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DT Debates: Is cloud gaming ready for the big time?

cloud gaming debate multiple devices
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The console is a legacy, and as we wait for the next generation to get here, we have to ask: is cloud gaming chipping away at their pull? Writers Ryan Fleming and Caleb Denison are debating just that. 

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Image used with permission by copyright holder



ryan-flemingCloud gaming may certainly be the wave of the future, but it is not yet ready for primetime, and probably won’t see the support of the big three console manufacturers until the generation of consoles that will debut after this coming generation, so anywhere from five to 15 years. There just isn’t any rush to go cloud.  People like owning the things they buy, and with a cloud purchase, you would always be limited by the internet connection.  You could never take anything with you, and the people that don’t have the luxury of constantly being connected—and despite the widespread of broadband, it still is a luxury—are going to be screwed. 

The technology just isn’t there yet. For fans of online competitive gaming, lag is the scourge of our existence.  When you are just about to record a kill and suddenly your opponent teleports like Nightcrawler, it is enough to go on a rampage, punching cute things because they don’t understand your pain.  Now imagine every game you ever play is exactly like that. 

There is still a huge chunk of the gaming community that isn’t online.  Maybe that is because of personal preference, maybe it is a matter of location, or maybe it is financial.  Cloud gaming will be off limits to them.  It is a bad move for the developers, a bad move for manufacturers, and a bad move for America, by god. 




CalebFirst, let’s start with some obligatory concessions that make me seem like a reasonable debater: I think you’re right to say that cloud gaming isn’t ready for primetime just yet and, further, that consoles have one more –possibly even two– generations left to go before they go the way of the 8-track tape. But suggesting that cloud gaming isn’t ripe to dominate consoles is as silly now as it would be to say a few years ago that downloaded music isn’t in a position to take over the CD. Sure, there are still some die-hard CD fans out there (myself included), but I think we all know where the majority of people get their music these days. 

While issues like lag are certainly a concern (and I’ll address that point in a moment), it is actually hardware that is holding gaming back.  Look at all the problems that come along with console hardware. Processing power can’t be upgraded often without alienating and angering people who plunk down several Benjamins to get into a console. Then there’s hardware stability and reliability. Can you honestly say that you’d like to keep the red ring of death around for another decade? And what about portability? While you may be an exception to the rule, most gamers I know don’t haul their console around with them everywhere they go. Instead, they settle for hand-held game systems which are inferior in several different ways.

Internet bandwidth and availability are genuine issues, but that is going to change in a few short years. The demand is unprecedentedly high, we just have to wait for service providers to catch up. The public has weighed in and it likes its likes streaming media. Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Spotify and other on-demand services have exploded in popularity in a very short period of time and Internet providers know it is time to step up their game and be prepared to cash in. TV manufacturers are already hip to what you don’t seem to want to accept. Apps and hardware for the aforementioned services as well as cloud gaming services are already being built into TVs. It’s all right there, my friend.




You know what else TV manufacturers are “hip” to?  3D TV. Remind me, how’s that going? Just because a manufacturer decides it knows what is best for us doesn’t mean a thing, the consumers will determine the market.  You brought up music via download versus CDs, and I think that is an apt comparison—you are on the wrong side of it though.

People gravitated to music downloads because they were cheaper and easier.  Going to all cloud would decimate the used gaming market, and it would also prevent any competitive shopping. You would be forced to buy the newest release at the full price as offered by the cloud service you were on, that would be your only option. And speaking of cost, while that might mean nothing to you, Caleb, as you ride your diamond encrusted Ducati back home to your palatial estates each night, to switch everything to cloud will cost a lot of money.  To avoid the latency issues, companies will need to create more and more data centers to keep up with the demand.  It would require an entire new infrastructure, and eventually that cost would be passed on to the consumer.

Of course, all of this is still ignoring the simple fact that people like to have ownership over the things they buy.  You are essentially paying full price to rent a game on cloud.  The pricing model will need to reflect this, but so far OnLive hasn’t taken the world by storm, and neither has Google’s cloud-based Chrome operating system. There are too many things that can go wrong—power fluctuations, connection issues, latency, etc.—for not enough reward.  As the technology exists right now, other than it being a neat idea, why would anyone want to go all cloud?  There is very little benefit, and a whole bunch o’ downside. 




