Playing In The Clouds

Today's ephemeral buzz may very well be tomorrow's new wave of products.  One of the buzz items that caught my attention this week was a  leaked video of a potential virtual world connected to one of the MySpace co-founders, Brad Greenspan.  This virtual world has an interesting angle -- it's built on an engine called OTOY, which is a graphics engine that does its rendering in a "cloud."

The notion behind cloud-based gaming is extremely neat.  It would theoretically allow cutting-edge graphics on anything from a desktop computer to a mobile phone, by offloading the heavy lifting from the peripheral device to a centralized cloud.  This specific application ties into a larger trend toward cloud-based computing.

For in-game advertising, this would be a very beneficial trend, as it would make the notion of an offline, and thereby unreachable, device obsolete.  Additionally, the graphics in the video offer up an environment of unparalleled realism in a game, which could provide better integration with the game world.  This model would also go hand in hand with emerging business models for games, focusing on subscriptions and micro-transactions.  For users, there is a clear advantage in no longer needing to shell out for hardware, and the possibility for continually improving quality that could happen overnight.

There are practical issues that will need to be faced, most notably bandwidth (which is a concern for cloud computing in general).  While shifting the burden for rendering to the cloud lessens the load for peripheral devices, the bandwidth costs will stack up.  For a game running at a resolution of 1280x720, the issue becomes that of streaming 720p HD video.  Considering that every client connected to the cloud would require massive bandwidth, the cloud faces issues of both rendering for each user's input, as well as streaming the resulting video to the client.  Even with today's bandwidth consumption, some are  pointing out the costs.

Personally, the concept and the leaked video left me extremely excited for what the future is going to bring for this space, as well as how these shifts in technology and design ultimately shake up the business models they support.
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