There are 2.2 billion gamers in the world, with 1.2 billion of them playing on a PC. Think about that. Out of the world’s total population of approximately 7.50 billion people, 1.2 billion have a PC that they use to game. If that’s not a huge market, then I don’t know what is. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the gaming industry rakes in around $140 billion a year, and is growing at a steady clip too.
The fact that there are so many PC gamers is one of the reasons why cloud gaming could be a revolutionary idea. Cloud gaming? Yes, streaming the video and audio of a game from the cloud to your computer, so your computer doesn’t have to do the actual computing to produce sound and image. Play the best games on max settings with your potato hardware.
The Problem With PC Gaming
Here’s the problem that PC gamers face on an almost continuous basis: games ask for too much. Companies keep on pushing the boundaries of how realistic they can make a game look, which naturally requires better hardware. I’ll give you Battlefield V as an example. It’s one of the first games that incorporates real-time ray-traced graphics for ultra-realistic lighting and reflections.
Currently, only three graphics cards support ray tracing, and they’re all from NVIDIA: the RTX 2070, 2080, and the 2080 Ti. A single 2080 Ti will set you back $1,200. Building a fast PC with a 2080 Ti can easily cost you between $2,500 to $3,000, if not more. Of those 1.2 billion gamers, how many do you think can afford $1,200 for realistic reflections in a game? That’s right, not many.
Of course, that’s not the point. Game developers and hardware manufacturers have to keep on pushing the boundaries of what’s technically possible. They know it won’t be affordable for 99.9% of gamers, but things will get cheaper and the benefits of what they’re doing now will trickle down to those with a lower budget eventually.
But even the minimum PC requirements to play certain games are out of reach for many gamers. Playing Far Cry 5 is computationally intensive for most okay PCs. I’m writing this from a slow Surface laptop. There’s no way I can play AAA games, even at the lowest graphical settings. And if you do have a good PC or laptop, not upgrading it at least once a year means you’ll eventually won’t be able to play the newest games in good detail anymore. Playing on a PC is expensive and it requires upkeep of hundreds of dollars a year if you want to play the latest games in their full glory.
Cloud Gaming is the Solution
So imagine you don’t need any expensive hardware to play the latest games in full detail. That’s the premise (and promise) of cloud gaming. All you need is fast broadband to stream video and audio down to your device. Technically, you could plug an Ethernet cable into a Raspberry Pi, hook it up to a screen, and play the latest Assassin’s Creed without any problem. Your device won’t even get warm.
But cloud gaming isn’t just interesting for gamers, it’s interesting for game developers too. After all, the developers who make the game want people to be able to play it on max settings. They don’t want them to play a watered-down version simply because their hardware doesn’t allow for nice water and grass. It’s motivating if you know that everyone will be able to play your game as you intend it to be played.
Problems With Cloud Gaming
So how come cloud gaming isn’t a thing yet? What’s stopping companies from offering gamers a cloud gaming solution? Turns out that companies have tried. And failed. It’s apparently really difficult to stream content from the cloud to other devices.
OnLive was a company founded in 2003 that allowed gamers to rent computer games without installing them on their devices, streaming video and audio to gamers’ devices instead. Gaikai was another U.S. company that had a platform where you could stream a game over a local wired or wireless network. OnLive went defunct in 2015 and its patents were acquired by Sony, and Gaikai was bought by Sony for $380 million in 2012.
The main problem that both companies faced, and in fact the main problem for any cloud gaming platform, is latency. When you’re playing a game streamed to the cloud, every command you make needs to be sent to the nearest server of the platform, computed, and sent back to your device. Even on very fast broadband, this takes up enough time to be noticeable, particularly in a fast-paced FPS such as Battlefield. There’s a slight delay for everything you do, and it makes playing a game much less enjoyable.
Additionally, streaming a game in full HD in 60 FPS to a PC requires broadband of at least 25 Mbps or more, and can easily eat up multiple GBs of your data. Your ISP might slow down your connection when it notices you’re draining its network so badly.
Finally, it’s not easy for the cloud gaming platform either, because they need to make sure their hardware is always up-to-date. Cloud gaming simply means that the requirement to almost continuously upgrade your hardware shifts from the consumer to the cloud gaming platform. If you don’t have enough users paying you a monthly fee for your service, this requirement to upgrade can quickly become financially untenable.
Can Blockchain Technology Help?
Blockchain technology can help solve one of the above problems: it allows people to lease their PC hardware to gamers streaming a game on a cloud gaming platform. Think of it as a peer-to-peer video game streaming service. This way, the cloud gaming platform can mitigate some of the cost that comes with always having to upgrade hardware.
A smart contract on the blockchain can be used to determine the relationship between the gamer and the PC owner, and the owner would also receive a reward for leasing their hardware, in a way that’s similar to mining on a traditional blockchain.
The above is how the Russian blockchain project Playkey operates. It’s a blockchain-based cloud gaming platform that allows you to stream a game in full HD and 60 FPS to your PC. The company raised $7 million from VCs and business angels, and it raised $10.5 million during an ICO for its cryptocurrency PKT.
You can already use their platform, but it’s still a bit clunky and buggy at the moment. I tried to play Fortnite and definitely experienced some of the latency that all platforms suffer from, although this has much more to do with my relatively slow broadband connection than it has to do with the Playkey platform itself.
What Are Other Companies Offering?
As far as I know, Playkey is the only blockchain project that’s trying to tackle cloud gaming. But it has some serious competitors that aren’t blockchain-based. The two major ones right now are NVIDIA’s Geforce Now and PlayStation Now (built by Sony, using Gaikai’s technology). Google is working on a cloud streaming project too, where you’ll be able to stream a game directly in the Chrome browser (how cool is that). Not much is known about Google’s service yet, but there are rumors that Google will unveil more during its tech event on March 19 this year. Smaller players are LiquidSky, Parsec, and Vortex.
Cloud gaming feels like the natural direction for gaming to go in. It’s easy to envision a future where you can play any game without having to worry about computer hardware, where you just click and go. A Netflix for games. While we’re still bumping into bandwidth limitations and latency problems right now, it will only be a matter of time before broadband will be fast enough to clear those issues too.
Blockchain technology can reward people who have powerful hardware, so hardware requirements don’t fall entirely on the cloud streaming platform. Particularly for people who don’t really need that hardware, it’s an efficient way to use their spare computing power. A P2P video game streaming platform might be preferable over a centralized gaming platform.
I’m certainly excited about a future where games can be streamed to my computing device without noticeable latency. I’d happily pay a monthly fee for it, too. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. There’s a huge market for cloud gaming. Once the technical limitations are cleared away and people have access to faster broadband, cloud gaming could spread like wildfire around the world.