The Problem of Cloud Gaming Latency

Cloud gaming architecture presents particular technical challenges: latency, multi-location data centers, scale, and security. This free white paper presents solutions.

The Problem of Cloud Gaming Latency

5 Practical Ways to Reduce Latency and Increase Scale in Cloud Gaming Architecture

Cloud gaming holds much promise and is attractive to gamers who want convenience, low cost, access to a large library of games, and the ability to play on any device.

However, cloud gaming faces significant challenges, the most important being latency, which many gamers see as a deal-breaker.

The best way to reduce latency is to reduce the distance between your game servers and your players. This means building a massive, distributed network of multi-location data centers providing computing capacity (including powerful GPUs) as close as possible to the edge.

The massive multi-cloud, multi-location networks required for low-latency cloud gaming are hard to manage. Visibility, security, and control are often fragmented. Cloud gaming can hit a wall where the burden of managing an ever-larger network makes it unprofitable to expand into new territories and access new audiences.

A modern, centralized app services platform can unify your management of load balancing and security in sprawling and complex edge networks, enabling you to expand without constraints, push your powerful game server technology to new frontiers, and provide low-latency cloud gaming to everyone.

What Is Cloud Gaming?

Traditionally, gamers have purchased games as standalone software applications, on physical media such as disks, or via download and licensed for use on their PCs or game consoles. The games are installed and/or executed locally, with the player’s device processing all the control inputs, game logic, assets, graphic rendering, and audio-visual output.

Cloud gaming refers to a radically different distribution model in which games are hosted, processed, and rendered centrally. Instead of installing and executing a game on their local device, players have it streamed to them over the Internet.

How Does Cloud Gaming Work?

When playing a game streamed from a cloud gaming provider:

  1. The player inputs control signals from whatever device they are using (PC, phone, tablet, or game console).
  2. The controls are sent to a game server in the nearest cloud gaming data center.
  3. The game responds to the player’s input and outputs the next frame to the video buffer.
  4. The game server sends the resulting video stream back to the player in real-time.

This model allows players to access a vast library of games and launch them instantly without requiring any traditional gaming hardware, such as a PC or game console, to process and render a game in their own homes. Freed from hardware constraints, players can access cloud gaming offerings via devices that might not be able to execute high-end games natively, such as laptops, smartphones, or tablets.

What Are The Commercial Challenges Of Cloud Gaming?

The big cloud providers are not the first to try to make a successful business of cloud gaming. OnLive tried and failed all the way back in 2012; PlayStation Now has struggled for years to find an audience, and NVidia GeForce Now has been forced by publishers to withdraw a selection of games from its catalog.

Cloud gaming is not easy. Here are some of the main commercial challenges:

  1. Cloud gaming requires ubiquitous rollout of high-speed Internet connections, enabling high-quality video streaming in real-time, and high-capacity data centers with GPU capacity close to the end-users to reduce latency. This makes it nonviable in many locations.
  2. Competitive gaming (especially in "twitch" genres, such as first-person shooters and tournament fighters) requires fast reaction times backed by low-latency controls and responses. Cloud gaming struggles to keep latency low enough to satisfy competitive gamers. This makes it hard for cloud gaming to convert the most dedicated and vocal gamers into customers.
  3. Consumers chasing the best graphics performance—the highest resolutions, fastest frame rates, and most advanced textures and lighting effects—are less likely to accept compromises in visuals, which are sometimes inevitable when streaming games in real-time. This makes it hard for cloud gaming to compete with traditional game consoles and high-end gaming PCs for this audience.
  4. Some major game publishers have competing distribution platforms, do not want to make their games available via a third-party subscription, or will not allow existing game purchases to be transferable to a cloud gaming platform (a particular problem that affected NVidia GeForce Now). This makes it hard for cloud gaming to provide a broad variety of new games and to attract gamers looking for variety and convenience.
  5. Cloud gaming providers have experimented with many pricing models, including monthly subscriptions, a la carte, free tiers, and freemium add-ons. Furthermore, many games include their own in-app purchases, such as loot boxes, adding complexity from the user’s perspective. This makes it hard for cloud gaming to communicate a simple message to consumers who want to pay a single monthly fee with no worries about extra charges.

The Technical Challenges Of Delivering Cloud Gaming

As you can imagine, delivering cloud gaming services is a demanding and technically complex feat. The growth of cloud gaming has placed more stress on IT infrastructure and application delivery processes. If cloud gaming replaces the majority of traditional gaming, it will require an increase in cloud computing capacity and bandwidth that will rival the global rise of streaming video.

In this section, we discuss some of the unique technical challenges of cloud gaming platforms.

  1. Decreasing latency
  2. Ensuring reliability and availability
  3. Preserving data security

To learn more about the technical challenges of cloud gaming and how to solve them, download the white paper.