As amorphous, mercurial and intangible as its atmospheric namesake, the Xbox One's Cloud is a feature that is hard to appreciate without a strong example. Luckily, Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment has one — dedicated servers.
In an article on Respawn's website, Cloud technology engineer Jon Shiring lays it out plain, echoing the sentiments expressed by company head Vince Zampella during E3 2013. Player-hosted servers, especially for a fast-paced shooter, suck. They suck a lot. Host disconnects, host migration, cheating, bandwidth cap issues — he's got like nine bullet points explaining how horrible it is to assign a player in a match hosting duties.
Dedicated servers, on the other hand, are wonderful. Instead of putting the burden of match hosting on a player, dedicated servers are machines in a hidden magical bunker that only exist to make the people playing happy. No one's system gets overtaxed. When one person disconnects the match goes on (and we can all rate that player poorly).
On the downside, they cost a lot of money to run. That is, unless you're Microsoft and made of magic.
Microsoft has a cloud service called Azure (it’s a real thing — you can go on their website right now and pay for servers and use them to run whatever you want). Microsoft realised that they could use that technology to solve our problem.
So they built this powerful system to let us create all sorts of tasks that they will run for us, and it can scale up and down automatically as players come and go. We can upload new programs for them to run and they handle the deployment for us. And they’ll host our game servers for other platforms, too! Titanfall uses the Xbox Live Cloud to run dedicated servers for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.
Aha! So the Xbox One Cloud is simply a system for running dedicated servers!
But it’s not just for dedicated servers — Microsoft thought about our problem in a bigger way. Developers aren’t going to just want dedicated servers — they’ll have all kinds of features that need a server to do some kind of work to make games better. Look at Forza 5, which studies your driving style in order to create custom AI that behaves like you do. That’s totally different from what Titanfall uses it for, and it’s really cool! So it’s not accurate to say that the Xbox Live Cloud is simply a system for running dedicated servers — it can do a lot more than that.
And now we're right back where we started, but at least we have an anchor point. If all the Xbox One Cloud meant was dedicated servers, I'd be fine with that. The rest is just glitter and sprinkles. Thanks for the clarification, Respawn!
Let’s talk about the Xbox Live Cloud [Respawn Entertainment]