Until now, the predominant model for “cloud gaming” has been one that mimics the way music and video is served, i.e. from a central location through the streaming of a continuous audio and video feed utilizing compression techniques. The most famous attempts to commercialize the pixel streaming model were perhaps OnLive and Gaikai.
The first one started as a true high growth internet star with an astonishing valuation, only to implode completely as the cost of running the operations ate the company from inside, while customers stayed away. The second, Gaikai, was marketed very confidently which got it acquired by Sony in 2012, and has since been shut down and never re-launched.
This method of delivering cloud gaming is both expensive to build and difficult to scale. It relies on high performance servers, geared up with top notch graphics chips, and paired with large scale network infrastructure. The whole point of this model is to do the heavy lifting on the server side and stream an elegant gaming video and audio stream to the client residing on a PC, tablet, mobile phone, or a TV.
A key challenge with this model is that it is fundamentally opposed to how the computing power distribution of the world looks like. Since the dawn of the personal computer and the shift away from mainframe, computer power has always been accumulated on the client side.The whole orientation management of Network Services and infrastructure. This means that most of the computing power today resides with the user. Due to economies of scale, end user computing power is likely to remain cheaper than server side computing power. Pixel streaming is thus driving unnecessary duplication of hardware.
Streaming computer games is also very different compared to music and video. The simple reason is that gameplay video cannot be buffered. Since the user is affecting the video feed each millisecond of the gameplay, images cannot preload and all video therefore needs to be served in real time, and this often leads to latency which adversely affects the gameplay.
Another factor that affects this model’s attractiveness is that it requires a platform dependent software client to be downloaded and installed — this is known to cause poor conversion due to the hassle it means for the potential customer. Even cloud gaming software in the form of browser plug-ins suffers from unappealingly low conversion rates. If you lose 50-80% of your potential customers already before they have tried playing it really hurts the economics of your on-demand gaming business.
Many have argued that HTML5 can’t compete with high quality computer gaming but this is about to change with WebGL powered HTML5. WebGL is a new standard in HTML5 that allows games to gain access to hardware acceleration. Just like native games. The introduction of WebGL in HTML5 is a massive leap in what the browser can deliver and it allows for web games to be built with previously unseen graphics quality. HTML5 as a cloud gaming solution addresses the key difficulties described above.
WebGL powered HTML5 leverages local computing power, and not server hardware. With the introduction of WebGL, HTML5 games can take advantage of local hardware just like native games, thus maximizing the local computational power available.
WebGL powered HTML5 does not require that much bandwidth during gameplay. Since the game assets are downloaded before and during gameplay, even modest speed internet connections suffice.
HTML5 runs in the browser on multiple devices and does not need any special client software to be downloaded and installed.Provision and deploy cloud Public Cloud Servers in minutes. This is a pretty big deal. It allows for games to be published on nearly every conceivable web site, and since it runs directly in the browser, it opens up unprecedented viral opportunities and social media integration.
At the moment, there is one challenge still with HTML5 as a cloud gaming solution. For on-demand portals looking to offer cloud gaming, the current scarcity of high quality games on HTML5 is the biggest problem. The biggest advantages of the pixel streaming solution are the fairly moderate cost of onboarding games and that existing native games can be installed on the central serving system relatively easy, even though a certain amount of conversion requiring up-front investment is needed. Porting an existing game to WebGL powered HTML5 still means a fair amount of work.
In conclusion, cloud gaming through pixel streaming has shown to be very expensive to operate and scale. In addition it requires thick wires if he or she ever even manages to download and install the cloud gaming client required. HTML5 with the arrival of WebGL is a viable alternative to the pixel streaming model, since it leverages local computing power, requires little to no server muscle, can be delivered efficiently over standard internet connections, and be played in the browsers most people already have.
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