- Cloud gaming (aka. game streaming) involves ‘renting’ out the processing power from remote servers (i.e. the cloud) to play games.
- Makes it possible to play powerful games from any device: Old console or PC, smartphone, or tablet.
- Cloud gaming will not replace high-performance gaming anytime soon; lag and inferior rendering make it lower quality.
- Cloud gaming is significantly more hardware efficient than traditional gaming and perhaps more environmentally friendly
- But the convenience and low cost of subscription cloud gaming have the potential to revolutionize the gaming industry, especially with incoming satellite internet and the ubiquity of Smartphone devices.
This article gives a broad overview of cloud gaming, from its origins to its present condition and where it is heading in the future.
We summarise a couple of Youtuber reviews to exemplify how gamers feel about it and where its many platforms may be heading in the future.
Brief History of Gaming
So before we delve deeply into cloud gaming, it’s worth briefly going through the history of gaming.
Similar to the history of the internet, the history of gaming started in the 1960s and is heavily interlinked with technological advances.
Spacewar! was the first video game ever built in 1962 on one of MIT’s video display computers.
In the 1970s, the first Atari arcade machines come out, with the Silicon Valley firm being the key innovator over the next decade.
In the 1980s and 90s, home consoles and PC games brought gaming into people’s homes and competition between gaming companies like Nintendo, Playstation, Activision and EA Sports.
The rise of the broadband internet in the late 1990s introduced online gaming, first on PCs and then on consoles, first in local networks (LAN) and then globally, with household names like Age of Empires and Counter-Strike being the mementoes of the time.
The rise of internet speeds and powerful hardware in the 2000s and 2010s enabled improvements in graphics and gaming sophistication, and the arrival of tablets and smartphones in the 2010s made online gaming ubiquitous.
Yet the concept of online gaming remained intact: the graphics are processed locally while online servers only refresh and distribute the imaging.
What’s the inconvenience with current online gaming?
For many gamers, the best games are the most sophisticated. These games require powerful graphics and processing which are only available in the latest consoles or PC gaming rigs, which are both expensive and not easily portable.
This means that people who cannot afford the latest hardware are left out, and those who can, need to have their gaming setup with them to play the most sophisticated games.
And these blockers come at a time when satellite internet constellations are about to go mainstream in the form of Starlink and OneWeb, so a flood of new potential users from places with young demographics (i.e. Asia, Africa, Latin America) and more smartphones than PCs.
In comes cloud gaming: conveniently play the latest video games from any device by accessing the processing power remotely.
Can it make gaming more environmentally friendly?
If you think about the amount of time your gaming hardware is actually being utilized, it’s easy to realize that it’s ultimately very inefficient!
Even hardcore gamers sleep, eat, and go to school/college/work, which means that most of the time the hardware is sitting idle, getting increasingly obsolete by the day without even being used.
How many people actually play their PCs, consoles or tablets until failure? More often, people will simply replace the older model when a newer one comes out, leaving perfectly working consoles unused.
And if you put this inefficiency as having:
- A dollar cost per time played (hardware is expensive and is only enjoyed while playing)
- CO2 emitted per time played (electronic hardware uses metals that often come at a high environmental cost).
It becomes clear that not only are users paying more than what they should for their gaming time, but at an unnecessary environmental cost.*
*Note: This is reasonable speculation on our part; we have not researched the carbon balance of cloud gaming vs regular online gaming.
Outsourcing the heavy lifting
Cloud gaming is equivalent to subscribing to a remote PlayStation or PC and streaming it back to any of your devices, as long as they have a video display and internet connectivity.
This means that you could be playing games like Halo Infinite or the latest Final Fantasy from your ancient laptop, smartphone or tablet, with all the high-performance computation happening in rented remote servers.
And since the powerful hardware is provided by enterprise-level servers and accessed by people from all around the world, it is likely to be optimised so that it is being used as much as possible, bringing its financial and environmental costs down significantly.
So with all of these advantages, why are very few people I know effectively cloud gaming?
Cloud gaming: Polar reviews
We took it upon ourselves to check what the gamers themselves were saying about cloud gaming, with basically all of them reaching the same conclusion: It is convenient but it’s not the same as traditional online gaming.
