When Google Stadia was first revealed at the 2019 Game Developers Conference, my mind was spinning because I knew this was going to change everything. My thoughts were confirmed further when Sony described console as a “niche market” product, Bethesda revealed Orion streaming technology at E3 Expo, and Microsoft complemented their upcoming console with gaming anywhere anytime via their upcoming Project xCloud streaming service. Even Sony and Microsoft are partnering to develop effective streaming technology for their consoles. As I write this, I hear Bill Murray’s Ghost Busters voice yelling “Dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria!”
Yes, we’ve seen promises of cloud-streaming games and content before by the likes of Gaikai and earlier renditions from Sony and XBOX alike, and in addition to being different this time, cloud streaming tells just a small part of the story.
In this article, I’m going to talk about the Client-to-Cloud Revolution (#clienttocloudrevolution) and where I think it’s heading and why in the future computing ecosystem.
Computing is primarily understood in terms of PC, mobile devices, and gaming consoles. It lives in a continual world of starts and stops where progress happens in a staggered pattern of upgraded product releases, faster CPU and GPU processors, and new content that (hopefully) takes advantage of expanded features and capability. It’s staggered in that it’s not just as products get released that the market progresses; there is also an uneven lag in when and how often consumers and clients update and upgrade their equipment. I like to think of this as a computing in a bottle world where what you buy is what you get until your next major computing purchase or upgrade.
Why is computing distributed this way? There are a few reasons. First, until recently, it was near impossible to deliver meaningful computing horsepower to our doorsteps without the actual processor in our hands. Sure, our data could be stored elsewhere and there are all kinds of cloud-based tools that often rival what we could achieve locally, but anything requiring low latency deliverables was an impossibility on a wide scale.
Another issue is the successful marketability of the whole thing. Be it processors, data storage, cases, mods, shiny new smartphones, consoles, peripherals – the products are still selling and customers are happy; why move in a new direction?
Finally, it used to be that people liked to own their stuff. Back in my day (eugh!), we didn’t buy songs; we bought albums. We didn’t pay monthly fees, we bought a piece of software and owned it until we bled the last bits and bytes of compatibility with our OS. A software, video, and music library was a fixture of pride!
Things have changed all around because computing matured. PC still turns profits, though it does so with less revenue. Smartphone and mobile device makers now need to work a lot harder to stand out from one generation to the next and their brand loyalty is challenging to maintain. Game consoles still move product, though their real profits come from the content they deliver.
As for owning what we buy, the attractiveness is starting to pale in comparison to paying an annual fee and getting as much as our heart desires each month. Never in my wildest imagination did I predict that Apple was going to shelve iTunes in favor of their Apple Music model. Or that I would chuck my otherwise reliable Microsoft Office 2007 for Office 365 for an annual payment. These weren’t just arbitrary decisions; the subscription products sold and continue to sell because they deliver value.
Now we come to the “Client-to-Cloud Revolution”. This is something that was coined by Andrew Schmied, the Strategy Advisor for The International Future Computing Association. TIFCA consistently had the vision of where things are heading, though we didn’t have the words to express it. The Client to Cloud Revolution really captured the sentiment – so it stuck.
With the advent of 5G and even higher bandwidth networking opportunities in the not-too-distant future, computing can qualitatively distribute a lot more on an eventually global level. Even platforms like virtual reality that require low latency high resolution visuals have serious potential in the 5G world; I saw NGCodec impressively experimenting with this a few years ago – and I bet things have grown better still.
Yes, streaming video games and content easily exemplifies the benefits. You could effectively game in full quality in the backseat of your car…or on an airplane…and not think twice about it. When I say gaming, I’m envisioning ray traced cinematic quality gaming wherever and whenever you want. Did I say ray traced? Well, if the back-end is one or more mainframe computers with an endless supply of graphics chips and processors ready to turn our dreams into digital reality – what’s stopping us? Nothing, that’s what.
Gaming is just the beginning. Business, healthcare, education – the Client-to-Cloud Revolution is changing everything for the better. In my opinion, the point of entry is going to be more inexpensive than what we have today because much of the horsepower and the financial responsibilities of the horsepower will be elsewhere and benefit from a wider scale of audience potential. I’m hoping this new accessibility will gradually move us away from the haves and have nots that we are currently experiencing in computing.
