Cloud gaming is the future according to just about everyone in the industry. What does cloud gaming actually mean and how does that change things up for consumers? Well we went and talked to the folks at StrataScale
, who have been in the cloud business for quite some time about how this will impact gamers.
Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role at StrataScale?
I’m Denoid Tucker, senior vice president of technology StrataScale, Inc. StrataScale is a Sacramento, Calif,-based Infrastructure-as-a Service (IaaS) provider of fully customizable managed cloud solutions for game developers, software as a service providers and a wide range of other customers. I’m responsible for the company’s products and services, and specifically the applications and hosting solutions.
For those who don’t know about cloud gaming, could you give us a quick overview of the technology and why it’s different from conventional gaming? What are the advantages of cloud gaming over what most of us are used to now?
Cloud gaming is basically the same as traditional gaming except that instead of using an Xbox, PlayStation or other game console, you’re relying on computers, graphics processing and storage that reside in “the cloud.” The user experience is virtually the same, but cloud gaming is fundamentally different because almost all the resources are located remotely while only the human interface – your display, controls, etc. – are local.
As for advantages, having these games in the cloud gives you the ability to play them anywhere there’s Internet connectivity. As long as you have Internet access you can be anywhere in the world and you can still access the same game, and still keep track of what your results are. You don’t need to lug the game or console around. You don’t have to worry about storing it, or backing it up. That’s the beauty of the cloud. It gives you the ability to be much more mobile and fluid.
How does developing games from the cloud differ from developing for a console or the PC?
From a developer’s standpoint, they don’t have to worry about the platform. They don’t have to worry about writing software for this console or that one, or whether the players are using a PC or a Mac. They can have a single web-based interface for the game, so they’re only developing for a single set of infrastructure, which is cheaper and allows new titles to reach the market much faster.
How do game developers benefit from developing games for the cloud? Is the monetization model different?
Cloud gaming allows developers to constantly push the latest and greatest software and upgrades into the market. It lets them ensure that users always get the most current apps available. So the distribution model is very powerful.
Traditionally video games have been sold in a shrink-wrapped format, where you buy a copy of a game, install it on a local system and you’re off and running. Cloud gaming allows you to offer a subscription model instead, much like that of a multiplayer online role-playing game, except you can play single-user casual games as well.
You’ve also got the potential for advertising, which opens up additional revenue potential. And because it’s real-time, you have much better insights into who your customers are. Cloud gaming companies know how long I’ve been playing, for instance. If I’m online for eight hours a day, their advertising may be very different than if I’m on for just eight minutes a day. So they’ve really got the opportunity to customize their advertising.
Finally, intellectual property (IP) protection is another huge benefit. You can have much tighter controls over who’s playing, and how many copies are allowed from one IP address or one login. The introduction of cloud gaming definitely raises the bar as far as the ability to protect the developers’ IP.
Are certain games better suited for the cloud?
You might expect that casual, social games would be better. But actually, you can now play just about any game in the cloud, including first-person shooters, sports games and more. OnLive has really been a pioneer in on-demand cloud gaming, by allowing you to play dozens of premium game titles on nearly any device, including tablets, smartphones, PCs, Macs and even HDTVs. They have really kind of broken the barrier with their platform.
One of the biggest problems people have cited cloud gaming is that not everyone has a high-speed Internet connection. Do you feel that’s still the case? How fast of a connection does a gamer need and when do you think we’ll see mass deployment of cloud services?
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there were more than 80 million broadband Internet subscriptions in the U.S. in 2010, equal to about 27 percent of the population. In total Internet users the U.S. was second only to China, which had about 125 million broadband subscribers, less than 10 percent of that country’s population. Worldwide, the ITU estimated there were about 525 million broadband Internet subscribers as of December 2010. Obviously there’s already a very large base of cloud gaming users both here and abroad. But clearly there is a lot more room for that potential market to grow.
As for the download speeds needed for cloud gaming, Netflix recommends that you have at least a 1.5 megabits-per-second broadband connection to stream its movies, and that’s probably sufficient for most gaming today.
