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My thoughts on game streaming

Posted by admin on April 26, 2020
General / No Comments

So here are a few random thoughts about tech that allows gamers to play games on a device that is different than the one actually running the game, over the network. This article is about the tech and services that currently exist and my thoughts on viability and their future.
What this article is not is streaming services that stream OTHER people playing:)

There are two distinct use cases for game streaming.

The first one is streaming games from a device in your household to another. An example of this is Steamlink which allows you to stream your Steam library from your (normally powerful) gaming PC to another, normally much less powerful device that has an advantage over the gaming PC, in the form of portability (e.g. streaming to your phone over WiFi from your PC being able to play with the same quality – albeit a smaller screen – in another room or in the garden) or location (e.g. streaming to an Apple TV which is connected to a huge ass TV and game there instead of your PC monitor). This service started as a hardware package, the Link hardware, but has lived on mostly on mobile devices.

Obviously this scenario is free, since all of the equipment used, the machines and the network between them, is already in place and you already own licenses for the games you play. This scenario is also the best performing, since latency is normally low (with a wired connection or 5GHz WiFi), network jitter is low and bandwidth is a non issue.


The second scenario is some form of gaming-as-a-service in some form. Depending on the service provider, this might include the whole package (servers and games) being streamed to any of your devices over the internet for a subscription fee (for example Playstation Now). Other service providers may require you to already own a license of the game you want to stream (e.g. Geforce Now) or even buy a license on the service itself (e.g. Google Stadia).
Microsoft’s Project xCloud is a hybrid service, since it will provide both a way to stream the games you own on the Xbox from your own Xbox console to another device over the internet for free as well as stream games you don’t own from xCloud’s servers (which are Xbox consoles in server racks) for a subscription fee.

I have tested a few of these services over an excellent internet connection (I have a 10GBps fiber at home) as well as local streaming (over gbit LAN and 5GHz Wifi). As things are right now, I think that the usefulness of these services depend on what the expectation of each users are.

If you are a hard core gamer, who can feel the difference of a few fps and demands a 144Hz monitor because 60Hz is just not fast enough for your superior gaming reflexes, just STAY AWAY from ANY streaming software. No network, no matter how fast, will ever be faster than your PCI Express bus and its connection to your monitor. So, if you are the kind of gamer who will pay 500+ for a GPU that gives them 10fps more than what they had before, this tech is not for you. Companies know that, and you are not their target audience anyway.

BUT, it also depends a LOT on the game and companies know that too.
Games that do not depend on lightning reflexes and can tolerate 100s milliseconds of delay without altering their core experience do just fine over the network. Examples include games that you can enjoy in 30fps, like the Assassin’s Creed series (it’s not a coincidence that Google Stadia was showcasing its service using Assassin’s Creed Odyssey). This also include non-real time games, like puzzle and strategy games. If this is your thing, by all means go ahead and enjoy these services.

Streaming Skyrim SE to my phone. I can play like these with no problems for hours, or until batteries start dying. This is an example of a single player game that does not depend on lightning fast reflexes to enjoy that is perfectly playable on a streaming service.

So what is the target audience of these services? It’s two groups of people: casual or semi-casual gamers, who enjoy games like the ones I mentioned before and non-gamers who never invested in any gaming hardware, or did so a long long time ago and would like to play some of the latest games, without doing it now. A small fee is a small price to pay and I guess that services will be adding new games all the time.

The analogy of game streaming has been seen before at least twice now. The first time was with audiophiles. People who invested in hi fi equipment and were obsessing with vinyl analog sound were not the target audience of the MP3 or even CDs. Both are lossy audio formats which is a big no-no to audiophiles. The seconds was of course video streaming services like Netflix. When the internet became capable enough, Netflix provided LESS quality than 4K blu-rays but this was the price to pay, as in the case of audio, for the thing that people seemed to value more than quality.

And that is convenience.

In both cases, convenience won over quality.

Will this happen to game streaming? Well, it depends. Gaming is a weird thing, since “good enough” which was what audio and video streaming was, may not be enough. Gaming requires a feature that none of the others did, and that is low latency. Gaming is interactive, the input of the player and the feedback they get from the game is a crucial thing when playing a game. In local gaming, this is almost instantaneous, the player presses a button, the gaming equipment registers it, incorporates it into the game logic and shows the results on the screen/VR headset etc. This takes almost no time.

Game streaming adds at least 3 things to the mix. The first is the time it takes for the input to be transmitted to the equipment that actually runs the game. The second is the compression of the game video, the third is the delay of the transmission of this video back to the player. These delays are added on top of the existing ones, like game graphics rendering and game logic calculations that exist in every game.

Latency is one thing, while the streaming of the actual game graphics is the second. Video compression technology has evolved a lot since MPEG but uncompressed video will always be better, as long as video compression is lossy.

So are gamers ready to accept these compromises? Some of them are, some non-gamers definitely are and these people may well enjoy game streaming. But many many gamers are more demanding than that. The “PC Master Race” will never go for it if they have to compromise on their experience.

In any case, it seems like there is an audience for these services since we see them multiplying. Tech also gets better so the compromises may be even less important in the future so stay tuned while we all see how all this plays out.

A small holiday wish from Karios Games and me!

Posted by admin on December 23, 2013
General / No Comments

New Surface tablets

Posted by admin on September 24, 2013
General / No Comments

So the new Surface tablets, Surface 2 replacing Surface RT (well, actually the original RT will stick around) and Surface Pro 2 replacing Surface Pro (duh). The Pro version looks like a powerhouse, awesome hardware with a few flaws (I would love to see a Retina like display on that thing and the price is REALLY high – get a high-end Pro 2, a battery cover and a dock and you are looking at $2,200 ffs) but at least batter life looks solid, which was my main complain with the original Pro.