Super-fast internet doesn’t make the difference
For example, Kyle Erickson tested project xCloud (Xbox’s beta cloud gaming service) on every Apple device he owned on a stellar internet connection (Average ping ~4ms, download speed ~500Mbps, upload speed ~200 Mbps) that I’ve only dreamt of having.
But despite the lightning-speed connection, the experience was significantly inferior to regular online gaming, with lag and video glitches being the most obvious.
The long instruction delay is inherent to cloud gaming because the gamer’s tap of the controls has to be processed by the server before coming back as part of the video stream.
On top of this, the video quality is compromised, and the graphics are not as “crisp” as when processing the graphics in-house. Curiously, this became more apparent in Apple devices with larger screens like the Macbook or iMac mini, prompting better gameplay on smaller screens.
But Kyle is obviously an experienced gamer who is used to playing games that require fast reaction times, such as racing games and first-person shooters at high-quality settings, so for him, it wasn’t something he would use.
Expect low prices and convenience but not performance
Spawn Wave tried Google Stadia earlier this year and experienced similar lag issues, “frame hiccups” and some user experience inconveniences that suggest the lack of development time dedicated to the project.
However, he pointed out that the platform has gone leaps and bounds since its release, especially given the ease of free gaming from any Google Account and any junky hardware.
He described the service as “a utility that you can have for convenience, especially since you can play some games completely free”.
Unfortunately, Google Stadia will “wind down” its services at the end of January 2023.
If you know what to expect, it’s amazing!
For Clive Illenden cloud gaming must be low-cost, convenient (click-and-play), and have an ample selection of games as well as fidelity to its locally hosted variant.
He reviewed xCloud under this premise and concluded that it met expectations as expected, especially considering that this is a supplementary service to regular Xbox gaming and that it is still in “beta”.
The app can be downloaded on a PC, Android or Apple device or even on an older Xbox with online capabilities, which makes it incredibly convenient.
A selection of free-to-play games is available to anyone with a Microsoft account, while the GamePass subscription costs $15 a month and gives access to over 300 games, which is almost ample enough to play a different game every day of the year.
But despite the assets of having an “all-you-can-game” platform, there is an understandable sacrifice in gaming experience quality which experienced gamers may notice immediately.
But according to Clive, “90% of gamers” wouldn’t even notice the increased latency and video glitches.
The future of gaming
According to Rokk Show NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW cloud gaming platform is good enough for his needs. The free membership lets users game for one hour at a time on a number of games, while the paid membership lets gamers use it for 6 hours without stopping.
He doesn’t mind the limitation since after 6 hours of gaming, “your legs stop working anyway”, and he is certainly content with the game performance and 1300 titles offered by the game streaming service.
The different shades of Cloud Gaming
So it’s clear from the above that cloud gaming is certainly not here to replace high-performance gaming rigs and novel consoles but to supplement them while introducing the subscription-based model that popular platforms like Netflix and Spotify utilise.
Also, we only saw reviews for xCloud, Google Stadia and GeForce NOW, but it should be noted that there are tens of services out there, including the up-and-coming Amazon Luna, and PlayStation Now, as well as smaller platforms that offer variations from the giants.
For example, Shadow, Playkey and Paperspace offer cloud computing services, which means that you can rent out their gaming rigs and play your own games but with their up-to-date computing power.
Alternative platform Rainway lets you use the processing power of your own gaming PC from any device, which means that you can keep your rig running but play it from your Xbox, tablet or phone.
It’s clear that the potential of cloud gaming is huge, and there are already many platforms offering this service.
Just like Netflix and Spotify rocked the TV and music world, cloud gaming may just become the next subscription-based service, despite not being quite there yet.
It may never replace in-house processing for high-performance gaming, but this may ultimately only be needed for a minority.
In combination with satellite internet constellations like Starlink and OneWeb, cloud gaming is in pole position to bring in a new wave of online gamers from previously young untapped markets of Africa, Asia and LatAm who may just be about to get ubiquitous internet.
Only 60% of the global population is currently connected to the internet, and those about to connect are unlikely to be familiar with the intricacies of high-performance gaming, meaning that the benchmark is reset.