Stream This: AMD Teases Cloud Computing Game Revolution

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Remember last March when I mentioned video games you could stream from a server to a thin client? Here's some of what I wrote:

Imagine buying or subscribing to a game online that pipes nothing more than visual information to your local view screen, reconfigures the interface dynamics of the game to match the size and interactive capacity of said interface, then lets you engage at whatever level you like without worrying whether you have the latest graphics processor or sound card or CPU.

"This is likely to never happen," responded one user.

"There is no way that there will be a company that can provide bandwidth of that magnitude," warned another.

Ready for infernal regions to get frosty and battalions of pigs with wings?

Looks like it is going to happen after all, courtesy a little cloud supercomputing wizardry at AMD.

At the Consumer Electronic Show presently unfolding in Las Vegas, AMD divulged plans for a client-server solution that would deliver "graphically-intensive applications" to "virtually any type of mobile device with a web browser without making the device rapidly deplete battery life or struggle to process the content."

According to AMD:

The AMD Fusion Render Cloud will transform movie and gaming experiences through server-side rendering -- which stores visually rich content in a compute cloud, compresses it, and streams it in real-time over a wireless or broadband connection to a variety of devices such as smart phones, set-top boxes and ultra-thin notebooks.

By delivering remotely rendered content to devices that are unable to store and process HD content due to such constraints as device size, battery capacity, and processing power, HD cloud computing represents the capability to bring HD entertainment to mobile users virtually anywhere.

What's that mean to gamers like you and me?

Streaming video games would upend gaming as we know it. For starters, the technology would challenge the need for offline retail sales, eliminate lengthy software downloads, spiraling local storage requirements, messy DRM software, expensive computer components, and reduce PC hardware driver and code compatibility quirks.

It would theoretically decrease game bugs (see again: "reduce PC hardware driver and code compatibility quirks"), scupper the distinction between "PC" and "console" games entirely, and arguably relegate standalone consoles to dumb set top boxes.

Imagine walking between electronic displays in your house, delineated only by the peripherals (keyboards, mice, joysticks, motion-controllers) you've plugged into them, each one capable of running whatever game you've elected to stream through an inbuilt browser.

What's more, every game could be a demo, allowing players to try any game on a time-limited basis. No download queues and lengthy waits, no more sardonic grumbling on message boards about a developer's lack of interest in your wallet because they couldn't be bothered to chisel a try-before-you-buy hunk of code off their product.

But the single most important super-secret undesignated feature of technology like AMD's Fusion Render Cloud? It's pirate-proof.

Why? Because it eliminates the very thing bootleggers need to do their dirty work -- physical media -- and adds an online requirement in the bargain. At best, you'd have a nominal number of illicit accounts in circulation, but we've already seen how simple it is for companies like Blizzard to wave a digital wand and topple thousands of felonious players like tenpins.

That's not to say there wouldn't be serious potential downsides to game streaming we'd have to sort out.

You'd need uninterrupted online access, to begin with, or minimally some sort of fault-proof mechanism to reconstitute ditched games if a router inopportunely coughs. You'd also be handing scads of personal information over to publishers, whether you want to or not. Do you care if a company's silently accreting data about your play habits and -- with your consent, because you'll have to give it to play the game -- passing it along to third-party vendors and/or using it to pester you about their latest Next Best Thing?

Of course there's also the incredibly complex mod scene to consider, say whether that crowd could ever buy into something like a "development" server farm that allowed tinkering with publisher code, but on 100% publisher-regulated terms.

And don't forget pricing and ownership issues. Buy a game today, pay once and hypothetically still play it two decades from now, whether in emulation or natively as long as you protect the media. Buy a streaming game and are you buying it outright? Paying a subscription? And what happens if the company you bought it from goes under?

What's likely to happen: Assuming AMD's solution has teeth (though whether it's AMD or someone else, I believe we're talking "when," not "if"), expect to see experiments with mobile devices that tentatively spread into other mediums. Slowly. This is test-the-water time, with all sorts of unseen hurdles. Don't expect radical changes to the way you game today -- "game-streaming" won't be arriving en masse before Nintendo Wii2 or Sony's PS4 or Microsoft's Xbox Whatever get here.

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