COVID kickstarted a gaming revolution — and now the cloud will accelerate it

The 2020 Deloitte digital media trends survey estimated 33 percent of consumers subscribed to a video gaming service, used a cloud gaming service, or watched esports for the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This massive growth for the gaming industry, alongside disruptive mobile innovation of 5G, brings the worldwide promise of greater connectivity, which is poised to forever change how people access console-quality content. With it no longer being easy to predict when people play, leading to traffic spikes at unusual times, and demand increasing at speed, it’s no surprise to find gaming increasingly depends on the cloud.

Driven by national digitalisation efforts, the Singapore government has recently announced a new Emerging Technology Programme which will co-fund the costs of trials and the adoption of frontier technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence and trust technologies. Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities have announced their intention to build 5G infrastructure itself instead of relying on private telecom carriers as it seeks to accelerate the roll-out of high-speed services. 

From local play to infinite scalability

The cloud has long been important for gaming. It allows engines and analytics to function, and it helps players access dynamic content. As gaming habits change, how games access the cloud changes too.

Once, games were purely local, but during the 2000s console and mobile games shifted toward a now commonplace always-connected approach for account sign-on, purchases, progress sync and dynamic game world interaction. The incoming generation of traditional consoles may be the last as gaming’s future shifts inexorably towards a “no specific hardware” model, preferring devices to act as terminals for streaming content.

For game creators, publishers and distributors alike, this means fundamental changes in how the cloud is used. Once, a traditional data centre setup might have been enough. For today’s games and those on the way, the industry requires the infinite scalability and reliability enabled by hyperscale clouds and global CDNs.

Rising to the challenge of gaming in the cloud

A favourable outcome for this transition depends on the successful navigation of player demands, business requirements, technical factors and governance. The market is fickle, with a low attention span, forcing creators to monetise well, ensure content is sticky and reliable, and create personalised and tailored content that’s suitably cutting edge and unique to guarantee retention.

There’s a need to constantly iterate and innovate. Having tools is one thing; but having the operational agility within your business to hit the market with new content constantly, updates and material is key. Speed to market is vital, to continually stay ahead of the competition.

All this must be balanced with being technically adept about latency, sync, connectivity and data, along with understanding complex compliance and legal requirements. Added to that is a potentially steep and daunting learning curve when moving to a cloud vendor and suddenly finding themselves faced with hundreds of new tools. Fortunately, the cloud helps with many of these concerns — and partners can help with the rest.

Empowering game creation with the cloud

For players, the cloud brings the benefits of convenience, immediacy and game types that aren’t possible with local-only content. Streaming services increasingly allow smartphones to run titles that were once the preserve of powerful PCs and consoles. In the future, things will improve further. Faster/better connectivity will provide a “play anywhere and anytime” environment with no waiting and instant access. This should allow AAA games — those produced and distributed by major publishers — to capture a bigger mainstream market due to a reduction in barriers, much like handheld gaming escaped its niche status through smartphones.

The rewards are rich for game creators too. As devices become terminals, game complexity is no longer hamstrung by hardware; instead, agility, elasticity, scope and limitless scale are unlocked by the power of the cloud — and the tools cloud providers offer. 

Helping game makers focus on what’s important

Cloud platforms provide building blocks to help developers optimise the player experience with data, machine learning and AI. 

Creators can train machine learning models that simulate player testing, automating the process and therefore radically reducing the time it takes to test levels.

Through removing complexity from launching a game, simplifying infrastructure and providing tools that make game creators more efficient, all bases are covered. Initial development is faster, making a company more responsive to industry trends. Post-launch, rapid iteration can ensure players are engaged during the all-important monetisation window, increasing conversions and maximising income.

Ensuring good governance in gaming

When heading to the cloud, though, organisations must also be keenly aware of security and data. As games increase in popularity, they become targets for those that would deploy ransomware or steal data. The data itself can cause companies to fall foul of governance and compliance legislation. Organisations must understand the data they hold and the purposes they hold it for and that there are territories where regulators are insistent on having physical server and data infrastructure within highly specialised geo-locations.

Again, cloud providers are ready. The once-burdensome task of having to satisfy regulators is addressed by Google, AWS and Azure. Whichever cloud partner IT teams choose, they can cascade public cloud infrastructure into private cloud infrastructure they own, manage and deploy — anywhere in the world. Companies manage this infrastructure via their usual console, with the same tools they use on a day-to-day basis, satisfying the regulator, without hindering organisations’ technical operating model.

Enabling the future of gaming

Engagement and interest in gaming have increased and won’t go away. The entire industry — creation, deployment, consumption — has changed. With streaming game services from Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others, the future of gaming continues to shift further from its roots as unchanging media played in a single device connected to a television.

It’s an exciting journey — one that’s only just begun, but that will revolutionising businesses feel that the sky’s the limit.