The latest generation of games consoles certainly has a lot to offer to gamers. They have superb graphics, lots of interesting and innovative game controls and online interactivity too. But they still have one major downside: as impressive and desirable as the features of the consoles are, the hardware itself is still a considered cost - especially early in the lifecycle of the console when there are just a handful of exclusive games for it.
Console Gaming Without a Console
The good news is that this generation may be the last one that actually requires dedicated gaming hardware. More and more companies are investigating ways to offer a console-quality gaming experience without requiring you to buy the box. Services such as Onlive and Gaikai have already tried, with varying degrees of success, to offer AAA gaming titles streamed via the web, but adoption of those services has been slow because the companies did not have the name recognition required to get people to give them a try. Sony is planning to launch its own software-based gaming service, called PlayStation Now, later this year. If anyone can turn streaming gaming into a success, it’s Sony. They’re already a recognised provider in the gaming space, and they’re launching the technology at the perfect time.
How Console-Free Gaming Works
These console-free services make use of the power of cloud computing. Instead of having to own the hardware that the games are being run on, you connect to the internet and have the game run on a server. The client software runs on a local device and sends your commands (e.g. analogue stick movements and button presses) to the server. The server responds by sending back the visuals of the game you are playing. If you have a fast internet connection, then the gameplay should be very responsive - good enough that the average gamer has no idea that they are not actually playing the game locally.
PlayStation Now will be available on Sony’s new line of SmartTVs and will allow users to rent subscriptions to games. Existing services such as Onlive allow users to “buy” games or subscribe to a package that includes a selection of popular titles.
Initial feedback for PlayStation Now suggests that it performs quite well as long as you have a fast internet connection. Even driving games and shooters are playable, and the latency caused by having to stream video data and then respond with your control data is minimal. Of course, this may not be true for everyone at launch. People who live in rural areas, and those who have to worry about bandwidth caps, may have a less than perfect end-user experience. For those who are lucky enough to have high-speed cable, however, streaming games are a great option.