How Cloud Gaming Is Disrupting Video Game Journalism

As Xbox prepares this week to give players and the press free access to dozens of titles being developed via its servers, Bandai Namco and Shadow have recently tried game testing via cloud gaming. Initiatives are driven by global circumstances that undoubtedly herald the future of experiences for journalists and the general public alike.

Working from home, forced during confinement – and more voluntarily since – has not always only benefits. Beyond the difficulties and mental wear that can sometimes occur, as Microsoft demonstrated in a study on telework video meetings, it poses simple practice questions daily.

For people like us, Tech journalists, it was more complicated to talk about products that could not be taken in hand immediately, to discuss them with their designers or other managers. 

Indeed, online presentations and videoconferencing meetings, as well as product shipments in parallel, have made up for these gaps in human contact and information. Nevertheless, in a profession based on communication, learning and debating around a product insight does not have the same flavor through a screen.

But in other areas, it proved even more complicated. Notably, to test video games ahead of their release, on versions often not definitive and stamped with the seal of secrecy.

For the record, we are usually allowed to get the first glimpse of a title by coming to premises to test the controller on console or PC, on test versions determined by the publishers and on the material provided. 

Except that none of this was possible in times of confinement, and the group presentations are not yet on the agenda. So the industry had to reinvent itself.

Thinking About A Secure And Efficient Alternative

Among the singers of technological futurism, Shadow has always relied on cloud computing to shake up habits and uses. The past few months have shown how attractive his promise can be, with subscription figures that surged around the world during confinement as people had to equip themselves at home.

 And the opportunity to take advantage of a state-of-the-art computer on its compatible devices, whatever they were, was a great fit for purpose. But Shadow technology has found another outlet: cloud gaming, in which the firm has long sought legitimacy, promising to “play any game on any medium, old or new.”

“We’ve been thinking about how the industry will be able to show its games with the containment and cancellation of major trade shows or physical events,” says Florian Giraud, Shadow’s head of strategy.

“An alternative has been considered to facilitate the presentation and testing of future games by ensuring performance and safety so that they remain exclusive and confidential.” And it was with the publisher Bandai Namco that the project took shape.

“We’ve been studying Shadow technology for over a year, long before Covid-19,” says Wouter Van Vugt, Director of Communications and Events at Bandai Namco Europe. “We were waiting for the right content to deploy it. 

The fact that the version of The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope (released On September 30th) runs in 4K on PC was the best opportunity for us to test. »

Ten journalists and content creators from around the world (France, Germany, Spain, the United States, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, the United Kingdom, Russia) were able to test Shadow’s game and “interactive streaming” technology, which allows for low latency and high image quality. 

“Our main concern was the quality of the journalist’s internet connection. We didn’t know where he would test the game, and we had to be sure that the connection would be as fast as possible to deliver a quality experience for Both Shadow and Little Hope,” recalls Wouter Van Vugt.

Playing On A Better Machine Than Your Machine, When You Want

From a distance, with no one next door to solve problems or give explanations, technological considerations are at the heart of the reflections. Everything has been simplified to the maximum. From his office, Romain Mahut, a journalist at Gameblog, served as a French guinea pig for the experiment. 

“I just had to download the Shadow client and log in to an account provided by Bandai Namco, have my Mac authenticated via a sent code. Once connected to Shadow, the game started automatically,” he says, stressing the ease of the process. 

This version was not on the usual PC Shadow environment that the user connected, but directly on the game.

“We have adapted the configuration and the offer to the type of connection of the journalist and the needs,” confirms Florian Giraud from a technical point of view. 

“When our Ultra offer was available (the very high-end with an RTX 2080 graphics card or equivalent, 16GB of RAM, a 4GHz-4 core processor), we put it on. But we also had to test Shadow in countries where we weren’t based like Japan or Russia. 

Journalists had to be placed in nearby data centers in the United States for the first, elsewhere in Europe for the latter. And it worked,” he says, explaining that it would still be more complicated for shooting or racing games with the need for excellent latency.

And Romain Mahut also draws a rather positive result, acknowledging that he has not experienced any technical problems: “The advantages are relatively obvious: you can play a game with the configuration to the max even if you do not have a suitable machine and the launch is immediate. 

