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Why Cloud Computing Gaming is Going to Happen

Eurogamer writes an entertaining piece on why Cloud Computing gaming is a fantasy. One humorous excerpt:

More than that, OnLive overlord Steve Perlmen has said that the latency introduced by the encoder is 1ms. Think about that; he’s saying that the OnLive encoder runs at 1000fps. It’s one of the most astonishing claims I’ve ever heard. It’s like Ford saying that the new Fiesta’s cruising speed is in excess of the speed of sound. To give some idea of the kind of leap OnLive reckons it is delivering, I consulted one of the world’s leading specialists in high-end video encoding, and his response to OnLive’s claims included such gems as “Bulls***” and “Hahahahaha!” along with a more measured, “I have the feeling that somebody is not telling the entire story here.” This is a man whose know-how has helped YouTube make the jump to HD, and whose software is used in video compression applications around the world.

To Summarize the Major Technical Hurdles

  • Processing: Hardware requirements scale linearly with the number of concurrent users. In order to support a million concurrent users, you would need one million computers at a data center running the games, which would be an outrageously expensive infrastructure challenge and maintenance issue.
  • Video Encoding: Movie streaming sites require lots of preprocessing time to prepare videos for download. H.264 video compression is super expensive. Doing that in *real-time* per user would be insane.
  • Network Latency and Lag: Movies are non-interactive and buffering smoothes out latency issues. Interactive games can’t buffer video content (beyond sub-second micro-buffering), and any small latency problems directly translate into end-user lag. Extra lag can really ruin high precision reflex games like competitive fighters and shooters.
  • Bandwidth: Real time video requires too much bandwidth. What about bandwidth caps and network fees?


  • Processing: This is similar to video game lounges, where they have individual gaming terminals available for hourly rental. What happens when a hundred people show up and there are only twenty terminals? Well, they have to wait or leave. And if the lounges are consistently popular, then they expand. An Internet service like what OnLive is proposing can also start small and grow naturally from there. They can also take advantage of many efficiencies of scale like blade servers or similar technologies.
  • Video Encoding: Complain all you want about how hard it is to do H.264 encoding, if I can get a rinky old webcam that does live video streaming, I’m sure there are some compression theory hot shots out there that can replicate this decade old technology. Or maybe even improve upon it.
  • Network Latency and Lag: Have you played online action games? These games use the exact same Internet with the exact same latency issues. People have been playing tons of Internet multiplayer games for over a decade, and lag is just an occasional annoyance.
  • Bandwidth: This type of service requires the same general bandwidth that Internet video and movies do. While this is still an issue, tons of people are already watching tons of Internet video regularly.

Bottom Line

Every one of these technical obstacles has already been solved years ago. Live video streams? Latency-tolerant Internet games? Bandwidth intense HD video? Server-side computer clusters? This stuff is beyond wild theories and daring research papers. This is old hat. Climb out from underneath your desks, step out of your closets, and enjoy the future.