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Many of you can probably remember when consuming content like music and videos involved going to a store to buy or rent the physical media on which it was distributed. Today we can stream this content over the Internet, and you are hard-pressed to find those stores from yesteryear still around.
This transformation to streaming content took off in the early-to-mid 2000s thanks to increased bandwidth, new communication protocols and formats, a big infusion of investment, and many other factors. Of course, it only seemed natural that video games would follow suit in some way. This was set in motion around 2008 with the introduction of app stores. Suddenly customers could buy apps and games as easily as they did their music, and developers could sell games directly to consumers without publishers and operators.
We’ve teamed up with the IMGA (International Mobile Gaming Awards) to bring you a whitepaper on the 5G Future of Mobile Games. In it you’ll find rich descriptions of how 5G is impacting the mobile gaming space and areas of opportunity for developers such as: Cloud Gaming, Mobile Multi-player gaming (MMP), Mobile eSports, extended reality (XR), and the future of storytelling (pervasive gaming) with AI in games. It is also full of quotes from game industry influencers and game changers including companies like Supercell, Cotton, Activision, SuperEvilMegaCorp, and others.
In this blog we focus on cloud gaming.
Gaming as a Service
In the last few years, the convenience of downloading games has started to evolve into cloud gaming, leading to the emergence of yet another as-a-service acronym: Gaming as a Service (GaaS). With cloud gaming, players’ inputs are captured on their devices, sent to the cloud where the game engine is running on a server, and rendered game frames are returned back to the players’ devices for display. And as we’ll discuss, mobile cloud gaming now offers numerous benefits for players, mobile operators, and mobile game developers.
While many as-a-service offerings have come along, cloud gaming shows promise as the next big disrupter. Numerous companies are investing heavily in cloud gaming including Amazon, Microsoft, Tencent, and others. And why wouldn’t they? Several key statistics and industry estimates hint that mobile and cloud are the future of gaming:
- 50% of gaming industry revenue comes from mobile gaming, and there are more than 2.4 billion mobile gamers globally).
- Cloud-based gaming revenues are expected to surge to $4 billion in 2021, a growth rate of 188 percent compared to 2020, with cloud gaming revenues forecasted to reach $12 billion by 2025.
- The number of 5G smartphone users is forecasted to grow from around 200 million in 2020 to over 3 billion by the end of 2026.
Unfortunately, providers face one fundamental challenge in cloud gaming: latency. That is, achieving the aforementioned round-trip of data, including input captured at the device through to the final display of a rendered frame received over the Internet, without perceived lag. While framerate drops might be forgivable when streaming movies, gamers demand precise timing.
Key Benefits of Cloud Gaming
Overcoming the challenge of lag can be a costly but worthwhile effort because cloud gaming offers several key benefits for stakeholders.
At the heart of cloud gaming are the players who stand to benefit. For starters, gamers may no longer need to buy expensive console hardware and don’t need to download, install, or update games. Games can now be played across various devices by simply accessing them through a web browser. In other cases, GaaS’s may still require the use of their own lightweight, proprietary client application, but this is simpler to install and maintain than individual games. By streaming games as a service, cloud gaming providers can use a subscription model to reduce the overall cost of gaming. In turn, gamers gain access to a larger library of games than would otherwise might be possible by buying them individually.
Cloud gaming can also offer new ways to engage with games. For example, players can view and learn from other players, produce in-game content, or share virtual items. Companies like PARSEC are now allowing players to effectively host their own cloud gaming services through remote desktop sessions tailored for gaming. This can further extend to offer non-gaming entertainment such as listening to music together, watching a video together, working from home, and screen sharing for teams.
Developers can also gain advantages from cloud gaming. The ability to build once and effectively deploy the same game across different devices is arguably the most significant benefit. This helps reduce development costs by reducing or eliminating the effort normally required to code, test, and certify games for several different devices. Developers can also introduce new types of game play and interaction (like virtual reality), support user-generated content (e.g., levels, characters, items, events), make older games available once again, introduce powerful analytics, and even launch their own GaaS and subscription models.
I won’t be worrying about how to deploy the game. I’ll simply build the game, give it to some Cloud Gaming service, who will help us do the rest. It’ll be a good change for us. These cloud gaming platforms can help us focus on developing good games and spare us the concerns about how to sell the games.
-from Mr. Cotton, the award-winning indie developer and creator of Mr. Pumpkin, on Cloud gaming.
