Posted by RyanJW (80 posts) -

While Microsoft is currently doing a lot of talking about the gaming cloud that it’s integrating with the Xbox One, it’s largely smoke and mirrors. In reality it’s just going to be a relatively conventional cloud as used for numerous other purposes such as hosting multiplayer servers and web applications. The cloud Sony’s integrating with the PlayStation 4 is almost guaranteed to be just as capable as Microsoft’s and able to augment games in exactly the same ways.

There’s nothing stopping PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games from being enhanced by cloud technologies either. Even though Microsoft and Sony are likely only making their gaming clouds available for integration with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One games, developers could easily make use of existing cloud services like Amazon and even Microsoft’s own Azure — thus bringing the same advantages to current-generation games.

It's important to remember that beneath the buzzword-filled marketing, clouds are simply servers. They're the same things that've been hosting multiplayer games and websites for many years, except now it's easier for developers to create and modify the servers quickly. But in terms of what they can do, it's not free hardware that can be used as efficiently as the components inside the console. And like with any server, there'll be latency as the data travels across the country (or world if you're unlucky).

To give some examples, clouds will be great for handling the physics of items in the game world. They should be able to help with AI too, allowing more non-player creatures to seemingly have minds of their own without crippling the console. But what clouds won't do very much for are things like increased detail, higher-resolution textures, and general graphical muscle — you're still bound by the graphics card for those.

And all of this depends upon a constant, fast internet connection; the slightest blip will mean your game stops working entirely or is severely gimped. Depending on where you live that's potentially a significant issue; single-player games may cease to become safe bets when you know your connectivity is poor. It's also a great way of implementing always-online DRM even if the cloud isn't necessarily required, but let's not speculate.

It looks like Microsoft and Sony are keen to make their gaming clouds a big part of the marketing for their new consoles and probably don't particularly want developers using cloud technologies in current-gen games. That way, next-generation games will be even more distinguishable from current-gen games and that will help to offset the fact that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One aren't as powerful as the cutting-edge PCs that gamers are increasingly reconsidering as an option.

Clouds are definitely a good thing, particularly for co-op and multiplayer games. But don't be taken in by the marketing too much — temper your expectations. And remember that Microsoft isn't the only cloud game in town.

#1 Posted by JasonR86 (9609 posts) -

I think they mean whatever marketers want them to mean.

#2 Posted by EvilNiGHTS (1093 posts) -

@jasonr86: It means editing photos. To the cloud!

#3 Edited by Squiretuck (6 posts) -

I think anyone who expects cloud computing to make games look better is going to be disappointed, it can't help with rendering, but i think Microsoft's strategy has some cool advantages.

Having a certain amount of cpu cycles and storage available on azure to each dev, completley free of charge and just standard as part of the system is very cool. As you said it can be only used for non-latency intensive tasks, such as AI and physics, but the cool thing is the amount of resources available scales with the number of players, unlike a traditional dedicated server. I'd like to see Sony follow suit, but I can't see them buying sever time from Microsoft or Amazon and offering it to devs for free or spending years and billions building their own infastructure of world wide servers.

#4 Posted by believer258 (11642 posts) -

I'm not sure if tying things like AI behavior to the cloud is a good idea. Then again, I'm just one of those people that prefers my console games with the ability to work completely offline, mostly because I've had bad experiences with unreliable and/or slow internet connections in the past.

#5 Posted by RavenX302 (258 posts) -

I'm still a bit confused by this whole cloud stuff Microsoft is stoking down people's throats. My internet is kind of garbage and they claim it will somehow run physics and such through out the cloud...but...what if my internet is not fast enough to constantly stand that streaming from "THE CLOUD" and even during single player sessions, it starts bogging me down. I guess no one will know tills it is in action, but I am really confused by both the term and its identity in games.

LOOK TO THE CLOUD!

#6 Posted by RedCream (704 posts) -

Thanks for making this cloud thing clearer.

#7 Posted by mrfluke (5093 posts) -

if the install bases of both systems become neck and neck, then you're not gonna see devs use the cloud fully as you would want as they wouldn't have the incentive.

its gonna be on their exclusives to harness "the cloud" and prove that is the future.

#8 Posted by Shingro (194 posts) -

There's a problem with the Cloud that I haven't seen anyone mention yet: which is "What happens if it actually becomes successful?"

At the reveal they they bragged about 300,000 servers, some of those have to be authentication (a lot since if authentication goes down to quote Jeff "It is a hellish nightmare from which there is no escape") some of those have to be Live stuff, dedicated servers and the like.

But how many of those are going to be serving as horsepower for each owner? Sure it'll be fine at launch, but what happens if they have 1 million concurrent users all pulling cloud power at the same time? 2 million? 10 million? What happens when a game pulls above average resources from those servers and becomes a smash hit? How many virtual machine shards can each of those servers handle? What happens if we start talking about install bases of 70 million people, 100 million people worldwide? All requiring some amount of local cloud processing so latency isn't an issue? Can even Microsoft keep a handle on a worldwide system of networked machines like that come hell and high water even assuming they're willing to spend the money on the massive upgrades required? Is that even efficient from a money view?

..... color me unconvinced =P

#9 Posted by tourgen (4427 posts) -

Hopefully The Cloud makes up for those two x86 cores the Xbone is dedicating to processing Kinect data and "apps". Maybe. Doubtful.

The PS4 is a different deal though. Because they are not requiring internet connections their is no guarantee that a PS4 owner will have server access. So they cannot offload anything critical unless it's a part of a multiplayer mode.

And really, can you offload anything critical to "The Cloud", ever? I don't see that working out all that well.

#10 Posted by StarvingGamer (8016 posts) -

Tut tut, looks like rain.

#11 Edited by AlexGlass (688 posts) -

I've decided to invoke the minds at Arstechnica forums on this issue. After 6 pages, we're actually getting somewhere regarding to what you can and cannot do with physics related cloud calculations.

I need tech heads to scrutinize Xbox One Cloud processing hypothesis.

http://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=1208703

It's fun if you like tech talk.

#12 Posted by zombiepenguin9 (529 posts) -

I think there are good implementations of the cloud that we could see from the new console generation. My main concern is what happens to those good implementations once the new console generation is over. It's one thing for an MMO to essentially cease to exist after servers are taken down, but I'm not so sure it's justifiable for single player experiences.