When Microsoft debuted the Xbox One to the world, the presentation left more questions than answers. One such question that has never been truly explained is the nebulous “power of the cloud” which the Inquisitr was also dubious about. An impressive statistic was given of a 300,000 server capacity assisting the Xbox One to facilitate heavy calculations that do not require instant feedback. Ars Technica interviewed Matt Booty, GM of Redmond Game Studios and Platforms, who said that tasks such as lighting would take advantage of the power of the cloud.
Cloud computing is a fancy way of renaming server-side calculations. Instead of the work being done on your local Xbox One, calculations and code are sent to the servers on Microsoft’s Azure network. In theory, the powerful PC servers would be able to do more than the local Xbox One.
A simple analogy for those less technically inclined would be that of a small factory making a complicated widget that it did not need right away. This small factory would farm out the work to a bigger, more powerful factory would who ship the completed widget back for final assembly. In the digital world, this would take milliseconds to complete.
Microsoft certainly has the power of the cloud with its Azure network. InformIT reflected after GDC 2015 on the potential of the Microsoft server farms located at 27 data centers world wide. In theory, game developers should be able to take advantage of this and make their games something unique; something that can not be done on the competing PlayStation 4 for example.
Despite the impressive statistics, very few games have taken advantage of the “power of the cloud” much less in ways that would make a gamer sit up and take notice. Games confirmed to be using the cloud are:
- Titanfall – Xbox One | Xbox 360 | PC
- Forza 5 – Xbox One
- Forza Horizons 2 – Xbox One
- Halo: Master Chief Collection – Xbox One
- Call of Duty: Ghosts – Xbox One
- Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – Xbox One
Despite these titles using the Xbox One’s power of the cloud, there is no visual or perceptible enhancement of the games that are discernible to the average gamer. The games are using, according to Microsoft, the cloud to improve connectivity, host multiplayer matches, and run AI routines as in the case of Titanfall. These are elements that are not only not exclusive to the Xbox One’s Azure powered cloud, but they are also features that have been around for years in other games on other platforms as far back as Quake in the 1990’s.
Without a concrete example of how the power of the cloud will enhance a game’s aesthetic or gameplay, there is nothing to differentiate the Xbox One from its competitors. In truth, Microsoft has had a rough start with the Xbox One. Confusion and anger over the draconian presentation of online functionality started things off on the wrong foot. An anemic first party launch calendar over the last seven months have also not helped close the gap between Sony’s PlayStation 4, which has set an identity for itself as a console dedicated to simple gaming. Videophiles have also decried the lack of native 1080p titles for the Xbox One which Sony evangelists are never shy to point out.
As long as developers can not offload any computing that requires instant feedback, the cloud will always be relegated to second tier enhancements. The Xbox One needs something that define itself. The Kinect is dead, the power of the cloud is held back by the infrastructure of the internet world wide, and the first party games are few and far between. E3 2015 is nearly here and the entire public perception of a console can change based on the 90-minute keynote. Phil Spencer has arguably his most important E3 ahead of him in June and Xbox One owners will be looking to Los Angeles to see what Microsoft has in store for them.
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