The advent of the cloud gaming era

Source: Internet
Author: User
Keywords Cloud games we players cloud games we players
Tags added application backbone bandwidth business business model change cloud

In a 10-storey office in the east of Beijing's eastern third ring, a few 100 square meters of offices, a few more than 20-year-old boys sit in front of their computers, playing the famous game of World of Warcraft. It's not a matter of working hours, it's their job to debug the stability and latency of their newly developed cloud gaming platforms on a few configured computers.

Dundee, the founder and CEO of the new company, Beijing Cloud Alliance Technology Co., Ltd., a few years ago, led the team to develop a cloud-based gaming platform technology. This technology allows players to play the most popular high-end games at the end of the computer, mobile phones, TV set-top boxes, netbooks, etc. Players do not have to upgrade any hardware devices, just connect to a smooth network.

Young founders showed enough confidence when they talked about the company's prospects. Dundee points to the screen where the developer is playing the game and says, "Maybe you think it's unbelievable, but we're doing it." Our technology has reached the international advanced level. ”

In the March 2009, the American OnLive Company launched a game technology that looked almost perfect, so that people didn't believe it was real. The company says it can transfer video games with complex images to any computer via the Internet, or to the TV via a set-top box. Before that, the high-end games, such as the DX10 Island Crisis (Crysis), were usually run on high-end computers selling thousands of dollars. And the OnLive company's technology has revolutionized the situation.
The technology, known as the "cloud Game", is designed to isolate games from games consoles or computers, and to subvert the close link between game development and hardware upgrades, said Steve Perlman, founder and CEO of OnLive, Steve Palman. You don't need a top-level computer to run these games, and full digital distribution means you never have to upgrade your hardware. ”

The technology was vividly demonstrated by Perlman at the MIT World Emerging Technology Summit (EmTech), held in September 2009. He used a low configuration laptop, to demonstrate the "island crisis" game operation, on the big screen of the stage, cool game scene is very clear, fierce fighting. With his instructions, the characters on the screen kept shooting at the "enemy" on the shore, and not a few minutes later, "Perlman" was killed. He put down the computer, self-deprecating to the audience said: "I am sorry, I was designed to play the game, but not a master game." ”

In March 2010, OnLive announced that its cloud gaming platform would be officially launched on June 17 this year, and that users in 48 states across the U.S. coast would be able to experience the service. "After nearly 8 years of research and development, thousands of group meetings, millions of lines of code and countless nights of work, OnLive's cloud gaming platform will finally be unveiled ... Please clap for us ... "Perlman said on his blog," Every OnLive employee is in a state of great excitement to witness this important moment. Finally the dream come true, we know it is a great cause, it will change everything. ”

At the ChinaJoy fair in China in July 2009, cloud-linked technology released its latest GODHD (HD-game-on-demand) technology, which, like OnLive, can be implemented on a general-purpose computer, running the latest high-end games that were previously available only on high-end computers. Dundee told our correspondent that the cloud-linked technology cloud gaming platform will also be officially launched in June this year, and has now begun to support users for free demo.

However, OnLive and cloud-linked cloud gaming platform, have been the hardcore gamers suspected. The question the players are most concerned about is, can cloud games really be consistent with the user experience on a traditional stand-alone computer? Will the lag problem of game delivery affect the key user experience?
Compression technology is the key to cloud games although OnLive's cloud game has begun to have a certain influence in the US, in China, the cloud game is still a new noun.

"A simple explanation, cloud game, is to run a variety of games on our cloud server, and then the server will compress these images and send them back to the player's computer in real time." "The gaming experience is very lifelike, just like playing a game on your own computer," says Dundee. The roaming scene is a combination of cloud computing and gaming. In fact, video streaming from the server is as simple and convenient as opening a Web page. ”

Cloud-linked Technology's cloud gaming platform is their own research and development. At Cloud Gaming Experience Center, visitors can freely experience the process of playing cloud games on low-end computers that are equipped with integrated graphics. Even in a game called "Call of Duty 6", which requires very high graphics, the running screen can be smooth, rendering colors and textures perfectly.

