Cloud gaming is on the horizon for Aussies, with Google, Microsoft and Nvidia all working on games streaming services and Telstra rolling out 5G across Australia.
Gaming can be an expensive hobby and not just from the cost of buying the actual games.
PC gaming, in particular, is not kind on wallets — a decent set-up capable of running all the latest games at maximum settings can run to a couple of thousand dollars if you’re getting ultra-serious, and even consoles are not immune
I mean, yes, you can run your Xbox One X or PlayStation 4 Pro on that old Dick Smith Electronics LCD TV you got cheap from Gumtree, but for a proper gaming experience you’re going to want to invest in a good LED TV of some variety, and then you’re back to being poor.
Considering a top-of-the-range Nvidia GeForce RTX2080 graphics card will set you back about $1000 — and that’s before you get into things like a processor, RAM, a hard drive, and so on — it’s not a cheap endeavour, although members of the “PC Master Race” (as hardcore enthusiasts jokingly call themselves) insist it’s absolutely worth it for the superior gaming experience.
For most people, however, this just isn’t economically feasible — which is why several tech companies, including Nvidia, Microsoft and Google, are hard at work developing cloud gaming technology that will essentially allow any device with a decent internet connection to become a high-end gaming PC.
Google made headlines earlier this year with their Stadia platform announcement, while Microsoft’s Project xCloud continues to develop, but hardware manufacturer Nvidia — best known for their GeForce high-performance computer graphics cards — are also getting in on the ground floor.
The company recently briefed technology journalists on its GeForce Now games streaming service, with senior product manager Andrew Fear saying the company’s goal was to reach the next one billion gamers out there — on top of the two billion existing PC gamers.
“The cloud has revolutionised music/movies with services like Netflix and Spotify,” Mr Fear said.
“People love the technology, we want to transform the PC gaming industry to have that instant on-demand gratification and to turn anyone into a gamer.”
Nvidia’s press materials said in a nutshell GeForce NOW was a cloud gaming service that “transforms your underpowered or incompatible hardware into a gaming rig by connecting to GeForce gaming PCs in the cloud”.
Google vice-president and general manager Phil Harrison speaks during the GDC Game Developers Conference on March 19 in San Francisco, California. Google announced Stadia, a new streaming service that allows players to play games online without consoles or computers. Picture: Justin SullivanSource:AFP
The short version of the GeForce Now plan was that instead of consumers having to get a dedicated gaming PC, Nvidia data centres — running their hardware — would handle all the heavy lifting by essentially running the game on their servers and streaming it to any device with a decent internet connection.
This service will be particularly attractive to people with old our outdated equipment or who have a traditionally non-gaming platform such as an Apple computer or a work laptop with a small hard drive.
Mr Fear said the company was not trying to create a “Netflix for games”, however.
“Our strategy is we are an open platform … we’re not trying to licence games from a publisher and put them into a package,” he said.
Essentially, the service connects to existing games launchers like Steam, Uplay or Epic, and players play games they already own on those platforms via the GeForce Now streaming service.
Mr Fear said the service would also put an end to that all-too-familiar situation of gamers wanting to start a game but having to wait for the latest updates to be applied, as that would all be handled on GeForce’s servers.
The service is already live in beta in North America and Europe, with Mr Fear saying Nvidia has been talking with companies in South Korea and Japan about establishing data centres there as well, but he did not have any information on when Australia might be joining them.
Microsoft gaming cloud vice-president Kareem Choudry said the company’s project xCloud games streaming service was also progressing in development, using Microsoft’s Azure data centres.
“The driving purpose behind Project xCloud has been to enable playing great games anywhere, anytime. From the beginning, our aim has been seamless compatibility. We want to make it as easy as possible for developers to make their games available to all gamers with support for existing games, those currently in development and future games,” he said.
“The power of Project xCloud — the seamless compatibility for developers and the new places to play for gamers — comes from Azure data centres spanning the globe, with hardware that shares a common set of components with our Xbox consoles.”
The current xCloud data centres have an emphasis on North America, Europe and Asia, but Mr Choudry said more were planned.
Tech giants are looking to transform internet-age game play, with an expected launch of a streaming service that uses the power of the cloud. Picture: Sebastien BerdaSource:AFP
“This is just the beginning of our build out, with our ultimate goal of supporting gamers in Azure regions around the world,” he said.
The arrival of 5G mobile technology may make streaming games services a realistic proposition in Australia, too.
“5G tech makes a lot of sense; the industry moved to 4G 10 or 12 years ago and streaming of music and videos helped usher in a new era of entertainment,” Mr Fear said.
“Cloud gaming needs low latency, high bandwidth.”
Telstra has just announced it has brought their 5G network online, and network engineering executive Channa Seneviratne said it had the potential to change the way we live and work — not just for gaming but with things like autonomous vehicles, drones, and the wider “internet of things”.
“Telstra is continuing to test next-generation mobile technologies in Australian conditions to support the commercial deployment of 5G mobile services in Australia. In fact, we already have more than 200 5G towers operational across Australia, including capital cities and large regional centres,” he said.
“ One of the key requirements for a fun cloud gaming experience is a consistent high speed (more than 25Mbps) and low latency (less than 30ms) between the client device and the cloud.
“This is achieved through a combination of next generation access networks and, where required, local edge cloud infrastructure to deliver the required low latency. Telstra is developing this capability as part of our 5G deployment and continual evolution of our fixed product offering.”
While the specifics of how it might all come together are still under wraps, the upcoming technology means there is a very real possibility anyone in Australia can be a gamer — not just those with full wallets or a passion for the latest and greatest hardware.
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