Recently, we’ve published an article tackling the most relevant benefits and issues that envelope the cloud gaming environment. After conducting thorough research and some first-hand experience with several cloud gaming platforms currently available on the market, the verdict was that these services are becoming an integral and inevitable part of the entire video gaming industry, but that the final level is yet to be reached.
The technology is quickly evolving and the cloud gaming industry is advancing with fairly staggering numbers. According to Statista, the global cloud gaming market (that was worth 0.17 billion in 2019) is expected to reach 4.8 billion in 2023.
The main catalysts for this growth are the quickly developing cloud infrastructure technologies, as well as the advent of 5G networks that can potentially solve various pitfalls currently shrouding this entire model.
Two Sides of the Cloud Gaming Industry Coin
For those who are unfamiliar with this type of video gaming environment, Cloud Gaming is a concept that uses remote servers to run video games and streams this interactive content directly to your device, obviating the need for strong computing power and the latest hardware in order to play AAA titles. These systems indeed have the potential to forever alter the video gaming industry, but these benefits are just one side of the coin.
The other is that there are currently certain technical obstacles that are preventing the gaming industry from becoming fully cloud-native and providing a flawless gaming experience worldwide.
One of those challenges (perhaps the biggest one of all) is the latency issue.
Now, if this technology wants to reach a point where it is capable of entirely and homogeneously replacing the current gaming hardware-based environment, the internet connection must be fast, consistent, and almost flawless. This way, it can reduce latency to ultra-low levels, which is particularly critical for fast-paced multiplayer online games that require fast thinking, quick reactions, and precision.
Latency, Server Proximity/Optimization, Network Bandwidth
The challenges, however, arise from several issues, including the proximity of physical servers. One of the experts we had the opportunity and privilege to talk to is Nikola Mitić, the CEO of COFA Games and one of our clients who gave us his take on the importance of the power and proximity of provider’s data centers:
“Latency is one of the biggest challenges in cloud gaming, especially in synchronous multiplayer competitive games with high player interaction. Games on mobile devices are even more sensitive to latency and internet connection problems because the connection can be interrupted at any time. Having servers in different regions, or at least different continents, reduces latency time and improves, not just streaming quality, but the responsiveness of the game to player actions.”
“Having players in different locations, it is highly recommended for multiplayer games to have microdata centers just for players playing together at that moment spawning dynamically. With this granular approach, latency can be reduced up to 40% and streaming quality improved, bringing more fairness to the game with equal conditions for all players.”
A level playing field in terms of playing conditions is integral to having a truly genuine, enjoyable and fair gaming experience. The problem with uneven latency across the ecosystem of gamers playing the same game is surely creating a suboptimal gaming environment wherein mere skillsets are not the only parameters that factor into which player comes out the victor in the end.
There are other potential problems these systems are facing:
“Some of the challenges for hosting companies are hardware requirements and optimization on the server side. GPUaaS (GPU as a service) is growing in popularity and is, aside from cloud gaming, used for artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and cryptocurrencies.
Currently, the majority of cloud gaming providers are using a GPU per player (per game) and one of the potential courses could be GPU resource sharing that would allow streaming scalability and cost reduction. Network bandwidth (between player and server) can be a major challenge. At the moment, the connection speed requirement is 10 MBps (35 MBps for 4K resolution).”
Infrastructure Quality, Skipping Frames & Potential Big Tech Secrets
We also had a chance to talk to Slobodan Nikolić, the Development Lead at Two Desperados, a company that utilizes a cloud-based infrastructure daily. We asked him to give us his two cents on the latency issue and whether or not there’s some new and secret tech-based solution that is being kept close to the chest by the digital giants.
According to Slobodan, latency is a multi-faceted problem that depends on various factors.
“A lot of problems that form the cloud above this type of gaming (pun intended) have been minimized, but are still very present. Network packets arrive in unpredictable intervals and refresh rates on your monitors never perfectly match them, which can cause skipping frames, tearing, etc. A lot of gamers know about V-sync, which is aimed at these kinds of problems.”
Unstable internet connection is still our reality and can be a big problem. Deviations during a single gameplay session can happen due to connection problems and ruin the gaming experience a bit (and we all know how gamers get when their experience is in question).”
A huge part of that experience depends on the notorious issue of server proximity as the input information needs to physically travel a certain distance to come full circle (as, unfortunately, quantum entanglement isn’t quite yet as applicable within computation as one would hope).
“The distance from the servers to our homes is a huge factor as the information needs to travel this distance in order to reach your location,” Slobodan says. “The quality of the network infrastructure and performance is what causes the latency, which needs to be under 100ms (preferably a lot less) in order for the gaming experience to be optimal.”
The bottom line seems to be that there is no simple solution for this issue. The entire system is rather complex and contains a lot of moving parts with multiple interconnected factors.
“I believe that there is no silver bullet here and that the best combination of hardware and software solutions will be what shifts the tides in this war between cloud service giants that has been raging on lately.”
“Close proximity data centers and their own architecture; Better data compression; Advanced algorithms; Using the client device for some calculations as much as possible; Special GPUs for encoding the data on the server-side; 5G; AI? It is most likely that all of these factors combined are influencing the latency.“
“As for some super-secret new tech-based solutions – I’m sure there is always something cooking in the pot.”
Negative Latency as a Potential Workaround?
Slobodan also provided us with his point of view in terms of how viable Google Stadia’s “Negative Latency“ actually is in terms of solving the latency problem.
“Negative latency is marketed as a concept that consists of a buffer of predicted latency and various methods to eliminate it. A game that runs on a super-fast frame rate and can handle user input faster, or even predict a player’s button presses. It is kind of a mystery, from the announcement day, and there is a lot of speculation about how it works (or will it work?). When Google pompously announced this a while ago, it caused mixed feelings in the gaming world. A lot of gamers and tech-savvy enthusiasts even laughed about it and called it a joke.”
It appears that Google kind of acted prematurely with this concept, especially in terms of how they marketed the solution, with little actual “no-latency” success coming from the metrics.
“Google may have jumped the gun with its PR there, because now a couple of years later, Stadia behaves almost the same on different tests, latency wise. There is a definite improvement ranging from 10 to 20% in some reviews and cases, but not a “negative latency” or even a minimal latency for sure.”
What the Future of Cloud Gaming Industry Holds
The gaming industry is definitely ripe for disruption and a paradigm shift. We are certain that cloud, machine learning, and AI technologies will play an integral role in moving this industry forward.
“I think that a lot of advancement is made in this field,” says Slobodan, “but that we should wait and see what happens next, and how Google will deliver on its promise. One thing is certain – AI and Machine Learning as a part of it are in our past, present, and future (especially when you take into consideration that Google Docs is finishing almost every sentence I am writing right now), and could definitely play an important role in the cloud gaming industry.”
Throw some virtual reality into the mix, and pretty soon we won’t be able to distinguish between reality and simulation. Not that now things are much different.