The process of experience cloud game is very simple: the player through the broadband cable connection, from the personal computer terminal into the cloud gaming platform, the platform to select games, all the game process in the Cloud game server implementation. Players in the game process all instructions, will be intercepted for real-time processing. "We're going to send these intercepted instructions back to the server, which makes the user feel like they're doing it," Dundee said. We play the role of bridging the game on the server and connecting the remote users together. "Then, the server side will pass the advanced compression technology to the game video screen real-time into the video stream, through the network (broadband network, TV network and mobile network) to the player's terminal to play."

The key to achieving all this is compression technology, and it is also crucial for players to feel little latency when they experience a cloud game.
Generally speaking, the delay is mainly from two aspects: one is the server-side image compression processing has latency, the other is in the network transmission process delay. "In the video compression phase, our compression latency is controlled on an average of 15 milliseconds, and in this respect we have achieved the world's leading compression latency." "In the technology of compression delay, the company has collaborated with companies such as Intel and Nvidia, one of the world's leading graphics manufacturers," said Dundee. In the network transport phase, Dundee says, they control server-side latency within 100 milliseconds, a much smaller delay than the usual delay in opening a Web page.

Compression technology is one of the things that makes Dundee's team proud, and it is the result of 8 years of painstaking research by OnLive Research and development team. Because of the trade secrets involved, two companies are reluctant to talk about their technical details, we do not have the two game companies compression technology for a deeper analysis of the comparison. However, Dundee has made a comparison of other relevant technologies in the market.

"Our self-developed compression technology supports data concurrency, and the compression card or TV compression card that you see on the market now has a general compression delay of around 500 milliseconds, and we are about 15 milliseconds." "said Dundee. Cloud technology compression technology is not a fixed picture compression, nor is it like TV live or film compression, but specifically for the high dynamic, high changes in the game picture compression, the game screen has better treatment.

Common video compression techniques, such as online video compression movies or TV dramas, usually use a quality-first compression. This compression technology has sufficient time to analyze the video in one minute of the change process, the previous frame compression is completed before the next frame compression. In addition to the processing of each frame, frames and frames are compared and analyzed, and the optimization is considered to ensure the quality of compression. However, the compression delay in this way is uncontrollable and cannot meet the requirements of the cloud game.

"We are using the parallel compression technology, we currently use the CPU operation of the compression unit, will be in parallel to each frame of the image compression." "said Dundee.
Parallel compression will be a frame of the picture to several processes at the same time processing, division of work, finished after the summary results. When the next frame is passed, it immediately processes the data and completes it quickly. It's like a couple of people doing one thing at a time, and then dealing with the next thing, which is much quicker than doing one thing after a person finishes something.

' The cloud has a set of mechanisms to match different images and games, so it's optional to compress a frame that requires several parts to be processed simultaneously, ' says Dundee. For example, some games don't require a lot of delay--such as "Plant vs. Zombies," A little game, cloud technology can use lightweight compression technology to complete compression, and like the car or first-person shooting such as the delay control of a very high demand for the game, they will adopt a more intensive compression technology, To minimize the compression time of the picture.

OnLive's cloud gaming system uses an equal-ratio compression technique, and the company's algorithm adjusts according to the displayed image, "Each frame may not look good, but we can keep transmitting data." "Perlman said. OnLive, he says, uses two compression algorithms, one that allows each frame to perform well in motion, while another ensures smooth overall results. And they can implement multicast transmission via IP protocol.
In fact, says Dundee, the OnLive company and cloud-linked technology do not have much difference in the performance of compression technology, only in terms of application, but in transmission technology.

Bandwidth throttling Issues

Cloud game's requirements for computer hardware are not high, but it is very important for network bandwidth requirements.

