There has been a new, electrifying current running through recent game expos, and the fans are all aflutter. The signs are everywhere, and the whispers have already begun. Cloud computing is coming to the world of gaming, and it stands to change everything. While the final forms of these changes is impossible to predict, we have enough information to predict at least a few things reliably.
Here’s a preview of the changes ahead:
1. Computers Will Become Invisible
Tablets, iPhones, and Androids are great, but they have limitations. Until now, their small size has meant unavoidable tradeoffs. You had to either live with limited processing power, limited storage, or both. No longer. With cloud based servers doing the heavy lifting where processing is concerned, and cloud based disk drives providing virtually unlimited storage, even the most bare bones, humble tablet will be able to run nearly any app, program, or game you can envision.
This means two things in particular. First, expect your computing devices to get increasingly smaller, until they all but disappear. This will be made possible by virtue of the fact that next gen devices will be able to offload more and more processing capabilities off to “the cloud.”
For gamers in particular, the implications are enormous. The day is coming when you’ll be able to game anywhere, on any device. With cross-platform ports becoming increasingly common, you’ll even be able to start gaming on your tablet on your way to a friend’s house, then seamlessly “switch” to your buddy’s X-Box that’s hooked up to the 60 inch flat screen TV, and back again, at will! In other words, games will increasingly come to function like streaming video does today.
Additionally, the cloud offers essentially unlimited storage. All your games will live there, accessible from whatever device you’ve got handy, and delivered to you wherever you happen to be. Consider too, that this is happening at a time when computers are disappearing, in a sense. Imagine being able to play your favorite game not on your laptop, not on your tablet, but simply by accessing it via Google Glass. No keyboard, no mouse, not even a visible computer!
2. No Language Barriers
As the computer vanishes before your eyes, courtesy of the cloud, language barriers will disappear too. Imagine logging onto one of your favorite gaming websites and meeting the avatar of a friend of yours who happens to live in China, and speaks only Mandarin Chinese. You don’t speak his language, he doesn’t speak yours, but as you talk into your mic, the game’s built in translation app routes your speech to the cloud where the massive processing power translates your message into the native language of your buddy, and delivers it to him. His replies come back to you the exact same way, and another barrier bites the dust.
3. Games that Evolve
Bear in mind that it won’t be possible to turn all processing over to the cloud. Some elements, specifically things that need to update frame by frame, will have to be handled natively, but other things, specifically lighting and certain AI routines, will be able to take advantage of the immense, raw processing power of the cloud. One of the implications of this is that every player’s behaviors will be observed and charted in a separate profile, such that the AI can be groomed over time and in the background to respond with increasing effectiveness to that player’s particular style.
Despite the exciting implications of all of the above, cloud computing is not without its potential pitfalls. As mentioned, there are certain things that will be difficult to offload to the cloud, due to issues of latency, so “the cloud” isn’t a processing magic bullet, by any means.
Besides those issues though, the major areas of concern as cloud-based gaming finds its footing will be in the areas of security, privacy and ownership. None of these problems are insurmountable, but each will have to be tackled separately and carefully. One thing is certain, gaming is moving into “the cloud,” and as it does, everything will change.
Chris Hartpence is an author and the lead game designer for http://playtheplanet.org. He has written strategy guides for a number of games over the years.