You can pick up whenever you want. You just have to have a very good connection to play in the best conditions. The advantages are also numerous for Bandai Namco: 

“The ability to prepare everything upstream and secure everything, to have only identifiers to provide to a journalist, to know also on which hardware the game would be tested and that it would be on the best possible configuration proposed by Shadow,” explains Wouter Van Vugt.

Tests On Cyberpunk 2077 And At Ubisoft, A Week Of Demos At Xbox

Forced by events, other publishers have tried to promote their game ahead of their release. CD Projekt Red has used the system developed by Parsec to have Cyberpunk 2077 tested in the press, with varying degrees of success according to some testers (some compression problems encountered). 

This startup offers an SDK to integrate into its tools to work remotely through video streaming and share play. All you have to do is download the usual software or application.

Ubisoft also used the same streaming technology and integrated it into its Uplay online content platform to offer a taste of Watch Dogs Legion and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. 

No download required other than Uplay for journalists, but a concern on the editor’s side: “If the quality of the image was too bad, and even if the journalist is aware that the game was not running directly on his machine, his opinion of the game could change.

The same thing in case of latency in the actions, worried Loïc Petit, data engineer at Ubisoft Bordeaux within the Team Harbour Streaming in charge of the project, in a post on the blog Ubisoft Stories.

The French publisher had to install hosting machines on several Ubisoft sites around the world, with a demonstrator or demonstrator assigned to accompany the journalist’s live session (from 30 minutes to several hours), technically ensure that each tester had the right connection, was not too far (2,000 km maximum of the server), and had compatible hardware, because Uplay only works on PC. And the result was rather encouraging.

THE GENERAL PUBLIC IN THE VIEWFINDER

Should we see the future of video game testing? At Shadow, the experience has been an excellent showcase for home technology, and discussions with other publishers are ongoing. “We’re running games that haven’t been released yet, even on a very old PC. 

This is only positive and certainly the future of press presentations, without moving to the other side of the planet,” one sees.

Even Ubisoft’s side: “This solution, even if it is its first deployment, will mark the future of events when it is more mature. 

In the long run, this will become an essential solution,” explains Pascal Nguyen, associate director of international events.

Journalists who wipe the first plasters of ambitions also greater for many: to reach the general public. 

“Perhaps in the future, this could become a whole new way of delivering content to our consumers,” admits Wouter Van Vugt. Romain Mahut is more reserved on the subject: “I think it does give a good idea. But the general public is far from being equipped, in terms of connection, to be able to play this way all the time. 

Based on its Uplay service, already used by millions of players, it is likely that Ubisoft could generalize its new tool to have its demos tested to an even wider audience than on a trade show stand. 

“We can offer many more sessions than at the usual physical events and offer these takes in hand to people who do not have the opportunity to participate in E3, for example,” admits Pascal Nguyen.

 The perspectives also envisaged on the Shadow side: “It is not impossible that tomorrow we can make such a demo to the general public. It will no longer need to move or queue for hours to test. And he will do it on his support,” predicts Florian Giraud.

Microsoft already has a golden chance to hand with its technology with xCloud, its future cloud gaming service. By allowing access to its servers remotely or simply via its Game Pass, the American firm can already secure game or function tests. 

It has also planned a Summer Game Fest Demo Event this week, allowing players to discover games in development, as the press usually does. 

A more confidential and secure version for pre-tests with the press does not seem impossible, just like Google Stadia, which would also have the ability to allow multi-support testing from its servers. But that doesn’t necessarily seem to be in the thinking.

The General Public In The Viewfinder

Will discovering games only happen from your couch and a distance? No, say all the actors at heart.

 “The main drawback of doing everything in cloud gaming is absent human relationships. We were not able to talk to the media face to face or after their test,” laments Wouter Van Vugt, who also notes “a lack of perspective” on the experience. 

“At the end of the day, we don’t know what their experience was like. When we organize a physical event, we know the machines they will play on, the devices used, the game environment. 

A game like Little Hope, for example, is much better appreciated in the dark. Pascal Nguyen said: “We will continue to participate in ‘physical’ events such as E3 because they provide a direct and essential relationship with the media and players. 

The future of video games does indeed require cloud gaming, in any form, to play or for more practicality in tests, demos, and all those complicated things to do in today’s situations. 

We have to reinvent things; we explain both sides. For economic sake already. New ways of thinking about the involvement of journalists and players in developing games, start to dream some.

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