Companies such as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo also offer online services that allow players to collaborate and compete through Internet connections. However, these games are still tied to the company's respective game consoles, connecting streaming data to the player's computer over a network connection. One of the biggest problems is that players must always wait for the images they see on their screens because they are later than the instructions they send. IBM Game Department CTO George Dobert (Georgedolbier) said that the game needs to meet users to the maximum, when you press a button, the game is best to instantly respond. One of the biggest technical problems the game maker has ever faced is that when you press the button it is actually running on a computer thousands of miles away, and in the cloud game, this lag is called latency in the network transfer process.

While cloud gaming companies list all the benefits of cloud gaming: Save hard disk space-because the game does not have to be installed locally; Do not need to upgrade your graphics and other hardware for the latest 3D games-because the game is not running on the player's computer, so long as the machine can decode the video smoothly; it doesn't take time to find, buy, Download and install the game you want to play, turn on the computer, the game is on the other end (cloud), do not worry about the game's patches, upgrades, players are always experiencing the latest version. However, the problem of network environment can not be ignored: bandwidth overhead, some games are very demanding response latency, network stability requirements are high and so on. A slight blockage in the network can cause a pause or delay in the client screen, which is unacceptable to players, especially those who emphasize "real-time" games.

Perlman that the solution to the compression technology only solves the "complex problem of the tip of the iceberg." "The bigger question is how to deal with what's happening in a real-world network. In the ideal network environment, OnLive technology can perform perfectly. However, in the imperfect network conditions, the user experience will be greatly compromised. To this end, the company spent seven years to study how to improve and solve the problem.

When you pass a stream of data like a movie video, the computer usually creates a buffer to prevent the network from blocking the problem. The buffer will take some time to check whether the data stream is flowing smoothly and require the server to resend any missing or corrupted information. If the streaming data stream is a video game, due to the unpredictable nature of the game process, Perlman that the buffer technology can not completely solve the problem of transmission delay.

Unlike other online games, all the rendering of cloud games is done on remote cloud servers, and users do not need powerful computer terminals, but strong bandwidth becomes necessary. OnLive Cloud game developers have claimed that 1.5mbit/s bandwidth to achieve the Wii-level quality of real-time game transmission, this requirement for the current network conditions is not harsh, but if you want to achieve high-definition quality of the game, the bandwidth needs to be at least about 5mbit/s.

Another Los Angeles cloud gaming company, Gaikai, implemented a compression delay of 20 milliseconds, probably taking up 1 trillion of bandwidth, but with a distance limit, only the Los Angeles player's demo application is currently accepted. Dundee said that for SD games, bandwidth requirements probably in 700kbit/s to 1mbit/s, and for high-definition games, probably need to 2mbit/s to 3mbit/s, can play smoothly. However, China's domestic universal bandwidth is still low, and compared with the United States, the network environment is much more complex, there are telecommunications, Netcom's north-south interconnection and so on. Therefore, many people of cloud-linked technology can be successful in the domestic promotion of cloud games, raised the question.

To these questions, Dundee explains, at present, the backbone of the domestic use of optical fiber, bandwidth is large enough, but the backbone of the household at this distance, most of the use of ADSL copper wire, this paragraph if the replacement, it will need to invest a lot of costs, and bandwidth constraints exactly in this part. "In fact, this part of the bandwidth can reach 8mbit/s to 16mbit/s level, the network is not fluent problem is mainly because you often visit the server is far away from you." If you visit a server that is close to you, the problem does not exist. "said Dundee.

According to the cloud-linked technology business plan, they will place cloud game server data centers in each province, using distributed mechanisms and algorithms to assign games to their closest servers when players play games. In this way, the transmission delay between the user and the server can be ensured to be controlled in a very small range. "This is some of the measures we have taken with the telecommunications network," he said. In the future, we may be working with the grid to get into the set-top box. Or with NGB these research organizations and institutions and other operators to produce cooperation. We will use the existing resources to connect with the backbone nodes, the use of telecom bandwidth upgrade program to ensure that users have a good network conditions. "said Dundee. In addition, cloud-linked technology will be through a supply and demand calculation formula, according to the development and number of users in each province, to adjust the number of servers in each province.

