The gaming industry is on the cusp of a breakthrough, and it will bank heavily (and literally) on colocation and ultra low latency access to the cloud to blossom. Where game streaming services are ready for takeoff, the necessary networks are not ready to support them. Online gaming has traditionally responded to developments in internet technology, but now the tables have turned and gaming developers and distributors are leading the charge. It’s time for network providers to respond.
A Look Into The Past of Internet Gaming
Gaming is putting new demands on networks, but it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, for decades multiplayer gaming simply responded to what was available at the time. In fact, online gaming has grown up with the internet itself. As personal computers emerged in the 1980s ultra-basic games were attempted using closed host networks using a mainframe computer and others as nodes. The birth of the world wide web made long distance multiplayer gaming truly possible, but proved too expensive and slow to be popular. In the mid-nineties players would need to fiddle with protocols, settings, IP addresses, and dialup internet connections themselves. The idea of online gaming was difficult and cumbersome. By the late 90s multiplayer PC gaming took off in accordance with the prevalence and quality of modem technology. It was here that multiplayer gaming services – predecessors to today’s video game digital distributors like the highly popular Steam – became available, along with the rise of online gambling. As the calendar flipped into the 2000s, PC and internet technology created a massive video game industry alongside a console market that featured increasingly greater online capabilities. The 2010s brought the smartphone revolution, turning the average phone user into a gamer, and gamers into a user group 2.7 billion people strong.
The Shoe On The Other Foot for Gaming Technology
In sum, the era of online gaming could only bloom once a higher demand for internet service could be reached. Now, a fast and stable connection is so crucial that serious gamers continue to eschew wireless connections in favor of an old fashioned ethernet cable and monitor their connection’s latency closely. Gamers are demanding lightning fast, high resolution experiences, and the delivery system is changing again. The way Netflix disrupted Blockbuster and Spotify disrupted iTunes is happening now in the video game arena. Even though streaming gaming services are in their infancy a whopping 30 percent of US consumers already have a subscription, and in the millennial demographic a gaming subscription is already more popular than a television one.
For those in the interconnection game, cloud gaming should be considered software as a service – it’s GaaS (gaming as a service), and it’s coming in hot. In order to support these massive initiatives, equally massive data center infrastructure changes are in order. While the tech giants are opting for major hyperscale developments, Wired’s Cecilia D’Anastasio notes that “Most cloud gaming companies, including those that own their own data centers, rent space, a practice called colocation.” Online gaming has developed alongside computer networks one step behind. Now, it appears game developers and distributors are already one step ahead. With the age of cloud, edge, and 5G at our feet, betting on cloud gaming means investing in the infrastructure to support it. The gaming industry is ready for colocating servers in a data center and also connecting via fiber to a cloud server farm miles away with other servers which are also colocated but owned by the cloud provider. Once the infrastructure is there, cloud gaming will come calling. The current question is whether the infrastructure can keep up.
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