For mobile cloud gaming, mobile operators also stand to benefit. Not only can cloud gaming bring new revenue streams for operators, but also new types of collaborations. Recently, more than 100 communications service providers (CSPs) have launched commercial 5G services, and of those, over 20 have announced mobile cloud gaming services. For example, Deutsche Telekom launched its cloud-gaming service Magenta Gaming. And partnerships have been formed between operators and game developers including Verizon and game streaming platform Twitch, and AT&T Foundry and cloud gaming company PlayGiga.
Meeting the Demands of Today’s Gamers
Gamers have always demanded high-performance hardware to provide fast framerates. In today’s world, this means reliably streaming 4K content at 30 to 60 fps, and even higher for XR/VR (e.g., to avoid motion-to-photon latency and subsequent cybersickness). For cloud gaming, this ideally means a 20 to 30 ms end-to-end network latency, with around 99.9 percent reliability in both uplink and downlink.
Despite the evolution of data communication technologies, mobile cloud gaming has come up against some hard limits. For example, fast broadband infrastructure is not always widely available, while 4G has limited speed and reliability. Players’ proximities to cloud servers can introduce latency, while network congestion and packet loss in the last mile further exacerbate the challenge of meeting performance requirements. On top of this is latency within the gaming device itself. Latency in capturing a button press, gesture, or external input (e.g., from a Bluetooth controller), along with the time to fully render a frame on the screen, all add small amounts of latency to the overall experience that can add up to noticeable delays.
Changing the Game with 5G
The promises of 5G for solving these challenges and the aforementioned benefits are pushing many companies into mobile cloud gaming. They see 5G providing wider availability of faster speeds than wired broadband.
5G is poised to address the round-trip data transfer challenge because it can offer high speeds of up to 10 Gbps, latency as low as 1ms, and 100x traffic capacity per unit area.
5G also makes more use of the signal spectrum through mmWave. Since lower frequencies are heavily congested (e.g., with TV and radio signals), mmWave communicates on faster, wider bandwidth frequencies. mmWave is more effective for smaller densely-populated areas with high concentrations of users (e.g., stadiums for eSports venues, Internet gaming cafes, etc.). Additionally, unlicensed spectrum could also be used to offload gaming traffic in heavily congested areas.
Network slicing is another aspect of 5G as operators can dynamically configure the network based on network traffic conditions and priorities. Dedicated resources could be reserved for cloud gaming by configuring and connecting computing and networking resources across the radio, transport, and core networks. In addition, AI can be used to identify and accelerate cloud-gaming network traffic.
5G infrastructure is now being rolled out, and it offers the potential for much wider coverage areas than broadband technologies like fiber. This infrastructure also includes small cells, servers near the edge, and 5G consumer premise equipment, all of which bode well for achieving the reliability and latency requirements of mobile cloud gaming.
5G Mobile Cloud Gaming
Our portfolio of Snapdragon® mobile platforms are well-positioned for 5G mobile cloud gaming as they enable fast and reliable 5G cloud connectivity and PC/console-quality rendering at the edge. For example, our latest iteration – the Snapdragon 888 5G Mobile Platform ¬– integrates our Snapdragon X60 5G Modem-RF System with Qualcomm® Snapdragon Elite Gaming™ and features ultra-smooth gaming, high HDR quality, and desktop-level features.
Snapdragon mobile platforms are power efficient, support a variety of inputs and communication methods, and offer fast processing power to help reduce the latency of capturing input and rendering frames on the device. And now with 5G connectivity, Snapdragon mobile platforms are poised to bring these capabilities to devices for more reliable, ultra-fast mobile cloud gaming.
Mobile cloud gaming is showing its game-changing potential as mobile operators and game developers unlock its benefits, build new use cases and business models, and ultimately bring new experiences to gamers. As 5G continues to be rolled out, its promise of greater availability, higher bandwidth, and low latency, are paving the way for the continued evolution of cloud gaming.
Snapdragon devices are backed by a range of HDKs, SDKs, and tools. Mobile developers interested in mobile cloud gaming should check out the following resources to learn how they can maximize the experience at the edge:
- Snapdragon 888 Mobile Hardware Development Kit
- Qualcomm® Adreno™ SDK
- Snapdragon Power Optimization SDK
- Snapdragon Profiler
The 5G Future of Gaming Whitepaper includes many more exciting details and ideas on how 5G is poised to drive the future of mobile gaming. And for additional information and context, we’ve put together the following series of blogs that provide a deeper dive into the Whitepaper’s topics:
- The History Before the 5G Future of Gaming
- The 5G Future of Storytelling, Pervasive Gaming, and AI in Games
- How 5G will Drive Mobile Multiplayer Gaming
- How 5G Will Drive Mobile eSports
- Extended Reality with 5G
Snapdragon, Snapdragon Elite Gaming, and Qualcomm Adreno are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.