April 2010, China Ministry of Industries and other departments proposed that the 2011 urban bandwidth average rate will reach 8mbit/s. "If China's bandwidth averages up to 4mbit/s, then our business can soon expand across the country," he said. Dundee added.

Faced with the same problem, Perlman believes that OnLive's compression technology can also solve the problem. Most games are processed and compressed in a data center with a dedicated image processing unit at the location of the powerful hardware. However, the video compression algorithm simply transmits the data from the source compression to the audience, and the video game needs to compress the data in both directions-from the source data to the player and then back to the source data-so the server can calculate the next action. Perlman did not disclose much of the details of the core technology, he said, OnLive's algorithm consists of a feedback loop that can monitor the network that a player is using in time, and then try to participate in and adjust the conflicts in the network transmission.

Every time you connect to a game, the OnLive service will adjust to different configurations, and during the data test, each user will need to be started to test a dedicated computer configuration (or TV adapter), a network provider, and a specific location. By changing any one of these factors, the onlive data may not be able to run, or the delay and bad images will make the game play. When players use OnLive games in different locations, OnLive does not get effective test data from users, Perlman said.

Position is so important that the fundamental reason is the speed of light. If the player is more than 1000 miles from the OnLive data center, the delay in transmission time will be greatly increased to meet the high demand for instant response video games. OnLive's Test platform in the United States has 3 data centers, each of which can cover a 1000-mile radius (the Blue round area in the figure). The player's data account will only be able to access the data center that was originally scheduled. If the initial account is on the West Coast, then when the user tries to enter the account from the Midwest or East Coast, the delay will be too long to make most games impossible. Furthermore, OnLive will configure the player's data account according to the characteristics of the player's home network service provider, and once the network provider has changed, the player may see a low quality screen or a game screen restricted.

Perlman added that OnLive would take a serious look at any delay that could be caused, and that OnLive's uniqueness was to require the user to connect to the place he wanted to connect. He said that by the time it was officially launched in June this year, they would have tried to find out all the delays and give them solutions. Currently, OnLive is still being tested with the goal of expanding the number of participants and refining the beta version in different locations.

Security, stability and piracy function for network games, security issues have always been a concern of users. At present in China, cloud-linked technology has been with Shanda, Jinshan and other companies have cooperated in its cloud gaming platform, testing the network game including "Swordsman Love", "Adventure Island", "Shushan new biography" and so on. "We cooperate with the telecom, the player's ADSL account is your landing cloud game platform credentials, if your account is not correct, you can not enter our platform." "He said that cloud-linked technology is also considering other credentials-fingerprint identification, facial recognition and other techniques to ensure that the user's account is adequately protected. and other game accounts will be associated with this account, if the account is protected, other accounts will be safe. On the security side of the cloud server side, Dundee says, the cloud has very secure and tight protection measures, including a telecommunications-level firewall and a cloud-specific transmission encryption protocol and a ban, which will ensure that information on server-side users is not lost or compromised.

The famous "World of Warcraft" game has happened in the same game scene hundreds of people at the same time to the server crash caused the phenomenon of server-side stability put forward a high demand. The cloud gaming platform, such as OnLive and cloud-tech, may be serving hundreds of thousands of, millions of, or even tens of millions of users in the future, and the server-side resource consumption is huge, says Dundee, which, first of all, currently serves only those users whose bandwidth quality meets the requirements. Secondly, in the cloud-linked technology server system on a set of monitoring and management software, called "Load Balancing Strategy", a server can meet a lot of users to play, in these users will have a balance between the resources, to ensure that the server can be evenly distributed. If the player in the process of playing the game, from a server off the line, or once the user on a server load is limited, the system will immediately switch users automatically to another server, so as to ensure that the server will remain on the amount of surplus.

