There’s been a lot said about XBoxOne moving to a cloud-based gaming platform. I’ve been pretty surprised with how many people are hating on it. I’m of the opinion that once people fully understand what the cloud is and how it benefits gaming, this will be a transformational evolution in gaming platforms that people will look back on years from now. XBox Live, the cloud that XBoxOne will use, needs to be separated from the debate that’s been going on about digital rights and not having game discs to buy. This is specifically related to how the game is hosted in a multiplayer experience.
However, to truly appreciate what the XBoxOne cloud will bring to the gaming platform, you need to first understand today’s challenges with player-hosted servers used for today’s top multiplayer games, such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, etc.
Typical Challenges With Multiplayer Games
How The Host Is Chosen
When you connect to multiplayer and it puts you into a game lobby with 12 or so other players, the player-hosted server is trying to see who has the fastest connection and who has the lowest latency. Then someone is picked as the host, You don’t specifically know that you’re the host, it’s done in the background, but it’s possible to identify who the host is in certain games.
What’s Different About Being A Host vs A Participant
When you’re the host, you are now processing everything that’s going on in that game directly on your XBox. It requires a significant amount of processing power and internet bandwidth because your XBox is truly hosting that game, and all the other players in that match are receiving real time data from your XBox regarding player movement, etc.
If you’ve ever been in a match and running through a house, see someone before they see you, and you aim and shoot them before they even see you, yet you got shot by them, this is why. They are likely the host, and don’t have to wait for real time game info because it’s all being processed locally on their XBox. If you’re not the host, you have to wait until your XBox gets updated from the host’s XBox. There was most likely a lag that delayed them turning around. They could’ve been doing cartwheels in front of you and you didn’t even see it because what you were actually seeing was behind. It’s like watching a football game on your DVR that’s only 3 seconds behind. If the other team returns a fumble for a touchdown, you’ll hear your neighbors cheering before you know what’s going on. Normally, the hosting process happens seamlessly and is real time but when it doesn’t, it’s extremely frustrating.
What Happens If The Wrong Host Is Chosen
This has to be one of my biggest pet peeve about the player-hosted server model we have today. A host is chosen by a quick bandwidth and latency test before the game starts. The gaming servers try to pick the best one based on the stats at that time. What happens if half way through your game, one of your kids decides to start streaming a movie or TV show? The available bandwidth is significantly reduced, which means every non-host, basically all but 1 person in the game, has severe lag and you are completely unable to control your player, your weapons, anything really, and it becomes a painfully long death streak for your team. Sometimes the gaming servers will jump in and switch hosts in the middle of the game, but often times it’s too late because your game was already ruined by the lag.
What Happens If The Host Is Cheating
This is my other biggest pet peeve. Some players that cheat will have lag switches on their XBox, basically modded XBoxes, to intentionally cause lag in the match, so that other players can’t kill them as easily. Anyone who plays regularly knows you can identify this fairly quickly, but unfortunately there’s no recourse to reporting a player. Reporting people for cheating has done nothing to contain how many cheaters there are in these matches. I’ve been so frustrated in some matches that I can’t sleep because I’m so pissed off. Yes, it’s just a game, I know, but cheaters suck.
What Changes Having A Cloud Power Your Games?
Imagine if instead of having just 1 host per match, you had upwards of 300,000 dedicated servers to host your game.. That would eliminate lag from the matches and free up your XBox to be able to process even better graphics and visuals, better audio, and top notch AI. Gaming vendors have far more capabilities they could add to their games but are limited by the single host model that’s in place today.
These XBox Live servers will be located around the globe, not just in one place, so if you’re playing with people in the US, Russia, UK France, and Mexico, the host servers that each person connects to will be geographically close to them so that latency is minimized.
If someone in your house decides to stream a movie while you’re playing a game, you most likely won’t even notice it because if you’re only having to play the game rather than host it for 12 other people, you won’t need anywhere near as much bandwidth. But in the event that you do have bandwidth issues during a match, only you will lag, not everyone else because they have their own host server.
Best of all, this is a big middle finger to the cheaters out there who’ve modded their XBox to cheat their way atop the leaderboards. Modded XBoxes will only be useful when playing offline, because the games are no longer hosted on your XBox. Because Microsoft will be hosting the games on dedicated host servers, everyone will be playing by the same rules; no lag switches, no high jump mods, no unlimited ammo mods.
There hasn’t been much communicated yet about cross platform multiplayer matches, like playing Call of Duty and having a lobby made up of people on XBox, PlayStation,and wii, but my hope is that someday a cloud that’s hosting multiplayer games can achieve this. I realize the challenges with doing that, however tougher things have been accomplished so that’s my hope for the future of multiplayer gaming.
And There’s More
One of the other benefits for game makers to have a cloud to leverage is that they can use the cloud to introduce more functionality into the game that would otherwise be impossible. Some games will be smart enough to learn “your game play style” and customize your game play based on what it’s learning. Call it machine learning, call it artificial intelligence (AI). Forza 5 is currently crowdsourcing AI to learn how you drive so that it can make your game play more competitive and fun. This is only possible because of the cloud. Read this article to see exactly how if you’re interested.
I recently read in a game forum how some people felt that the artificial intelligence that Microsoft is enabling in XBoxOne is the beginning of Skynet. For those of you who don’t know what Skynet is, watch Terminator 3, where robots that can think for themselves take over the world. Calm down people. We’re talking about a game that tracks how you move your thumbs on a game controller, or changing the channel on your TV by telling the XBoxOne to change the channel on your TV. Those who somehow make the connection to Skynet should avoid this type of technology, because they clearly have no idea how crazy that is.
Hopefully this has given you a different perspective of what all the hype is about. People don’t like change, even if it’s for the better. It’s inherent in our DNA to resist it, but this is a change that needs to be done in order to allow the gaming vendors to create the next generation games we’ve just started getting a peek of.
What do you think? Are you opposed to multiplayer games being hosted online? If anyone is actually afraid of putting an XBoxOne in your house, I’d love to hear from you as well. You must be shaking after all this.