We recently got in touch with Christine Arrington who is a senior analyst in the games group at IHS. Cloud is the next big thing for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and it will be pivotal to each console’s success beginning next year. Sony have already revealed that they will be launching Gaikai in North America and Europe next year and Microsoft must have surely started educating developers about the cloud, something they believe will make the Xbox One more powerful.
We asked Christine about her take on the implementation issues, the vast possibilities and the rise in development costs that will come along with cloud gaming.
Rashid Sayed: Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and the company you work for?
Christine Arrington: I am a senior analyst in the games group at IHS. I have been an analyst in the games industry for nearly two decades.
Rashid Sayed: We have seen a few cloud gaming services in the past such as OnLive but it was not able to penetrate the core market. Do you think the success of cloud gaming weighs more on the business model rather than the technology accompanying it?
Christine Arrington: Yes, there are several smaller scale deployments that are successfully delivering streaming game content. These deployments show that the technology exists and functions. Now it will be a matter of working out pricing and demand models, and licensing models.
"What remains to be seen is how graphics heavy new generation titles will perform. It is telling that no one has made a firm commitment to stream new releases via consoles. I don’t think there is an answer to the question of how well those will perform yet."
Rashid Sayed: One of the biggest hindrances to cloud gaming is the availability of a stable and an extremely fast internet connection. Many locations have high speed internet which will give them access to cloud gaming in the future but given that things won’t turn around anytime soon in places where there is unstable/slow internet, do you think cloud still has to make enough strives before it becomes mainstream among console gamers?
Christine Arrington: I think it is too early to tell. Most major console markets have reliable high speed internet connections. For catalog games such as Sony has planned for its PS3 library streaming to the PS4 these connections will be satisfactory for console gamers. What remains to be seen is how graphics heavy new generation titles will perform. It is telling that no one has made a firm commitment to stream new releases via consoles. I don’t think there is an answer to the question of how well those will perform yet.
Rashid Sayed: The next generation of gaming has not even begun and we have a few developers already talking about next to next generation. One such developer is Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada who believes that Sony’s next console after PS4 won’t even be a console and will instead be a service based in the cloud. What are your thoughts on the same? [article reference here]
Christine Arrington: There is merit to that concept. There has to be something that is provided in a console that cannot be provided in a service based in the cloud. That could be many different things and eight years from now it is hard to say what that might be. Things that come to mind are interface technologies, such as augmented reality, or display concepts such as virtual reality. For the last few cycles the focus has been on graphics capabilities, this time around it is on interface, media services, and multi-screen access. Even if Microsoft and Sony move to cloud based services it isn’t inconceivable that another hardware make could come along with new capabilities and launch a new console in the market.
Rashid Sayed: Microsoft believes that with the power of cloud, the Xbox One will be ableto render even better graphics and physics simulation[article reference here]. What are your thoughts on the same?
Christine Arrington: It is an interesting way to think about how to keep the console on par with PC advances. Once consoles launch PCs quickly outpace them in graphics and processing capabilities. If that can be compensated for in the cloud that take some of the advantage away from the PC. It is a large investment, and the core PC gaming market is not very large in comparison to the console market. So, pushing that side of cloud gaming probably isn’t going to be a high priority in the beginning. It will become much more important as the consoles age.
"I don’t think the console specs come into play much when the processing is done in the cloud. If either were to implement a hybrid approach with some processing done locally it might make a difference, but even then the whole point is offloading processing so it doesn’t make all that much difference."
Rashid Sayed: But on the other hand we have Sony’s Mark Cerny whobelives that there are hindrances to cloud gaming and one cannot better graphics using the cloud. [article reference here]
Christine Arrington: There are merits to both arguments. I believe this is more a matter of timing. Right now doing much of the heavy lifting on the server side would be very expensive and there probably is not a lot of infrastructure with high-end GPUs deployed. So Cerny is right in that sense. However, Microsoft is also right that eventually that could be offloaded to the cloud and future proof consoles.
Rashid Sayed: Sony will be kickstarting their cloud service for the PS4 with Gaikai next year but only to stream select PS3 games. Do you see them using the service to stream PS4 games in the future?
Christine Arrington: Yes, I think Sony is using a very methodical approach to the cloud implementing capabilities slowly. Eventually I think this will lead to PS4 games being included.
Rashid Sayed: From a technical perspective do you think that the PS4 is more capable than the Xbox One to stream games due to its powerful GPU and GDDR5 memory? Or is it the case of specs simply don’t matter at all when one is streaming games from the cloud?
Christine Arrington: I don’t think the console specs come into play much when the processing is done in the cloud. If either were to implement a hybrid approach with some processing done locally it might make a difference, but even then the whole point is offloading processing so it doesn’t make all that much difference.
Rashid Sayed: AMD and Nvidia both have entered the cloud gaming arena with their Nvidia Grid and Radeon Sky offerings. Which one do you think is providing a better solution to gamers for cloud gaming and why?
Christine Arrington: I don’t cover graphics technology, so I would have to refer you to our semiconductor analysts for comment on the technical differences.
Rashid Sayed: What are your thoughts on cloud gaming reducing development costs for publishers/developers, given that they will need to develop the game just for one platform i.e. on the cloud?
Christine Arrington: The way things are shaping up it doesn’t look like it will be one platform. Everyone is trying to create their own environment and infrastructure. So, developers will still be working on the PS cloud environment or the Xbox cloud environment (or even iOS, Android, Steam, Origin or any number of other potential cloud gaming entrants). While many of these are built on a basic PC architecture there are specifics to each environment that make them unique. It could make development even more complex if there are multiple cloud environments where they need to deploy games.