In the United States, "maybe 80% is a stand-alone game, 20% is online games." "said Dundee. In China, the market share of online games is much larger than that of stand-alone games. Therefore, cloud-linked technology cloud gaming platform in the market, will also adapt to China's environment, with more online game operators to cooperate. It also means they need to do more to secure and stabilize online gaming.

Another issue that cloud-linked technology intends to address is the piracy of stand-alone games. This is closely related to China's market situation, China is a stand-alone game piracy rate of higher countries, because of piracy reasons, domestic stand-alone game basically disappeared, which is also the reason for the hot games in China.

"In the prevention of piracy, our platform after the establishment of the new stand-alone game will play a great role in protecting (help)." "said Dundee. Because, all the stand-alone game client will only install on the Cloud Alliance technology server, only then can run on its cloud game platform, the user sees is only a video stream, the pirate person wants the possibility of piracy to be almost not. Recently, the cloud joint technology will be announced with a stand-alone game in China, the game company invested 25 million produced a martial arts game (this year, the domestic line of three martial arts games, which is one of them). The company hopes that before the game officially listed (DVD listing), it will be placed in the cloud-linked technology cloud gaming platform, users can directly to the platform experience the game, thus playing a certain role in publicity.

"If users want to play the game--there is no advance in the market, users need to pay us, of course, part of these costs belong to the game company." In this way, it solves how a stand-alone game can benefit from the absence of piracy (because DVD listings mean piracy). "said Dundee. Cloud-linked cloud gaming platform is here to play the role of the cinema, is the first round of these stand-alone games, on the platform after the release of a stand-alone game DVD. There may still be some piracy, but the main revenue of a single game company may have been earned. "After our cloud gaming platform is released, it may be a reform of the existing stand-alone game release mode," he said. "said Dundee.

OnLive's Perlman also said OnLive will also help game publishers combat software piracy, transfer it to the cloud gaming platform, reduce sales of old game DVDs, and mention

High profit margins.
Business model

"At the moment, the more difficult thing is the business model of combining technology with the market," he said. "said Dundee.

Yun-Lian technology has been in Hunan Province and China Telecom cooperation, opened a pilot platform, testing users about 1000 people. Through the game on the pilot platform, they can collect feedback from users to improve system functionality. In the publisher aspect, the cloud Union technology already with the domestic top-tier single game proxy distributor network to carry on the cooperation. More online game developers and agents will also be joining cloud gaming platforms, says Dundee, through the cloud game platform to promote the game, so that the game can greatly reduce the cost of promotion (mainly bandwidth and server costs), players from the platform is not only the money, but also the establishment of their own brand.

At present, the OnLive mainly adopts the commercial model of rent plus on demand, and the Cloud Alliance will adopt the free mode in the early stage of domestic operation. "Because in China, it seems to be difficult for users to pay for a new thing," said Dundee, "if cloud-linked technology can bring users a better experience and unexpected value, it shouldn't be difficult for users to pay extra money." Cloud-linked technology will be linked to China Telecom's bandwidth Enhancement program, users only need to pay 200 to 300 yuan per month, bandwidth can be upgraded from 2M to 4M, while free to enjoy cloud-linked technology cloud game services. ' Specific patterns are still under discussion, ' says Dundee, ' but they want to encourage users to increase bandwidth to ensure the user's gaming experience, which is good for everyone.

At present, the benefits of cloud-linked technology, mainly from two aspects, on the one hand from the cooperation with the telecom--ADSL package, the other part from the interests of the game manufacturers to share. "We estimate that our revenue will reach 50 to 1 million yuan a month in one province," he said. "said Dundee.

