on the Unreal Engine 3 gaming engine, for example.

graphics rendering on the server and H.264 coding

The most popular method used here is to send settings user commands (moves, zooms, etc.) to the server running the game. Each image rendered on the server is encoded and sent to the remote device through a video stream.

The device’s refresh rate will then depend on factors like the performance of its H.264 decoder, network lag and bandwidth, as explained here.

beyond hard gamers

Other types of games are available online:

  • on social networks like Facebook, for example
  • on networks created for gaming consoles
  • Serious Games within companies

Although the needs of games, access networks and devices can vary greatly for each use, lag, bandwidth and rendering will remain three of the crucial needs in the digital landscape on a more or less long-term basis and for all devices.

In addition, this technology also has plenty of applications in the industrial world: it can be used whenever sophisticated visualization tools are needed for analyzing complex datasets compiled by simulations or statistics initiatives.

While it is critical for optimizing user experience, real-time communications is not always a priority for operators. And yet, future business models will need to incorporate real-time communications on the technical level in order for it to become the standard for online gaming.

Gilles

* MMO or MMOG: Massively Multiplayer Online Game, meaning a video game capable of supporting a large number of users playing simultaneously on an online network.

This blog post was originally published here.

Photo credit: © DM7 - Fotolia.com

Gilles Deghilage

Passionate about physics and specializing in numerical simulations, I started my career with 3D simulations of turbulent flows and spatial trajectory. To learn more about the parallel computing architecture used in computational science, I worked with hardware manufacturers in the US and Europe, where I saw firsthand the development of grid computing and cloud computing. I am a technical and commercial expert in cloud solutions, currently focusing on Cloud Business Development by working with my network in the IT world.