As many are aware, the PC is capable of delivering a much more technically robust gaming experience than consoles. A gaming PC is able to run games at much higher resolutions with better frame rates than consoles. Not only that, but the keyboard and mouse allow for a wider array of control. However, you have to have the PC hardware to be able to back it up, and many simply do not. For a lot of people, building a gaming PC is simply not a priority, and the idea of investing in hardware is not nearly as practical as spending a flat rate for a game system.
While I understand people’s hesitation in purchasing a gaming PC, I feel like a lot of people are missing out on some fantastically immersive experiences from multi-platforms and PC-exclusives alike. This may be changing soon enough. With the advent of services like OnLive, PC’s first substantial cloud gaming service, more people have the opportunity to play PC games at their greatest with a slew of mediocre hardware.
The words “cloud gaming” have been flying around a lot since OnLive was announced. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, it means gaming over the Internet where the hardware is remote and not your own. Games would stream to your computer like a Netflix that recognizes keyboard/mouse input. Essentially what this means for gaming is your abilities to run a game at fantastic settings have more to do with your Internet connection than hardware. Most have a simple home PC, as it is a staple in our day and age. Most people have a decent Internet connection, so this is welcome news (5mbps recommended for OnLive). In simplest terms, you could run game like Crysis at 1200p at ‘enthusiast’ settings with a low clocked dual-core computer and onboard graphics card — if your Internet is impressive enough, that is. Just as exciting is the fact that because the playability of games is simply relevant to Internet connection, Mac users will be able to play PC games as well.
There are other benefits of cloud gaming for PC. With PC gaming being more accessible on cloud services, it’s likely that we’ll see PC development benefit from cloud gaming. Not only would coding be easier if the servers were all similar hardware wise, but it’d be more important for a developer to make quality games on the PC as opposed to shoddy ports. Some developers hold off PC ports for long times and don’t even develop for PC and that’s really too bad. This may be what PC needs to get a better variety of more deliberately made games. Another benefit is that trialing games for PC will be easier. You can try a game out based on time played, and you may get a better picture of what the game is. The more you are able to play a game before you buy it, the less hype is effective; thus games must have the bite to back their bark. Finally there are even smaller benefits like never needing to patch your game and worry about graphics drivers or operating system compatibility (XP, Vista, Win7 and Mac OSX post Intel are all supported).
Not only could PC see some changes by cloud gaming, but consoles may be affected as well. This year the OnLive game system was released. This is essentially a console the size of a DS that allows for PC games to be played on HDTVs with a controller. As digital distribution becomes more and more prevalent, this may be the next logical step for consoles as well. This would mean that firmware updates could be simple, consoles could be noticeably upgraded over time without purchasing new hardware, and the companies could save money on hard materials, shipping and distribution negotiations. Beyond the practical benefits this could save us money as gamers.
There are some drawbacks to this service though. One of the things holding cloud gaming back at this point is Internet latency. While many have good Internet, there is a latency in which we are able to send information. This is minute but makes a large difference in timing sensitive games like first person shooters. Even with a high bandwidth it’s certainly possible to have a fair amount of latency. There are many factors in deciding whether or not someone will experience latencies, but the biggest factors are bandwidth, ISP, and server proximity. Bandwidth is an obvious factor, though many are unaware of shoddy practices by their Internet service provider. Generally, people don’t receive the bandwidth they pay for (especially in the US). This becomes truer as you purchase higher and higher bandwidth. This is largely in part to overcrowding an ISP. Also, the physical closeness to the servers makes a large difference. The closer you are to that server, the better off you are.
Currently there is a divide in those that do and do not support the idea of digital distribution. Services like Steam and Direct to Drive provide people the opportunity to download games straight to their computer where OnLive does not. Some people aren’t even comfortable with downloading games much less not having them on their computer. To be honest, I think they are the minority. Out of the terabyte my computer has, the majority of information is by far games. Most modern games are anywhere from 3-18 gigs depending on content. For some, it may be a plus to not have to all that space taken up. Unfortunately, this will mean that modding your files will be impossible. All in all, this is more a matter of preference than a positive or negative.
At this point many people are torn. A lot of gamers seem to be excited, but this idea is something that raises a skeptical eyebrow for a lot of people. Anytime a new business model is created, a risk is being taken. I see many reasons to be excited, but I understand the concern and am undecided on how this will turn out. Suffice it to say, if the business model proves itself as profitable, it will only be improved. I also believe that others like Direct2Drive and Steam will take on this task when the time seems right. With that in mind, I think that OnLive has a disadvantage not being able to host games by Steam, Blizzard, and others with a strong online infrastructure.If the market is spread too thin in its infancy, I could see a lot of people being overwhelmed and deciding against it.
Cloud gaming may not quite be ready for the masses, but it is in its genesis. There aren’t too many games for OnLive, but I expect it will grow; OnLive only has 35 games and most of them are ports and not deliberately PC games. Though as the business model proves itself, I can imagine the idea will take flight. Over time, all I can see are benefits. Cloud gaming just might be the next big step like HD gaming and online multiplayer have been over the past few years. Until then, I’m excited to see it grow and I’m grateful for the large aspirations of companies like OnLive. Maybe, just maybe, I can start convincing others to give PC just one more chance.