Greg Costikyan wrote a takedown of Denis Dyack’s editorial on cloud computing and gaming. I think Costikyan’s sort of right, but the semantic errors don’t totally invalidate what Dyack’s trying to say. Even if he’s saying it poorly.
I disagree with Costikyan’s definition of cloud computing. He’s basically defining it by example as Amazon’s cloud computing offering, which allows random people to power up remote compute services in a scalable fashion. I agree that right now, there’s not much value in Amazon-style offerings for game companies. (Note: future post on this, because we ought to be thinking about that particular question for a bunch of reasons.) On the other hand, that’s not what Dyack is talking about and his definition is both broader and more accurate.
He’s talking about Google Docs — or hey, Gmail — in the gaming context. Google Docs is absolutely an example of cloud computing. It happens to be the case that the company providing the service owns the computers on which the service runs, but from our perspective, the documents and the software live out there in the cloud.
From a business-speak perspective, Costikyan is talking about IaaS: Infrastructure as a Service. Cloud computing includes IaaS, but it also includes SaaS, or Software as a Service. Google Docs is Software as a Service; it’s a full featured program that mostly runs on servers, with a relatively lightweight client. Dyack’s talking about SaaS.
And yeah, MMOs are in fact specialized versions of SaaS. I’ve been using that line when I interview at non-gaming companies. It makes people more comfortable when I accurately categorize the last six years of my career as working on SaaS, which I find both pleasing and amusing.
On point two, yep. Linear entertainment is not a commodity. That was a cute way for Dyack to say it’s easy to pirate linear entertainment. But Dyack is right about that, even if his terminology was sloppy again.
Point three, however, is where Dyack is wrong, and it’s for exactly the reasons Costikyan outlines. The user’s already spent money on the desktop CPU. It’s less profitable for gaming companies to pay for CPUs to do work that users can already do. Not too complex.
I guess you could argue that freeing yourself from the risk of piracy is worth a certain investment in servers. I’m not sure how high that value really is. The books I’d want to read… probably Popcap, right? Casual browser games are SaaS. Popcap’s games migrate from browsers into standalone games as a matter of course, so that must be a profitable business decision, assuming the Popcap guys aren’t dumb.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Dyack slipped a casual “Imagine if technology allowed us simply to broadcast a video signal (games) at 60fps at 720p through a server” in there. Yeah, I can imagine that. It’s not all that close, if you assume that you don’t want network lag to affect your gameplay. And you don’t. You also want to make sure college dorms can all play your game at once without problems. Etc.