Cloud Gaming: When Will it Matter?

Cloud Gaming: When Will it Matter?

If you’re a betting person, now’s a good time to lay down coin on the future of the games industry. Where is games distribution headed? Which option will dominate a decade down the road? Will retail still be clinging with a bulldog grip? Will we be downloading everything to a hard drive? Will we be streaming games? Or will we be turning to a method of distribution that is a hybrid of all those options?

Zynga’s new Vice President Lou Castle thinks that whatever happens, cloud gaming will not be a dominating distributor for decades to come even though he believes in the technology behind OnLive and Gaikai.

“[T]here are some physical limitations,” Castle told IndustryGamers. “It will be decades before the physical limitations that currently prevent certain types of entertainment experiences from being delivered on those systems satisfactorily [can be overcome]. They’re not going to change for a while.”

Indeed, cloud gaming is a clean and efficient means of gaming; thanks to streaming technology, there’s no need for hard drive space or a super high-end computer. However, the broadband Internet connection needed to deliver that efficient streaming technology is out of reach for a lot of people. Broadband internet access is not assured in rural areas of the world. More importantly, some countries outside the United States, including Canada and parts of the UK, have small bandwidth caps. 65 gigs of bandwidth won’t grant you much gaming, especially if you share your connection with a family.

However, Castle believes that between OnLive and Gaikai, Gaikai’s approach to cloud gaming is a more realistic option.

“I’m under an NDA with Gaikai because of our former business partnership so I can’t get into [details],” Castle said, “but I can tell you the Gaikai tech and the Gaikai strategy, in my opinion, is a more viable mid- to long-term strategy. It’s more viable mid-term because the way they’re going about will get a satisfactory experience to more people, and I think it’s more viable in the long term because ultimately the direction they’re going, you can imagine a world where it works for most people.”

Castle admits that he’s biased as he used to work with Gaikai and therefore “knows more” about the service versus OnLive. But when you compare the two services side-by-side, Gaikai does appear to be more accessible to the mainstream compared to OnLive.

OnLive deals in full-game distribution, whereas Gaikai works more as a demo service. Running off Java or Flash, Gaikai allows users to sample a game. When the demo is done, they’re given options to buy at a retailer, online, or do a direct-to-drive download. Users who want to continue streaming can keep on playing through a pay-as-you go system.

Gaikai works best for gamers who have a limited internet connection, but Castle is on to something when he suggests cloud gaming won’t take off for a while yet. Right now, folks who don’t play console games on a regular basis know that buying a game ultimately means going to the store. A notch above that, people who know their way around Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network understand that buying a game can also mean downloading whatever looks good. When digital downloads nudge a little further into retail’s territory, we can assume that even occasional gamers will be confident enough to look into game streaming and give it a try.

It might not even take decades, either.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

2 Comments

  1. Cloud streaming is the next big thing in technology. It began in 2004 with a tiny company called G-cluster. Then in 2005, Cyprus Telecom Authority began using it on their Internet Protocol television. Gaming companies did not get into the act until 2009.

  2. speaking of videogame streaming, Casualbros.com stream videogames, and they take requests so if you are curious about a game and want it to be streamed before you actually buy it, they’ll do it. or if you just feel like watching some videogames.

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