It took two years for Nvidia's cloud gaming platform, GeForce Now to leave beta, and now that the service is open to all across many platforms, it has grown quickly to outpace pre-existing services like Shadow and newcomer Google Stadia.
By observing the bandwidth profiles and behaviors of cloud gaming, it's not surprising to see one such application crack into our Top 10, and the time it took for it to reach it may augur the exploding growth these services are about to unleash on broadband networks.
As an operator, ensuring both network capacity readiness and quality of experience (QoE) on cloud gaming may prove daunting if there is little visibility on the network trends. The bandwidth models around cloud gaming are only dwarfed by the low latency requirements necessary to ensure a fluid gaming experience.
The ability to game at high bandwidth in full HD and even to pump the framerate to 120Hz allows a very fluid and fully rendered gaming experience. The cost of this highly detailed graphical experience is borne on the low latency, high bandwidth stream that must be uninterrupted, and a clear upstream channel so that controller inputs benefit from equally low latency. While these requirements are a good fit for symmetrical services (FTTH, FTTC) and enhance mobile broadband networks like 5G, it can become a challenge to maintain the network resources in a typically oversubscribed residential broadband network where service tier emphasis is typically given on downstream throughput alone.
From a data consumption and capacity planning perspective, this brings a whole new dimension to the network. Those gamers who in the past huddled and spent time on single player or campaign mode games had very little network requirements beyond infrequent updates or DLC, will now translate to continuous peak time demand. With game streams demanding between 20 and 50Mbps, the “gamer” user profile becomes an important consideration as their typical volume consumption will explode 100 fold.
Speaking from firsthand account, where cloud gaming has seen an increase in my household during the COVID19 stay-at-home order, the online experience is heavily influenced by the very small network hiccups that can be experienced. In a two-hour long race on Project CARS 2 and the final five minutes with a commanding lead, a jitter event derailed my session by introducing a momentary delay to my controller inputs, just long enough to miss the important Raidillon curve at Spa Francorchamp; that was enough to send me crashing into a barrier and finish last!
From a graphical and immersion experience, the session was a perfectly smooth full HD game, but the very narrow time during which the network couldn't deliver the required QoE will be the defining factor for a less than satisfying experience.
As more and more households make the jump and casual gamers move their experience to the cloud, the broadband network will require better understanding beyond its capacity; much like networks had to become “Netflix score” friendly, cloud-based gaming will seek better QoE from providers in the future.