We knew that Microsoft was aggressively promoting its cloud-gaming services for the Xbox One. We knew that meant that games like Titanfall will benefit from everything from more on-screen computer-controlled characters and stabler connections because of it. Now comes news that those dedicated servers will be free to all developers.
"One of the benefits of publishing games on Xbox One," Microsoft director of Xbox product planning Albert Penello wrote yesterday on the NeoGAF gaming message board, "ALL game developers get Dedicated Servers, Cloud Processing, and 'storage' (for save games) free."
That's the kind of good news that should trickle down to gamers in some cool ways. After all, if those services are free, there's more reason for game creators to use them — so long as they have the resources to develop for them.
So, what's it mean for you?
Back in June, we reported that Xbox One launch game Forza 5 would use Microsoft's cloud servers to read and spread players' driving habits into other copies of the game, populating the playerbase's Xbox Ones with computer-controlled racers that drove like real players. Neat, but that's a Microsoft-developed and Microsoft-published game. Of course they'd get the chance to try tricks like that.
The potential impact of cloud computing and dedicated servers on Xbox One games became more clear when the creators of the EA-backed, Respawn-developed Titanfall began talking in June about the benefits they were getting from Microsoft's tech:
"That's a 7 on 7 game but it felt huge because there's [extra] AI [soldiers] in there that brings the world to life," Respawn boss Vince Zampella says, referring to the Titanfall bout I'd just seen.
The AI for the grunts is designed to run off of Microsoft's cloud servers, a service that the Xbox One maker is offering to all game creators on the new console. ...
With Zampella there, I sense I can get some answers on whether this cloud stuff is really just hype. I mention I'd seen plenty of games that don't use the cloud rendering tons of characters on screen, though maybe not in multiplayer. "It's better to do it on the cloud," Zampella said. "It's more secure. It's a better experience. It also lets us focus on the experience we're giving to you, the rendering experience, all that power. The more we can offload the better, because then we can do more locally on your box." In other words, if they calculate the grunt AI remotely, the Xbox One can spend more processing on graphics.
It's not just that.
The cloud servers, Zampalla said, are "dedicated servers so there's no host advantage. The game spins up fast." No host system has to be bogged down with that grunt AI. "When that's handled on the cloud, now it's the same experience, it's not lagging for you. If I'm the host, and I'm calculating AI on my box or if we're both calculating AI on our boxes and we have different things..." That wouldn't be good. The cloud helps. To Titanfall's busy multiplayer design, perhaps it's essential.
In August, Microsoft said that Activision and Infinity Ward's Call of Duty Ghosts on Xbox One would also have dedicated servers. Dedicated servers would ensure that players didn't have to worry about player-hosted matches dropping because one gamer had a bad connection. They meant that Microsoft's reliable server tech would keep games running as players came and went, making it much more likely that games would be more stable for all players in a match.
While we knew the cloud was coming to all Xbox One games, if developers wanted it, it had seemed like this might be a service that had special perks for the most elite games. Penello's comments on NeoGAF, however, suggest that what's been offered to Call of Duty and Titanfall could be used at no charge by all game creators. That's a good thing, for sure, and it's consistent with Microsoft's sometimes-controversial vision for its console: a machine that lives best as an online-connected device, that is made, like our computers and phones, to take advantage of being networked.
The Xbox One may no longer be situated to mandate a regular connection to the Internet, but the kind of services the company is talking more and more about are likely to make Xbox One gamers want to keep their console online as much as they can — especially if the games they can play on it do great things with all of these options being offered at no extra charge to hard-working game creators.