It’s the time of major computer hardware releases, with everything from new laptops and PCs to new graphics cards and processors.
And as we’ve seen with our recent reviews of the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 and Intel Core i9-13900K, this new crop of gaming hardware is more powerful than we could have imagined before we got our hands on it all and tested it. But there’s one thing that’s also undeniable: the best graphics cards are increasingly more expensive than the average consumer, even in the wealthiest western nations, can afford, let alone gamers in the global south – assuming they aren’t simply ignored by major releases. of products entirely.
In many ways, this is at the heart of the disappointment over the demise of Google Stadia. For all its flaws, it allowed gamers who were off the best gaming PCs to play games like Cyberpunk 2077 and experience those games along with the lucky few who managed to grab one of the best cheap graphics cards during the past. some years.
With Stadia shutting down, one could come to the conclusion that cloud games themselves have failed, but I think that would be a serious mistake. The success of cloud gaming would always be tied to the speed of a user’s internet connection, and despite a frustrating delay, the rollout of 5G networks across the world will finally put cloud gaming services in a successful position.
Cloud gaming is poised to be 5G’s ‘killer app’
Each generation of cellular telecommunications network had a single application or service that came to define it, the so-called “killer app”. First-generation mobile technology brought wireless voice communications to the masses, while second-generation networks of the late 1990s and early 2000s gave us SMS text messages. 3G networks powered the social media revolution on smartphone devices, and 4G LTE networks made streaming media like Spotify and Netflix possible.
It remains to be seen which 5G killer app will be, but David Cook is betting on cloud gaming. Cook is the CEO of radian arc (opens in new tab)a cloud gaming infrastructure company that is partnering with AMD to lay the foundation for making cloud gaming a practical reality around the world.
“We sat in these meetings with the telecom operators, and they all made big investments in 5G,” Cook told me earlier this year, “And there were some very interesting apps that they would talk about, like drones and driving cars. I would always smile and say, ‘yes, I don’t see many of them through the window, although I believe it’s an important use case, but what we know is that everyone is playing’”.
When cloud gaming services like PlayStation Now, Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now first launched several years ago, even the best home internet services with wired fiber optic connections struggled to deliver the kind of experience gamers want. waited. Network bottlenecks often caused games to lag or graphics quality suddenly plummeted, which really brought cloud gaming adoption to a halt. However, with 5G, there is a much greater opportunity to take advantage of significantly less congested 5G frequencies and provide a smoother gaming experience without sacrificing quality.
Improving access to AAA games globally
There are literally billions of players around the world, and the market is only going to grow in the next few years. But not all gamers have the same opportunity to enjoy the best PC games in the way that many of us take for granted. Many, if not most, gamers don’t even have a PC or console to play games, having to rely on their phones or dedicated gaming cafes where they can play modern AAA titles using better hardware than they could afford.
This is reflected in the video game economy itself. Mobile games are by far the biggest segment of the global video game market – not even close – whether you’re talking about the number of players or the revenue these games bring in. But gamers all over the world aren’t playing Candy Crush over Elden Ring because they don’t care about the deeper gaming experience a modern PC or console game can provide, it really comes down to access.
“In territories like Latin America, Southeast Asia, India and Africa, the use case is more mobile, but gamers would still love to have access to better graphics and games on their mobile devices,” Cook said. “And the same with game publishers, game publishers would love to have more creativity and more functionality in these games and be able to spread that across a wider range of mobile devices.”
Laying the foundations for the cloud gaming revolution to come
And while the physical interface a gamer can use to play the game could be anything from a smartphone to a Chromebook or even an older gaming PC, the key is offloading the hard work of rendering a game elsewhere and simply uploading it. the video to a network connection instead of an HDMI or DisplayPort cable.
Streaming visual output from a server to a client device is something we’ve been doing for literally decades, but games have been held back by the low real-time input latency required to play a modern video game. 5G networks are the first telecom infrastructure that can provide this kind of network responsiveness and stability – all you have to do is look at the remote surgeries performed in recent years using 5G networks to see this.
All that’s missing now are the physical servers to actually run the game you’re playing remotely, but it won’t be gone for long. Already, companies like Radian Arc are moving GPU servers to telecom network hubs to lay the groundwork for a proliferation of cloud gaming services.
“What we see is a big difference in market need in North America, Australia or Western Europe than we see in places like Southeast Asia. Recently, one of our partners in Central Africa was literally on the phone, and the closest server they were able to reach, even for traditional mobile gaming, was in South Africa,” Cook said. “So by putting these GPU servers inside some of these smaller telecoms, we suddenly open up a whole new world of functionality, on both sides with consumers and publishers.”
Taking players to the cloud
With the demise of Google Stadia and the rather lukewarm adoption of cloud gaming services in recent years, convincing gamers to move to cloud gaming is a genuine challenge. Many will enter with prejudice, preferring physical hardware they can handle, while others may have tried it in the past and been disappointed in the experience.
Cook believes there is a secret weapon in the cloud gaming arsenal: the telecommunications providers themselves.
“When we go into telecom,” Cook said, “we go in and say we want to put the POP (point of presence) inside your network so we can all have the benefits of low latency, scale, cost-effectiveness, etc. ., but we also sat down with them and created a marketing plan to say, here’s how you market these games to this user base – partner with them on this. Part of that marketing plan includes a controller, and that controller can be quite different. So what you’ll see in a lot of these markets is an Android set-top box for the living room and we can run an app on that set-top box and create a game console-like experience.
“One thing telecoms are really good at is selling these kinds of packages,” Cook said, “selling hardware plus a data plan, or hardware, plus a data plan, plus a gaming plan, which is a proposition of truly unique value”.
This localized and distributed telecommunications network approach can be an unexpected asset for cloud gaming. Google Stadia was a single cloud gaming provider, so its demise was a significant blow to the cloud gaming industry. If Google or Nvidia are the only cloud gaming service providers, then cloud gaming will always be held back by the level of commitment to the project that a small handful of companies have.
When scrolling through telecoms that most people already use, you might not get the kind of extensive catalog that Google could take advantage of, but it does end up with more cloud gaming providers overall, which should help accelerate its adoption.
“So if you have the GPU inside the telecom network, you can really take advantage of the scale. The new AMD GPUs can run twelve games per GPU. They are very energy efficient, around 30% less energy per user. All of these things should really make cloud gaming the potential killer app for the 5G rollout.”