Cloud Gaming and you...

As technology gets better and better with smaller devices, I honestly didn't imagine seeing such huge leaps in innovation back when I was had my very first candy bar style phone with a color screen. I was blown away by the 16 bits of color and menu transitions from what I remembered to be shown a "modest" 2 by 3 inch screen from Nokia.

I've seen smaller and thinner devices with flip phones from the Motorola StarTAC or similar, but color screens was a huge leap to me.

Fast forward to today and you can definitely appreciate the level of technology and capability that's jammed packed into our phones. With so much to do on these devices, the benchmark for where something stood on the cutting edge has always been around raw computing power, media, and gaming. Take for instance some of the first personal computers ever built. You've probably never heard of Prime95 benchmarks scores being tossed around the house, but you might have bragged with your friends about the sweet games your recently purchased family computer could handle.

With that little comparison, we can now take a look at where phone gaming is now and where it seems to be going. Without hardware, can you have proper gaming on such a small device? Gaming for the longest time had to be pushed pixel per pixel to a screen from local content saved on your device. It has only been a few years now that cloud gaming technologies featured by the likes of OnLive, Nvidia, Gaikai, and the newly announced Google Stadia service, have been making the rounds throughout the electronic entertainment community. But it's one that comes with a shift in focus on resources and who really holds the resources to ultimately sway your potential purchases.

Cloud gaming has always felt like a pipe dream without solid resources readily available to homes and devices. Primarily in the form of speedy consistent connections and device input virtualization and customizations. In the enterprise industry, this has been well in development for a long time in several industries and sectors. From the medical field and Point-of-sale devices utilizing virtual desktops where devices where basically "zombie" device, for me to simplify it. These device would present what looked to be a full desktop, but in reality, it was only receiving the visuals being hosted from a constant connection in a server or "hive-mind" computer with much higher capabilities for several "zombie" client computers. And that's how you get virtual machine in a basic nutshell. I oversimplify it for the sake of the article.

Now, let's take this concept and instead of the medical field or any other private sector, let's take a look at potential zombie devices where they can be easily found in the hands and desks of several consumers.

The potential for distribution and reach is huge, especially when high-end components are not required but instead, a solid connection to the net.

Take one of the first true contenders for "Cloud Gaming". OnLive offered compatible game titles and proved themselves a viable solution starting out with a PC client but really drew buzz when they announced a micro console / mobile client with a branded controller that could be used for the service or as a regular controller for PC. There was plenty of incentive to buy in and take a chance on something brand new that could potentially start a new generation for electronic entertainment without high-end high-cost components.

Services like OnLive started and ended at a time where the technology can be proven but the adoption rate of these services where either promoted poorly, or the connection dependability wasn't where it needed to start consumers from reliably recommending other's to ditch their local consoles and devices.

GaiKai was also a rising contender and competitor to OnLive but their approach at that time was to show how simple it could all be through a web plugin and a connection to the internet, further showcasing the fact that local hardware was seldom a real need for high quality and high definition gaming. The issues for cloud gaming started to become more of a timing situation for the consumer. As the economy started to slowly get back on its feet, it didn't exactly give too much way for adopting new technology dependent on connection availability versus proven brands with several levels of popularity that could survive year long regardless of internet connection.

Eventually, both GaiKai and OnLive services had and lost several concurrent users until eventually, where both gobbled up by electronic giant Sony Entertainment, makers of the established Sony PlayStation console. By this action alone from Sony, the industry was placed on notice that hardware and the combination of digital content started to make profitable sense, especially with the continued advancement of virtualized client technology providing better code, more efficient video encoding and higher compression rates to facilitate some of the most demanding games, fastest response times, and highest frame rates, further proving it's existence as an alternative.

Fast forward to the second half of this decade, and with the wave of digital services dependent on internet more than any other utility, you start to see the need rise for faster and more consistent connections from service providers. I have Cox Communications as my service provider with their GigaBlast service rated for 1Gbps down and 30Mbps up and with an added Unlimited package which is more than enough for a single regular PC. Clearly there are several devices in my home network along with a strong router that I need to have a high up-time. But, with all that being said, this is the maximum I could have for the area that I am in and a prime example of perfect conditions for cloud gaming with several test and client types to use. The point here is, we're now in a general spot where we can see cloud gaming really take a larger piece of a market if done right and with large companies like Nvidia, Sony, and Google having invested in solutions with evolving networks, we're almost ready for more affordable solutions for those who can't afford the typical consoles or just want the flexibility of gaming anywhere you go.

So now what? Well, here are things that I think you should consider for cloud gaming. I have found the following to be somewhat self-explanatory but must be mentioned for those looking to make this new digital gaming playground the centerpiece of your life.

For traditional gaming and cloud gaming, it's going to be the usual starting cost to dedicate your digital entertainment to an ecosystem that benefits you the most. Some services already utilize some products you might already own, like a computer, graphics cards, streaming sticks, even other controllers from competing services and consoles which is great for the consumer. But either method will include the following from the beginning of having none of it.

  • Console / Client / Streaming Stick / Phone (Compatible Gaming Methods)

  • Controller(s) (Proprietary or Bring-Your-Own)

  • Games (digital or physical, previously purchased or buy compatible copy)

  • DLC (availability, import from compatible service, buy compatible copy)

  • Online Services (premium and sometimes optional)

  • TV (if you plan on playing on a TV)

  • Internet (online gaming capability or requirement for cloud gaming)

  • Data cap (Most important for HD gaming depending on you provider)

All of this adds up and you can just fill in the dollar signs for where you are paying now, if at all.

With the added benefit of offline gaming for consoles if there should be an outage, cloud gaming won't have an offline mode if the service is down, your ISP have outages and scheduled maintenance times if your lucky, or that guy down the street in your neighborhood smashed into a pole that just so happen to carry your line.

Okay, maybe that last one is more of a stretch, but the point is, you might be stuck on one end or the other. Ultimately it's up to you of what you would rather depend on, your console or your network. Fortunately for you, some of the major console brands are also working on cloud gaming solutions to bring their massive catalogs and exclusives to more general consumer devices. Microsoft is hoping to grab your attention with XBOX Porject XCloud and Sony is sticking to their own PSNow service that sets them already a bit ahead of newcomers to the ring. But, like every service like several before them, adoption rate is what's going to determine the winners from the losers. The good thing about this, the consumer will essentially have the first and final say of which service that will ultimately be.

Currently, my main cloud gaming experience with GeForce Now has been positive with me playing on both my under-powered laptop and my phone utilizing an XBOX One controller connected via Bluetooth. But it also comes with its hiccups as Nvidia has decided to pull my only favorite game (Destiny 2) available on the hosted services STEAM for what I assume is technical reasons. but I'm hopeful they will rectify this since it was working fine for weeks up to a day before this screenshot.

I do not have a Google Stadia founders edition pre ordered yet nor is it available to test, but I will be doing a follow up for both services as well as console competitors when possible. For now I hope this post brought some insight on where the digital entertainment industry is going and where I believe the consumer can benefit from it. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section below and I will do my best to research it and get you the answers.

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