The Pocket Gamer Report: Is Cloud Gaming the Future for Handhelds?


For all of the incredible technology that the games industry wields, there are times when it could be implemented a bit more sensibly. Why, for example, can’t we have the situation where games on PSN and DSiware are in some way cross-platform?

Why can’t we play the same version of Fat Princess on the PSP that we can on the PS3? Why can’t we play some DSiware Electroplankton on the bus and then finish our game on the Wii when we get home?

To be fair, the PS3 and PSP do already sport some very forward thinking interconnected gaming, with titles such as Lair playable on the PSP via remote play, not to mention games like Resistance: Retribution, which allow you to upscale the game for big screen blasting via the PS3.

That’s all well and good, but surely a much more obvious candidate for this type of gaming would be with the games that are already compatible across both platforms?

Being able to relive the joys of the PSN release of the PS1 Classic Metal Gear Solid: Tactical Espionage Action on the PS3 at home and then pick up where you left off with a PSP while out and about would be a very powerful gaming experience.

And yet this idea has failed to supplant complicated, less scaleable attempts at cross platform gaming. The Wii is just as guilty, with its Virtual Console titles being the perfect fit for some cross platform fun.

There could be a solution in one of the current industry buzz terms – cloud gaming. For those that haven’t heard of it, cloud gaming is the idea that all the hardware for running games could be stationed at the server level, with the games farmed out to devices on demand over a persistent internet connection.

It may sound like an over-designed solution to a relatively simple problem, but cloud gaming presents lots of interesting options. For one, the hardware disparity between handheld and home platforms would no longer become an issue on the processor end, with compatible devices only requiring the same interface and networking hardware to accommodate the streamed games.

The idea would be that you would be able to log in to the service via multiple devices designed for different situations, and have access to your entire games library and all of the necessary saves to pick up where you left off.

This would mean first of all that both your handheld console and your home device would be equally powerful gaming machines in the pixel pushing department. Second of all it would mean that you wouldn’t necessarily have to upgrade your hardware every five years, as that would be taken care of at the server end, with your subscription fee to the cloud gaming service covering the upgrade.

Which brings about the very sticky topic of pricing and ownership. Do you own the games that you pay a subscription fee to play? Do you have to pay an overall subscription for a cloud gaming service which encompasses a certain number of new titles a month, or do you have to pay individual additional fees per game? Will the hardware be heavily subsidized by subscription fees, in the same way mobile phones and netbooks are today?

It’s all hypothetical at this stage, but the reality could be closer than you think. The last two years has seen a decline in physical software and the rise of digital distribution. This has reaped many financial benefits for the games industry in reduced manufacturing costs, and cloud gaming could be the next logical step towards further reducing those overall costs.

The overarching financial benefits for the games industry could be huge. Hardware manufacturing costs would also be cheaper due to expensive, battery hungry graphics processors being removed from individual units. Then there’s the fact that every gamer would be locked into a minimum per month payment, giving guaranteed revenue to the service providers and the games creators.

Of course, subscription fees are a very tough sell today with only the most hardcore of gamers venturing monthly payment for gaming sweetmeats. It could be years before the gaming public will be receptive to such a dramatic paradigm shift, or until the networks are capable of sustaining such a data intensive service. You can bet, however, that if it makes financial sense to the games industry then it will come sooner or later.

So long as we can finish our nail-biting game of Katamari that we started on the couch when we’re on the bus, then we’re in.

Pocket Gamer is Europe’s leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.

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