No need to preach to the choir, brother Ryan. I’ve been highly critical of 3DTV in my reviews and you know it. The misdirection isn’t going to work, anyway. Just because Samsung, LG, and Vizio (the three highest selling TV brands in the US right now, by the way) have all jumped on board with cloud gaming doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good OR bad idea. You know what it does mean, though? Millions upon millions of dollars of investment capital. Here, why don’t you try this delicious looking slice of infrastructure? Pretty tasty, isn’t it?

Cloud gaming isn’t going to decimate the used gaming market. With all due respect to the good folks down at Gamestop, they should have started polishing their resumes a long time ago because it is the console makers that are going to kill the used gaming market. There’s no better way for console makers and software programmers to rake in the dough than by exerting total control over content and what better way to do that than to make a console with no optical drive! Oh, and isn’t Microsoft moving game storage to the cloud? Seems like everyone loves the cloud, don’t they?

And so we segue into the notion that people like to have ownership over things they buy. This is true. But the notion as we percieve it is just plain old-school. Critics of downloadable music used to crow all the time about how people like to have cover art and liner notes and will never give up physical media. Again, we see how that turned out. The same is going to happen to games. Today’s youth are going to grown up around a cloud-based paradigm without giving it a second thought because they don’t know it any other way; much in the same way that most kids born after today won’t know what a 4:3 television is. And what’s with the rental criticism? People love to rent stuff they know they’ll only enjoy on the short term. Netflix and Gamefly are successful because of that.

As for cost: everything costs money. Of course cloud-based gaming is going to cost money to advance and popularize, but the money is already flowing out there. It’s just going to start landing in different hands.




One day cloud gaming will probably find a home among gamers, but not as gaming exists today.  Perhaps Nintendo will offer a stream where you can simply subscribe to their channel for access to all its games.  And boy, won’t that be swell when Caleb has his way and we are all paying multiple subscription fees! I kid, I kid.

But the thing I still haven’t heard about cloud gaming in its current state—technological limitations aside—is why?  What is the benefit of cloud gaming right now?  I am all for digitally distributed games that can be purchased online and saved to a hard drive, so I dig the push to online libraries and all, but why would I want to use a service that requires me to be online at all times no matter what?  I’m not saying I won’t accept it, but I don’t see the benefit to it. 

Those that followed the release of Diablo 3 will know that one of the biggest complaints was the always-on DRM.  Besides the inconvenience of just constantly being connected even to play solo, there were numerous technical issues that affected everyone.  Every time there was maintenance, and there was plenty, the game was unplayable.  If you need more proof, just head on over to Blizzard’s forums and look at the thread after thread of bitter comments directed at the game, and at Blizzard itself. Ye gods, there was nearly digital blood in the online streets.

Cloud gaming’s time will come, but it needs to differentiate itself from physical and digitally distributed media.  Simply moving to cloud just because companies can isn’t going to be enough. I want more before I agree to abandon my beloved physical devices.  And I haven’t seen enough yet to justify it.   




Just in case there is any confusion, I don’t think cloud gaming, in its current state, is without its quirks and challenges. There is no doubt in my mind that its ultimate success will be determined by the availability of Internet connections. Still, I do think that we’re going to see it come on strong in the coming year and change the way people play games.

The benefit of cloud gaming is that it eliminates the need for expensive, buggy stand-alone hardware and accessories, is not limited to just one platform and can be combined with tons of other streaming services. Access platforms can be easily integrated into TVs or come via small, portable boxes that can be taken just about anywhere. I also think it stands to make games accessible to a large audience of people that might never have bothered to purchase an Xbox, Playstation, or Wii 

While this kind of delivery may not catch on as quickly with established gamers such as ourselves, Ryan, I think that younger players are going to jump on board and make it successful. It is certainly going to be readily available from a wide variety of sources. Google just showed off cloud gaming via Gaikai’s service on its new Chromebox at Google IO and if Google is into it, you can bet they’re going to push it pretty hard. That might not guarantee success, but it is going to give cloud gaming a very strong chance.

I was going to hop on my Ducati and come over to shake your hand on a good debate, Ryan. But then I realized I don’t have a Ducati. I’m a writer and musician with two kids and a mortgage for crying out loud. I have a Schwinn.  I can’t even afford to buy my own Xbox so that I can play games while my son monopolizes the one console we do have, let alone spring for a sweet bike. But if cloud gaming comes to one of the devices I’m going to own anyway, say a TV or Roku box, you can bet I’m going to jump in and have some fun. And when my daughter has grown up a little, she can play cloud games with me, too.

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