Unlike cloud technology, onlive companies pay more attention to stand-alone games, OnLive has been working with several major players, including the United States Electrical Co., Ltd. (Electronic Arts), Ubisoft (Ubisoft), Take-two Interactive Software (take-two Interactive Software, Warner Bros., Interactive entertainment and digital. By contrast, OnLive's operating system is also more integrated with the characteristics of stand-alone games, such as the need to address the archiving of stand-alone games and high hardware configuration requirements.
"Of course, cloud-linked technology will also solve this problem." However, according to China's game market situation, to solve the network Game account security, account Exchange, payment and other issues appear more important. "said Dundee.

For a better cloud gaming experience, OnLive also invested in the development of customized hardware, at the 2010 Games Development conference, Perlman said he did not want to sell hardware as a source of profit, but in fact, in order to support the cloud game at the TV terminal, They had to sell some of the hardware they had on their televisions, although doing so might weaken their competitiveness in the core business.

Cloud-linked technology hopes to make more use of existing hardware on the market to achieve the same results, and the company's cloud gaming services will be extended to mobile phones, televisions or other terminals. For example, cloud-linked technology has been listed with the NYSE a company to cooperate with the radio and television terminal products, the company for cloud-linked technology to provide all the radio and television terminals peripherals-like remote control and handle. Cloud-Joint technology will provide the core technology (transmission and control of the core technology) to the company.

Perlman said cloud games fundamentally changed the way users experience and interact with others, and sooner or later it will change the development and marketing of the entire game. He said the new service would be a breakthrough for the gaming industry and would put pressure on home game makers such as Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. At the beginning of 2009, sources said, including Microsoft, Google and other scientific and technological enterprises are interested in buying OnLive technology, but also reported that Sony plans on its PSP4000 to achieve similar onlive like the cloud game, and has registered the PS Cloud Game trademarks: "PS Cloud."

In this regard, Dundee believes that the world's largest provider of cloud content, such as Sony, and the future of cloud-linked technology should be a cooperative relationship. "If their cloud games are to enter China, they will also look for partners in China, and cloud-linked technology is certainly the most appropriate." "he said. Because, any good content provider, will actively choose a good channel to achieve their own value, and cloud technology provides one of the services is to minimize the content provider to try the new platform cost.
Cloud game industry chain.

Cloud-linked technology and OnLive are all in different ways to achieve their dreams, Dundee said, the cloud-linked technology dream may be more, OnLive's focus is only in the game, but cloud-linked technology hope that more applications can be put on the platform. For example, online viewing rooms, test drive, such as on the PC or set-top box on the difficult to achieve smooth implementation of services, can be implemented on the cloud-linked technology platform.

As the leader of China Cloud games, cloud-linked technology provides the possibility for the whole industry to start and develop. Dundee hopes that their platform is not just a platform to provide technology, but also a complete industrial environment and production chain-similar to Apple's App Store and Nokia's Ovi store. He hopes that a variety of services can be generated on the cloud-linked technology platform and achieve value-even a small game development room, application developers may be dedicated to cloud-linked technology platform for mobile phones, television applications. "Therefore, the purpose of our pilot is not only the endurance of technology, but also the cultivation of user habits, more importantly, hope that the industrial ecological chain to create." "Dundee believes that the future development of the entire cloud gaming industry will bring new opportunities to radio, television, telecommunications, stand-alone games, online games and other industries, and in turn, these industries will actively promote its development."

Dundee says the cloud gaming industry chain has to be formed after owning a certain user. In foreign countries, gaming companies are expected to start developing their own content for these platforms when they have users on platforms such as OnLive and prove their business model is viable. Perhaps within 3-5 years, most home TV game developers will migrate to such platforms or build their own platforms. And the surrounding value-added service providers, advertising service providers, etc. will follow up.

At present, in the practice of cloud games, the United States is in the forefront of the world. Japan, Korea and other countries with high population density and good network conditions, once the technology matures, full deployment of the time will soon. "China's different regions are relatively large, some of the more open cities may be the first to launch the pilot." "The initial technology provider and hardware provider will have greater market opportunities," says Dundee. In the face of China, the world's largest market, the first crab-eating cloud-linked technology will face more opportunities, of course, there will be more challenges.

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