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Why the games industry has its head in the cloud

As technology advances, more and more companies are pulling their heads out of the sand they've been entrenched in and are sticking them instead firmly in the cloud. Words like "agile" and "scalable" are being thrown around with more buzz than a bee hive on a powerplate and a growing list of industries are catching on to the benefits that moving a business to the cloud can provide.

PlayStation is the latest technological behemoth to throw its weight behind the cloud. This month it took the opportunity of CES 2014 to announce the launch of PlayStation Now, a cloud-based streaming service that delivers a vast library of games to all manner of devices, including PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Smart TVs, smartphones and tablets.

It's a significant move, says Nigel Beighton, VP of technology at Rackspace. "Public cloud is absolutely the perfect mechanism for delivering gaming services. Why? Because gaming has huge spikes. It's seasonal with player numbers changes depending on the time of day. Cloud is flexible and the perfect way for delivering gaming services because it has that flexibility of scale."

With all these obvious benefits, it seems that gaming and cloud is a match made in heaven. So why didn't the industry place itself in the cloud earlier? The answer, Beighton says, is that they rightly didn't.

"The gaming industry is now getting into cloud as it matures and that's the right thing," he asserts. "That to me is all about security. The gaming industry has to understand that it's always been a target for hackers and nefarious means. So they wanted to see how the cloud would mature, how security would develop on the cloud."

It's true, gaming is an expensive hobby and with so much money being poured into the industry by consumers, developers need to make sure that the platforms through which their games are delivered are protecting users. By biding their time, the games industry was able to observe cloud from afar and work out the best and safest strategies for them without disrupting players online.

Indeed, online play is vital to the success of a game. It's rare now to find a title that doesn't offer a multiplayer element, as the chance to battle against friends adds a valuable sense of re-playability that a single core campaign cannot offer. However developers have realised that creating an online element doesn't just make a game better, it allows companies to track the needs of their users too.

For instance, "if you're able to see how many people are getting stuck on level 3, you can collect information on how to make that game better. So getting people to play online is a brilliant way of understanding how to develop games."

Not only that, but just as cloud is a great way to help start-ups scale their businesses quickly, the same is true for small indie developers trying to serve up their brand new game. "If I'm a small independent games company with great ideas and a five man team," Beighton hypothesises, "how do I raise the capital for enough servers to deliver my game to thousands of people?"

He points to mobile as an example with its rapidly growing audience. "I could take my mobile app to Apple Store and Google Play, it gets downloaded, I've got an online component, I'm a five man company, I can't afford the infrastructure to serve a few people let alone a hundred million people. If your game takes off with the half a billion people in china, you've got a great success but you've got to be able to serve it. So games today have to be very, very sophisticated, they have to be a fantastic user experience, people care about how things look, they care about the graphics and they care about the style."

Cloud is able to support that by giving the scale that games companies can't do on their own. Cloud enables them to serve a multitude of options to different parts of the world at any time.

"The cloud is the infrastructure, the boiler room underneath. It's what developed on top of it that gives it that ultimate scale. If we're covering it again in five years time, I'd be astonished if there's any game out there that's not running in cloud. I don't see the economic sense in not using cloud. Cloud setups have matured so much now that I don't see the need for any game company going forward that wouldn't do it – it doesn't make sense to me."

Image courtesy of Edge