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Playing over the internet has become second nature to gamers, with a wide variety of popular titles built around the concept of online gameplay. From Minecraft to Counter-Strike, millions of users enjoy playing with friends and strangers alike, both competitively and cooperatively. While video games are primarily played on consoles, PCs and mobile devices, online functionality also requires a huge infrastructure of networks and servers behind the scenes. But can the internet offer more than just multiplayer matchmaking?

A while ago we looked at how film production is looking to cutting-edge cloud solutions, and gaming is yet another multibillion-dollar industry taking steps into the cloud. Like cloud computing in general, there isn’t a strict definition of cloud gaming, but you could think of it as any gaming experience that relies heavily on server-side computing power. The on-board hardware of consoles, PCs and smartphones can only offer so much performance, but the capabilities of the cloud are now starting to be exploited by developers.

Not quite a level playing field

At the extreme end we’ve seen services that run games on high-performance hardware, then attempt to remotely stream the whole thing to more lowly devices – essentially a kind of gaming Netflix. But latency presents a problem. For first-person shooters, fighting games and other titles in genres that demand twitchy reflexes and split-second responses, even milliseconds of input delay can seriously disadvantage players and sour their experience. Game streaming services like OnLive have struggled with these issues in recent years, somewhat damaging the brand of cloud gaming in general.

While current technology and internet speeds aren’t quite ready to offload whole games to the cloud, there’s still huge potential to enhance gaming performance via the internet. Some developers are using the cloud to process parts of games that don’t require immediate feedback, such as background images and environments. The upcoming action title Crackdown 3, for example, uses the cloud to calculate environmental damage and track collapsing buildings, while the actions of the player character are handled by local hardware.

How cloud gaming might play out

You could argue that any game that uses a lot of server processing is also cloud-based, even if the graphics are rendered locally. Just look at the phenomenon that is Pokémon Go, which is completely dependent on the cloud for map data and player tracking. So it’s possible the near future of cloud gaming will see a hybrid approach, with additional, non-time-sensitive processes like physics and artificial intelligence taken on by cloud servers, combined with client-side graphics and character control.

In the meantime, you have a huge number of options to run your own multiplayer game servers via a server package from Fasthosts. Our dedicated servers offer powerful and comprehensive root server solutions, allowing you to install any software layer and run your game of choice. You also have the option of using the flexibility of our new CloudNX platform to create virtual machines as game servers quickly and conveniently, then scale them up or down to meet the needs of players.

Neal Thoms's picture

Neal Thoms

Author As a content creator for Fasthosts, Neal’s main focus is cloud technology and how it’s transforming everything we do online. He’s worked in the web hosting industry for over five years.