The European Game Developers Conference 2009 kicked off Monday in Cologne, Germany with a series of sessions by speakers, including representation from such respected studios as Remedy, Crytek, thatgamecompany, and more. The president of Silicon Knights (Eternal Darkness, Too Human), Denis Dyack, was on hand to talk about cloud computing -- or more specifically, how the technology, still in its infancy, will change and direct game development in the years to come. The session was entitled 'Musing About Clouds.'
"Hopefully I won't say things that will really upset people, which happens often when I talk," Dyack joked as he began his session. He offered the mostly-populated auditorium a brief history of Silicon Knights' background, as well as an overview of some of the topics he's discussed at events like GDC in the past, including, of course, the one console future, which is a theme that related closely to his talk about cloud computing in Germany.
Dyack avoided going into the technology of cloud computing -- he said he would leave those talks to other people, some of whom no doubt have patents pending -- but instead focused on the theoretical possibilities of the still-immature platform.
"There is a very significant difference between videogames and traditional content," said Dyack, who elaborated that movie directors can understand and predict how audiences will experience their films. In contrast, directors of videogames are never quite sure what players are going to do because videogames are non-linear and fully interactive.
The SK president went over the basics of cloud computing, which is a "remote delivery system with the ability to deliver content without actually giving the consumer the actual product."
Cloud computing was demonstrated at GDC 09 in California via a service called OnLive. The service enabled gamers to play titles remotely over a broadband connection, the actual content hosted on a server. OnLive showed promise, particularly for simple titles void of complex graphic techniques. However, skeptics have questioned whether or not the service can realistically accommodate hundreds of thousands of connections simultaneously without bogging down or failing altogether. This, because graphic-intensive games like, say, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, will likely require dedicated hardware on the remote end -- thus, if 300,000 players attempt to stream content like this to their systems, providers like OnLive may just need the equivalent of 300,000 systems to meet demand. On the other hand, titles like Tetris can be streamed to hundreds if not thousands of users from a single dedicated machine on the remote end.
According to Dyack, cloud computing will change the industry by providing a unified development platform, a better model for developers, cheaper and faster universal distribution, IP preservation, and on top of everything else, it will remove the need for costly manufacturing. "This increases the economics of this type of model completely," Dyack said. "And if I'm going to rest my hat on anything completely, it's the economics of this model that will make it succeed or fail, not the technology. I think it's this that's really going to stand out."
"Don't assume with cloud computing that there's only going to be one cloud in the sky. There could be hundreds," said Dyack, who compared clouds to cable channels. "You may subscribe to Sony's cloud and get God of War 3."
Some critics have dismissed cloud computing because it has in its early demonstrations showed marginal lag or latency. He said that technical hurdles haver never proved insurmountable before and added that with the delivery of faster connections like fiber, issues like lag would be a thing of the past.
Dyack believes 2009 may be remembered as the end of the golden era of videogames as the first cloud models for games are announced. He thinks the end of the console as we know it is inevitable and that the "hardware will be become irrelevant compared to the service."
"I wouldn't invest long term stocks in any kind of videogame retailer, I'll tell you that," said Dyack, when an attendee questioned him about where he thought retailers stood against cloud computing.
Dyack believes that in 20 years cloud computing will be dominant. However, he's not ready to commit his company to the model just yet. "I think Silicon Knights will continue to do console games as long as the market's there," he said when quizzed on the subject.
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