Console gaming is still very strong, but I’d say we’re already in the early stages of the mass deployment of cloud gaming. Besides OnLive, you’ve got a variety of other companies entering the market, including Gaikai, which recently partnered with LG Electronics to integrate its streaming game service into future LG smart televisions. OnLive has a similar deal with Google TV.
What role does StrataScale play in this? Are you providing just the infrastructure, or do you partner with the developers?
Game developers don’t want to be experts in building data centers, or server load balancing or storage. They want to be experts in their core competency, which is developing games that are constantly changing.
We offer an infrastructure-as-a-service that allows developers to design, test and deploy their games on a highly available and scalable platform, so that they can focus on what they do really well.
There’s several benefits to that. Time to market is shortened, and the applications and the automation that we offer take away a lot of the IT growing pains and administrative headaches. We let them scale their computing resources up or down very quickly and efficiently, without the need for sophisticated IT staffs. They also can move their development operations without having to worry about moving their data center or their systems. In short, we give the game developer a platform that allows them to focus on their core business, which is gaming.
So clearly it’s a partnership. They’re running their business on our business. That’s a really strong partnership.
What are your thoughts on the recent push to take things to the cloud with services like OnLive?
As I said before, OnLive has been a pioneer in on-demand cloud gaming. They’ve been around for awhile and they’re now getting more of the industry’s big gaming titles onto their platform. They’re the pioneers, they’re the ones leading the charge into online gaming.
Do you think cloud services can have an active role in the console gaming at some point? When do you think we’ll see cloud gaming become the dominant form of gaming?
Some say that cloud gaming could eventually bring an end to console-based gaming. If so, it’ll probably take quite awhile. Video gaming is one of the biggest forms of media there is, with annual sales approaching $70 billion. That’s bigger than the entire music recording industry, although not yet as big as movies.
And although online games – especially for mobile phones and tablets – are starting to take sales away from the console game sector, traditional console gaming still has a huge lead. Nintendo reportedly has a new Wii console coming out later this year, and I wouldn’t expect Microsoft or Sony to be very far behind.
How does StrataScale differentiate itself from its competitors? How do you compare against the offerings from Microsoft and Amazon?
The infrastructure that we’re providing our customers is housed in high-availability enterprise-class N+2 data centers. That basically means that we have a duplication of everything. So the data centers we use are world class. And inside those data centers, the individuals that are providing our managed services are also second to none.
That’s why we have customers like Ignite Game Technologies that are running actual production games on our system. We’re not like other competitors that are being used mostly for testing and design.
Look at our service level agreements. We offer 99.999 percent guaranteed uptime. How’s that different from someone offering just 99 percent uptime? Over the course of a full year, the difference is up to four days of downtime. That’s four days that a competitor could be down with no penalties at all.
Our infrastructure is enterprise quality, and it’s great for companies that want to run their production, not just gaming, but running their entire business on our business. They should feel assured, and we invite any client to look at our data centers. That’s how confident we are.
As for Microsoft and Amazon, obviously, they’re both good companies. They both have good offerings. A key difference with us, though, is that we have the capability to customize our offerings with unique solutions that clients can tailor to their needs. It’s not one-size-fits-all. There’s other companies that are bigger, and they want one-size-fits-millions. We’re’ not as big as them, but I think that’s a benefit for game developers, because we give them personal attention. Imagine you’re one of 5 million customers, versus here, where here you have that personal touch.
Also, both the Microsoft and Amazon platforms are built around virtualization. While we have a virtualization offering similar to theirs, we also do the physical side. We can offer the same flexibility and elasticity that you get from virtualization, but we can also do it on physical, dedicated servers that are customized to your specific requirements.
That can be a significant advantage, because there are some applications and services that do not run well on a virtualized platform and need to be vertically scaled. And we can offer that. So your virtual compute requirements can sit alongside your physical requirements in the same environment. That is something that Microsoft and Amazon just flat out cannot offer.
We'd like to thank Denoid for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Chasa for coordinating the interview. You can find more information about the company on their website.