By Jerry Yu ’19, Technology Reporter 4-16-19
You want to play a game that has amazing graphics, smooth action, and diverse mechanics.
You look at the spec requirements. You quit and play Fortnite instead. Now, the AAA games require AAA machines, with graphics cards pricing up to hundreds of dollars, but that’s not all. The CPU, motherboards, and memory have to be on par with the high-end graphics. Modern 144Hz displays sell for hundreds of dollars, while keyboards, mice, headsets… Admit it, PC gaming is a money drain. However, as internet bandwidth becomes faster and faster, companies such as Google, Nvidia, Amazon, and many others are betting on the concept of “cloud gaming,” where all you need on your PC is a stable connection and good peripherals, while all the computing is done on the cloud. The magic of their technology is that their software captures mouse and keyboard movements from the user and remotely uses them to operate a virtual machine in a cloud server. Then, the video footage of the game is streamed back to the user’s device like a video.
Back in 2015, Nvidia released their Geforce Now service for public beta testing. They claimed that with a broadband internet connection of over 50Mbps, users can gain a solid performance of 60 frames per second. All of this sounded like music to me, since it would be miles better than the competition if it came true and became market-available. However, as an early beta tester, I did not have a good time. Sure, it made AAA games like Battlefield or PUBG quite smooth, but this feeling quickly breaks down when somebody else uses the internet. Streaming footage at 60 frames per second at 1080p requires twice the internet as a YouTube video, since normal videos are played at some 24 frames each second. That means when my roommate began watching YouTube or Netflix, neither of us would have a good time. Since G Sync is not available in this software, it's frame rate, or the rate at which new frames are delivered to the monitor, is locked at 60 frames per second for my device. When the bandwidth isn’t enough, the feed quality would be decreased, which made a AAA title look like an NES game. Meanwhile, a bandwidth requirement of 50 Mbps means that Starbucks gaming is still pretty far off.
However, as 5G launches are projected to happen in late 2019 and speed up in 2020, Google decided to place their bid, too. Famous for their online services like Maps, Mail, Search, and YouTube, Google wants to take advantage of their infrastructure and build a “one-of-a-kind gaming service” to “revolutionize gaming.” They called this Stadia and announced it at CES 2019. Not only will it feature cloud computing, it will also take advantage of Google’s Assistant and make an in-game AI Assistant. Games will be available straight from YouTube, where players can test, buy, play, and share, all from a phone like the Pixel and a Stadia-compatible controller.
Other tech Giants are also following g up with bids. Amazon, the largest cloud computing service provider by far, posted a hiring ad asking for an AI engineer who will work with cloud experts to help develop “a never-before-seen kind of game.” Amazon has already created its own game studio and a game engine called Lumberyard that has attracted developers like that of Star Citizen, an extremely demanding multiplayer game. It has also tested running in-game AI enemies from the cloud and sending control instructions to the tablet back in 2014. Microsoft, the company making the Xbox, decided to quietly buy PlayFab, a cloud game development company, and said last October that this year it will start testing a cloud gaming offering, Project xCloud, that will work on mobile devices. It's Azure PlayFab service currently allows devs to access their designing over the cloud.
These may not come tomorrow. Even if they launch, they would need a fast enough internet service to power their data needs. Maybe the 5G era will be when they will thrive. As promising as playing The Witcher 3 on your phone at the bus stop or designing and developing entire games from iPads may sound, the future is still on the horizon, always two years away.