Cloud Gaming

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What is Cloud Gaming?

Cloud gaming, also called gaming on demand or game streaming, refers to playing a video game hosted on a remote server rather than on the player’s own computer or device. The remote servers use high-performance hardware to manage the processing, rendering, and execution of the game. The game audio and video are streamed back to the player’s device over the Internet, while player input (i.e., controller or keyboard and mouse actions) are sent back to the server.

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To play, gamers install a client program that connects to the server where the games are hosted. Compatibility is typically not an issue since cloud gaming allows streaming to various devices, including computers, laptops, smartphones, smart TVs, or gaming consoles. This eliminates the need for gamers to own high-end gaming consoles or expensive gaming PCs.

Techopedia Explains the Cloud Gaming Meaning

Techopedia Explains the Cloud Gaming Meaning

Cloud gaming allows you to stream and play video games over the Internet on various devices like laptops, smartphones, or tablets, without the need to own expensive gaming hardware.

To access the game library, players install a lightweight client that requires minimal processing power to operate. Using the client, the players can select from the available games and play them on the server. Cloud gaming companies usually charge a fee or subscription, operating much like online video streaming services such as Netflix.

History of Cloud Gaming

Cloud gaming emerged as a concept in the mid-2000s, fueled by advancements in consumer access to high-speed Internet. Early systems, such as G-cluster, offered PC games that were run on remote servers.

In 2010, OnLive made history by launching the world’s first commercial cloud gaming service. Over time, improvements in data technology, video compression, and smartphone capabilities further enhanced the feasibility of cloud gaming.

Recognizing the growing interest in cloud gaming, major companies like Electronic Arts, Microsoft, and Google launched their own cloud gaming development projects in 2018.

History of Cloud Gaming
Source: Tecsens

How Cloud Gaming Works

The video game is processed on servers managed by the cloud gaming service provider. The servers, equipped with high-performance graphics processing units (GPUs) and central processing units (CPUs), allow for real-time rendering of graphics and game logic.

Graphics frames are encoded into a video stream and compressed using video codecs to optimize bandwidth usage. The compressed video stream is sent over the Internet to the player’s device, using streaming protocols like HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) or Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH). Audio output is streamed to the device simultaneously.

The player’s device decodes the compressed video stream, displaying the frames on the screen. Input devices such as controllers or keyboards enable interaction with the game. As players move characters or navigate game menus, the input commands are relayed back to the cloud server, where they are processed to update the game.

Cloud gaming operates as a continuous loop of rendering, encoding, streaming, decoding, and input processing, to provide players with a responsive gaming experience.

Cloud Gaming Technologies

Cloud Gaming Technologies

The cloud gaming ecosystem requires a vast collection of technologies to deliver games over the Internet. Some key technologies include:

Data Centers and High-Performance Servers

Powerful servers with advanced GPUs and CPUs capable of processing and rendering video games are housed in global data centers.

Video Encoding and Streaming

Games processed on the servers are encoded into a real-time video stream transmitted over the Internet, using various compression techniques and streaming protocols, like HLS or DASH.

 

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)

CDNs optimize data delivery by distributing content across multiple servers, reducing latency, and ensuring faster response times.

 

Input Processing

User input (i.e., button presses and mouse movement) is sent to the server for real-time processing, using various technologies to minimize input lag.

 

Client-side Decoding and Device Compatibility

Cloud gaming services support a variety of devices, including PCs, Macs, smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and gaming consoles. Client-side decoding technologies enable the display of the streamed video without significant processing on the player’s device.

 

Cloud Gaming Platforms and Libraries

Platforms offer a user interface for game access, subscription management, and community interaction, and provide on-demand access to game libraries.

 

Security and DRM

Cloud gaming providers implement Digital Rights Management (DRM) to safeguard against unauthorized game distribution and manage the security and privacy of user data.

 

Why is Cloud Gaming So Popular?

Accessibility and cost-savings make cloud gaming a popular choice for gamers.

  • Accessibility: With a high speed Internet connection, players can stream games from their devices wherever they are. Smartphones have heralded an explosion in online gambling, for example, through real money casino apps.
  • Cost Savings: Cloud gaming eliminates the need for players to invest in expensive gaming consoles or upgrade their computers to meet the system requirements of modern games. Instead, players subscribe to a cloud gaming platform and gain access to a library of video games.

Growth of the Cloud Gaming Market

Growth of the Cloud Gaming Market
Source: Market.us

According to this Global Cloud Gaming Market report by Market.Us, the global cloud gaming market is expected to reach approximately 29.8 million total users worldwide in 2024. Cloud gaming is an emerging industry projected to reach $143.4 billion by 2032 (from $5.0 billion in 2023).

List of Cloud Gaming Platforms

 

Platform Company
Amazon Luna Amazon
Blacknut Blacknut
EA Play Electronic Arts
GeForce NOW NVIDIA
JioGames Cloud (beta) Jio Platforms Limited
Now.gg (mobile cloud gaming) now.gg
NVIDIA GeForce NOW NVIDIA
Parsec Unity Technologies SF
PlayStation Plus Premium – Formerly PlayStation Now Sony
Shadow Blade
Ubisoft+ Ubisoft
Xbox Cloud Gaming Microsoft

Limitations of Cloud Gaming

Some limitations of cloud gaming mirror traditional gaming but may be more pronounced when streaming games online to your device.

For example, lag (the delay between user input and on-screen action) and latency are common issues in traditional gaming that can become significant obstacles to cloud gaming.

Another limitation of cloud gaming involves accessing specific video games. In traditional gaming, players purchase individual games and can continue playing them even if a subscription is discontinued. In cloud gaming, availability varies based on the platform and subscription tier, and some games may not be accessible due to licensing agreements.

Pros and Cons of Cloud Gaming

Pros

  • Cross-platform gaming on all your devices
  • Eliminates the need for expensive gaming hardware
  • Game and software updates are managed by the provider
  • Integrated social features to connect with friends/join communities
  • Platforms offer user-friendly interfaces
  • Stream games without downloads or installations

Cons

  • Availability of specific games varies by platform
  • Data privacy and security concerns
  • Latency or input lag may affect gameplay
  • Requires a stable, high-speed Internet connection
  • Streaming games consumes significant data
  • Subscription costs for services can add up

The Bottom Line


Cloud gaming presents both advantages and challenges. While it offers accessibility and convenience to players, it also heavily relies on Internet connectivity, which can impact the overall experience. Players should consider factors such as access to high speed Internet and data plans when evaluating cloud gaming. Additionally, players should investigate trial accounts to determine if cloud gaming is a viable option before investing in costly subscriptions.

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Vangie Beal
Technology Expert
Vangie Beal
Technology Expert

Vangie Beal is a digital literacy instructor based in Nova Scotia, Canada, who has recently joined Techopedia. She’s an award-winning business and technology writer with 20 years of experience in the technology and web publishing industry.  Since the late ’90s, her byline has appeared in dozens of publications, including CIO, Webopedia, Computerworld, InternetNews, Small Business Computing, and many other tech and business publications.  She is an avid gamer with deep roots in the female gaming community and a former Internet TV gaming host and games journalist.