I live by the Marshall McLuhan words “the medium is the message”, and the idea of cloud streaming or similar distributed compute models is an incomplete picture when limited to those terms. This is the “Client to Cloud Revolution”, NOT the “Cloud Revolution”. Many things will look the same as what we use today – just much, much better and easier to use. Smart TV? HAH! That’s nothing compared to where things are going. Smartphones and tablets will no longer be limited to performing 10 years behind PC – they will be in full step – better, actually. Console? One day, the innards will be there for when we’re outside the range of network connectivity – something that will be happening less and less often in the coming years. Will it matter to people? Doubtful because we are going to have experiences that are exponentially more interesting delivered to our doorstep by super computers. SUPER computers.
If we really think about it, even in our wildest science fiction dreams, Captain Kirk never had a smartphone, the Holodeck wasn’t connected to a PC, and Commander Data didn’t run off a game console (though he could plug into the mainframe once in awhile). Future computing is beginning to realize what science fiction told us would happen. Factor in artificial intelligence, and this industry direction makes even more sense.
While computer displays, big screen TVs, tablets and mobile devices will likely continue in enhanced form, I’m also looking forward to seeing new things like on-the-go entertainment when we ride in our self-driving cars. Maybe with the touch of a finger, our entire computing life will be transferred to a private desk station in our hotel room…or when we sit down in class? We’re going to see new things.
Strategically speaking, TIFCA’s mandate is all about future computing, and it’s our job to work with industry and help enable what’s next. The Client-to-Cloud Revolution is what’s next, and we’ve been asking two layers of questions. The first layer is more operational: what is needed to enable this revolution beyond individual products? For example, what local computing abilities remain if network connectivity vanishes for some reason? What does content look like (what does content creation look like?) on this multitude of computing clients and what can be done to make sure it always looks and performs its best? How do we enable this to being the full vision global ecosystem that continually grows and progresses? This will require serious discussion with hardware makers, content tool makers, content creators, channel partners, and more. It’s a very big and involved vision.
The second layer of discussion is about appreciating what is being created here. What does privacy mean in this new era of computing; how are our digital lives protected from a computer crushing natural disaster, or equally concerning – an ethical one? A really exciting question is what kinds of things will we be able to do and achieve in this Client-to-Cloud Revolution that were impossible to consider before?
I will conclude with a story from the 2019 Game Developers Conference. When Google Stadia was announced at GDC, a colleague of mine expressed that developers in online forums were up and arms about how they were going to make a living with this new model. Surprisingly, there were almost no technical questions about latency or if it would actually work; the developers were just focused on how they were going to make a living. This was very telling for me. What I inferred is that the revolution is coming, there is confidence in the technological ability to deliver the revolution – and everybody immediately sees where things are heading with few doubts. In summary, the industry is at a stage where it’s ready to evolve and prepare for this new era of computing. Join us in building this exciting #clienttocloudrevolution!
Looks like others share this vision as well! Dr. Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Research added the following forward from their gaming hardware forecast in response to this article:
Jon Peddie Research (JPR), the market research firm for the computer graphics industry has issued its latest study for PC, TV, and Cloud Gaming Hardware. JPR forecasts that 25 million PC Gamers could defect to TV Gaming platforms in the 2018 – 2022 timeframe, loosely correlated with the decline of the PC platform globally. The majority will come from the low-end (under $1000 full build cost), but because of improvements in TV displays and console semiconductors, as well as console exclusive titles, the ranks of mid-range and high-end PC gamer populations are also affected.
Ted Pollak, Senior Analyst, Gaming Industry said, “We are observing a higher percentage of Low/Mid-Range PC products sold because of the consumer’s intent to use with games. This unfortunately, does not generate more volume, but does guide research and design as well as marketing investments for hardware providers and foreshadows the ultimate use model of the PC, a desktop ergonomic gaming/computing environment that embraces user choice and customization. Gaming services used with TV displays, whether local or cloud-based, will absorb PC defectors and likely flourish with new entrants. In the next five years, we will see potential customers with access to TV gaming swell by hundreds of millions.”