The new Surface 2 though is interesting, since my previous post was all about my thoughts about that. Most of them were unfortunately not taken into consideration. The obvious ones that were actually done were the CPU power (the mention 3-4 times faster CPU but I have to use one to really see if that is the case) and mostly the don’t-throw-the-user-on-the-desktop-if-they-didn’t-specifically-ask-for-it with the 8.1 update since most of the settings are now on the metro environment. LTE is also supposingly coming early 2014.

The things they didn’t do from my suggestion list were kind of important too. Price seems in line with the previous Surface RT and no kind of keyboard is still bundled. Too bad, that would make the sale so much easier.

Another thing that I think should NOT happen is the availablity of the accessories which is all over the place. While the Surface themseves will be available on launch day, the docking station, car charger and power keyboard will not. Rather they will be available “early 2014”. Not cool.

In any case, the “blades” concept seems an awesome idea overall, with interchangable snap-on keyboard replacements for various functionalities, such as the music mix “blade” that was demonstrated. I hope they decide to open up the system for third parties to be able to develop “blades” for the Surface family.

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This of course gave me an idea, for the ultimate “blade” that will end all “blades”. Please make it happen (click for larger):

bestbladeeverPretty please?

 

How to fix Surface RT

Posted by admin on July 20, 2013
General, Windows 8 / No Comments

After the latest results, clearly showing that the beginning of Windows RT was not as good as expected, one has to think what could be done to fix the whole situation. I hope Microsoft people are taking notes (and I am also available for consulting :-p), so here we go, let’s design Surface RT2 together:

-It’s NOT (only) about apps. Hunting developers down to write apps for the platform is not the way to go, if your platform lacks other stuff (see below). The apps will come if your platform and hardware are interesting enough.

-Put LTE in there. When I got my first iPad, I got a 3G version but never really used it. But talking with people, I discovered that mobile data is REALLY important, so make sure Surface 2 has LTE functionality. I know people can use a 4G USB modem, but they don’t. Of course, make it optional, not everybody really needs it.

-Never, ever release under-powered machines. Surface RT is nice and all, but even my Samsung ATIV Tab feels snappier. I know that Windows RT are optimized, fast and fluid and all, but if the hardware lacks behind, it reflects bad on the whole thing. Many people don’t care why this is true, they just don’t want it to be there. Find ARM chips that make Windows RT REALLY fast and if you can’t, build them. We know you got the resources.

-Bundle the keyboard (touch or type) with the tablet. Every commercial I’ve seen focuses on the keyboard only for people to decide that it’s a rather expensive add-on.

-Keep the price low. After recent price cuts, it’s more reasonable, but the initial pricing was just ridiculous. It was almost priced as high as the iPad without offering as much. I don’t know how you will do it, sell more XBoxes to cover the losses, but when you create a new platform, and this is what RT is, you HAVE to lure people in. Even if you take a loss at the beginning. It’s like letting people pirate the first versions of DOS, remember?

– I personally love the idea of a desktop-as-an-app where one can actually run full versions of Office 2013 when they need to. But when people pick up a tablet, they should NEVER EVER be dropped on a desktop environment unless they specifically request that (by tapping the Desktop tile for example). In that capacity, make ALL Office apps available in RT form, with limited functionality of course (at least as feature enabled as Pages and Keynote on the iPad if not more), but usable completely without a keyboard and mouse. The desktop Office and IE should be there as the “one more thing” the Surface RT can provide. The same goes for ANY form of Control Panel settings page. EVERYTHING should be on a familiar and consistent metro touch friendly environment. Right now, it REALLY shows that the product is half baked. You even left Windows Defender running for some reason, even though users cannot run ANYTHING that doesn’t come from the Store.

In conclusion, people just don’t get it. Naming the new platforms Windows anything is a classic mistake. You made the same mistake with Windows Phone. I know how much you love Windows, but the Xbox is successful partly exactly because it is not called Windows anything. When someone buys something that runs Windows something and resembles a computer, they expect it to be a Windows computer. Which Surface RT is not. When they buy a phone that is called Windows something, they might expect blue screens of death and drivers installations, even though that is not the case with the excellent platform that Windows Phone is. But me knowing that is not nearly good enough. In branding and communication, I would give you a low mark for the past 2 years, when it comes to the new platforms (Windows Phone and Windows RT). And if you don’t believe me, go outside and ask non-technical people what is the first thing that comes to their mind when they see a tablet-thingy that runs Windows something. Or a phone.

Surface RT can still succeed (and I am not the only one that says so). Just make sure you fix the important stuff first and fast so that you can save it on round 2. Because otherwise, I don’t see a round 3.

The iOS App Store – Ups and Downs

Posted by admin on July 13, 2013
Development, Games, General, iOS / No Comments

I was asked the other day to contribute to an article by 148Apps.com about my angle on the Apple App Store. The App Store has recently turned 5 years old, and it was where it all started for indie developers on mobile. Myself, I have not been on the App Store from the beginning, but opted to focus more on the Windows Phone Marketplace, which I never regretted as I have said in previous blogs. This does not mean that I have not published on other marketplaces and that I don’t have an opinion about them of course:)

You can read my thoughts, along with fellow developers thoughts about the App Store by heading to the 148Apps article page and reading the article itself, titled “App Store Fifth Anniversary: The Ups and Downs of iOS Publishing”.

appstore5over-wide