Microsoft may have junked its demands for Xbox One always-on connectivity, but game developers like Titanfall's Respawn are doing their level best to persuade you to keep the next-gen console hooked up, with Xbox Live Cloud processing the carrot. The server-side crunching - which Microsoft has previously described as in effect three virtual consoles adding their processing abilities to that of the user's own Xbox One - has been given a breathlessly positive write-up by Respawn engineer Jon Shiring, who waxes lyrical about the system's potential for multiplayer gaming.
The most common multiplayer setup, Shiring points out, is where one player hosts the game. That has the advantage of simplicity and scalability, but it also introduces dependencies on that player's internet connection. If they have too much lag, the experience for all of the players is subpar, he points out; meanwhile, the host player has the advantage of lower latency themselves.
Traditionally, the alternative has been dedicated servers. Each player connects to the server, and has the same gaming experience; meanwhile, none of their machines are used for shared processing or rendering graphics for everyone else. The downside, Shiring says, is cost.
"A developer like Respawn doesn’t have the kind of weight to get a huge price cut from places like Amazon or Rackspace" he explains. "And we don’t have the manpower to manage literally hundreds-of-thousands of servers ourselves. We want to focus on making awesome games, not on becoming giant worldwide server hosting provider."
It seems Microsoft - and perhaps not Sony - stepped up to address that. Shiring says he spoke personally to both companies, raising the issues of server costs and player-hosted gaming, but only Microsoft is cited as recognizing the value of hosting its own cloud and then having "ran full-speed with this idea."
Titanfall isn't actually using the processing side of Xbox Live Cloud - though Shiring does say that "over time" Respawn is likely to experiment with what the cloud processing can achieve - but even just having the dedicated multiplayer gaming support is a weight off the developer team's shoulders.
"With the Xbox Live Cloud, we don’t have to worry about estimating how many servers we’ll need on launch day. We don’t have to find ISPs all over the globe and rent servers from each one. We don’t have to maintain the servers or copy new builds to every server" Shiring lists. "That lets us focus on things that make our game more fun. And best yet, Microsoft has datacenters all over the world, so everyone playing our game should have a consistent, low latency connection to their local datacenter."
Microsoft is busy investing around $700m into its Azure data center in Iowa, part of which will be used for Xbox Live Cloud.