Stuck on cloud whine.
If there’s one thing I thought I’d never utter in my life, it was this: “I bloody hate clouds.” Not the inanimate fluffy visible masses that float across the sky, but the computing equivalent of the cloud. I can’t escape them; they’re everywhere; and they’re beginning to interfere with my favourite pastime.
Think I’m overreacting? Try typing the word “cloud” into Google and look at the first page of results. Did you spot anything? That’s right. There’s not a single website or one noticeable recommendation aimed at everyone’s favourite sun blocker or perpetual bringer of rain. Even the popular portal of instant information, Wikipedia, has distanced itself from the wispy shape shifters that litter the sky.
But how did this happen? When did these white swirls of wisdom fall victim to an invisible technology that was once optional, but is soon becoming standardised?
The idea has been around for some time, however, as with the majority of potential innovations, it’s only until certain industry leaders start backing it that the rest of the world begins to follow.
The big boys have already made their move. Apple has attached their signature lower-cased letter to it. And just recently, Sony opened up its war chest to buy the cloud gaming platform, Gaikai. Evidently, technology providers love affair with the cloud is not going away, and worryingly, it’s rapidly becoming part of every device out there.
The appeal is obvious: the ability to stream and store content from a metaphorical cloud is for some, a revelation. Precious data can be backed up; the need for physical storage is no more; content can be transferred to numerous devices; and consumers can stream HD movies and games instantly all thanks to the almighty cloud. At least that’s what they want you to think.
Cloudy With a Chance Of Pain
Today, companies such as OnLive and the aforementioned Gaikai have made cloud gaming a reality. Whether you choose to download the client onto your PC, tablet, or use the more traditional micro-console, players can play the latest games on almost anything that sports an Internet connection. Even Google Chrome allows users to experience high-definition games through nothing more than their web browser. Undeniably, voodoo magic is responsible for such miraculous feats.
Analysts have boldly predicted that cloud gaming signals the demise of the current ecosystem of gaming. No longer will gamers be forced to own multiple consoles as games can be enjoyed on literally any device. The power PC enthusiast – with the latest and greatest specs and water cooled quad-graphics cards – will be nothing but a distant, humorous memory as underpowered hardware effortlessly handles graphically intensive games thanks to our friend the cloud.
Naturally, people do have concerns about cloud computing. Nostalgic gamers insist that the loss of physical media would be the most substantial consequence caused by cloud gaming; others argue it’s the always-on Internet connection; some say input lag and DRM are cause for alarm.
But hold on a second… Am I going crazy here? Aren’t people missing the most important, deciding factor when it comes to cloud computing? Whether it’s movie streaming, gaming or simply backing-up large files?
Stats That Then
You see, if you’re like me and you live in a geographical location described as a “rural area”, then you too may be blessed with scenic views, a charming local pub, a plethora of sheep and the occasional vile smell of manure. What you also get as part of this irresistible package is absolutely pitiful Internet speeds.
In May 2012, PC Advisor reported that the average broadband speed in the UK is apparently a whopping 4.9mbs per second. (I say whopping, but please note that my viewpoint on what is considered fast is inherently warped.)
The BBC discovered that a third of UK postcodes suffer from slow broadband speeds. Their definition of slow is less than the 5mbps mark. No BBC, slow is the speed I currently survive on everyday: a measly average of 0.5mbps. Or as a friend kindly puts it: “sub-broadband.
Now, with that in mind, let’s look at this simple equation:
Cloud gaming + online streaming + cloud storage x sub-broadband = Agonising, time-consuming and infuriating anguish.
Now before you chastise me for living inside a cave with Gollum from Lord of The Rings, I should point out that I only live a couple miles away from a bustling major city and a popular town; both with great Internet speeds. However, I’m confident that there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people in the same predicament as I am. And yet, every single debate concerning the cloud and it’s downfalls completely overlooks the crux of the whole magical system itself: your Internet speed.
Even the dreamy thought of a 2mbps connection aren’t enough for the speed sapping cloud, with cloud gaming platforms requiring a minimum of 3mbps (recommended: 5mbps). Then you have to factor in usage caps, download limits, peak times, stability and all the other pitfalls that Internet Service Providers love to withhold.
Clouding Up My Day
To be honest, I’ve condition my mind to ignore the loveliness of Netflix; the free OnLive micro-console I picked up at last year’s Eurogamer Expo is rotting on the shelf. I’ve come to terms with the fact I could never stream anything other than a YouTube video in 360p quality; I cherish the fact I can somehow play online, relatively lag-free. Cloud computing is a luxury I don’t need or ultimately want. But sadly, my nemesis is determined to invade my comfortable, stone-age lifestyle.
Even though I’ve done my best to avoid the cloud in the past, it’s now decided to rudely enter my home. I boot up the PC for a quick game of FIFA 12 and what do I find? “Syncing to cloud”, “Are you sure you want to use this file instead of the one on the server”, “Your profile settings are different to those stored on the server”, “Backing up data to cloud.” Every notification is unwanted and interferes almost as much as the dreaded, “A new patch is available to download.”
EA’s much maligned Origin platform has the audacity to have the worst cloud syncing system that I’ve ever had the displeasure of using, with frequent crashes and infuriatingly slow speeds. Steam’s is admittedly better, but still, I have 2 terabytes of physical storage. I don’t want to use your bloody cloud. Call me arrogant if you will.
For weeks, Apple have been insisting that I upgrade my operating system, one which will undoubtedly cripple my ageing MacBook, just so I can transition to their fancy new iCloud. How would I ever survive without syncing the calendar on my phone to my PC’s through the air? Or transfer a fart app without the use of a USB cable? No Apple. You can stick your iCloud where the sun don’t shine.
At Rezzed, the PC & Indie games conference, legendary designer Peter Molyneux expressed his thoughts on the cloud phenomena: “I still don’t really get it myself…it seems to me that the only thing the cloud has done…is choose, bizarrely, which embarrassing photographs it’s going to show on my Apple TV from my iPhone…that seems to me what the cloud is all about…at best, it does stuff which I don’t really want it to do.”
You hear that cloud? That’s another person who doesn’t want you clouding up their lives. So back off!
Take Your Heads Out Of The Clouds
But alas, I fear the big companies have already made their decision, setting their corporate agenda reticule firmly on the cloud. With Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai, it’s only a matter of time before a chilling future of demo streaming and inferior backwards compatibility is upon us with input lag, fuzzy images and an always-on Internet connection on the horizon.
There’s thousands of gamers who live in the so-called sticks and we’ve managed to survive perfectly well till now – overcoming the incessant patches and massive file sizes of modern day gaming – without the need for this omnipotent cloud. I just pray that we’re not forgotten about come the arrival of next-gen, or the very least, have a suitable Internet speed when the time comes…
Apparently, the government has pledged to make the UK the fastest broadband nation in Europe by 2015. By that time, it also promises to make sure that all homes have speeds of at least 2Mbps (still 1Mbps below the golden 3Mbps requirement). But who believes anything the government says anyway?