Cloud Computing in MMOs?

by Jessica "Allahweh" Brown, November 2 2011

The idea of using 'the cloud' for online storage is certainly not a new one. Online digital storage has existed in various forms since the early days of the World Wide Web and sites like Image Shack and Photobucket have simply catered to a certain online audience. In more recent years, services like those offered by Carbonite have existed as ways to back up all of your important files and restore them as needed right to your PC of choice. Yet, in the last couple of years there has been a new emerging trend in the realm of gaming: 'Cloud Gaming.'

When people think of browser-based games it is only natural that simple titles like those seen on Yahoo! Games, Pogo, or various social networking sites come to mind. Many of these games are quite simple and make use of Flash to offer an interactive, social gaming experience. The truth is though that it isn't fair to lump all games that might call themselves 'browser-based games' into this category.

Several recent and upcoming MMORPGs have begun to make use of specialized plug-ins to deliver unique, powerful graphics-based gaming without requiring much in the realm of data storage or processing from the end-user. In fact, it was Battlestar Galactica Online that showed exactly how grahics-driven a game could be if it executed solely through your browser. BSGO made use of the Unity3D plug-in a special plug-in that essentially serves as a bridge between the user's PC and a distant server where the game's data is held. The end result was that most of the high-end processing was done on the BSGO server and important files were simply parsed to the user's RAM on an as-needed basis. These files were generally temporarily stored within the player's 'AppData' directory on their computer and when the game was closed these temporary files would be deleted.

Of course, it is rather easy to argue that BSGO is a simplistic game in the end. While it has rather nice graphics, the game-play is fairly shallow and so the whole gaming experience isn't nearly on the level of a large commercially-released MMORPG. This is where 4Story: Rise of Gor comes in. 4Story is a long-running Asian MMORPG that was recently picked up by German company GameForge in order to see an enhanced release in a Western market. The game, which is still in closed-beta, differs greatly from previous versions for one simple reason: It executes and plays solely out of the user's browser. GameForge has made extensive use of the Kalydo plug-in in order to achieve something quite similar to BSGO. Kalydo in this case simply serves as a bridge, executing the game's client data through the user's browser, with the browser serving as a temporary client while the game is played. Most of the actual processing (both graphical and otherwise) is done on the game's servers and important files are sent into the 'Kalydo' directory in the 'AppData' folder. Unlike BSGO, however, some files are permanently kept on the user's hard-drive, including the data for areas frequently visited in the game or screenshots taken by the user during game-play. It should also be noted that the graphics of 4Story are quite superior to BSGO, using a graphical style that is quite reminiscent of World of Warcraft.

bsg online
Battlestar Galactica Online looks pretty good for such a "light" game

Other upcoming titles that make exclusive use of Unity3D or Kalydo include Heroes of Warspire (Silverlode, Open Beta), Star Trek: Infinite Space (GameForge, Q4 2011), and OtherLand (Gamigo, 2012).

star trek infinite space
Upcoming Star Trek: Infinite Space screenshot

This development trend has led some people, including German developer GameForge, to claim that the future of online gaming and possibly even gaming in general might very well lie in the proverbial cloud. As Unity3D and Kalydo continue to improve, and other developers introduce new plug-ins with even greater functionality, there is the hope that games with incredibly advanced graphics will be able to be handled on distant super-computers and simply parsed over to the end-user's system. The result would be that people would only need devices that essentially served as access points to the World Wide Web and the need for powerful CPUs and GPUs would be largely negated. When asked about what a theoretical PlayStation 4 might feature a couple years ago, Sony said that they were considering the idea of of dumping discs of any kind and would simply bolster up the storage space and have users download the games they wished to play. While this plan seems to have been put on the back-burner for now, the idea is certainly a novel one.

heroes of warspire
Upcoming Heroes of Warspire screenshot

So, what do you, as readers, think of this idea? Would you like to see online gaming head this direction within the next decade or do you think it is merely a fad that will eventually pass? Sound off in the forum!