Cloud gaming sounds good on paper, until you hit the inevitable asterisk in the fine print that says "not available in Australia". That was the problem with Nvidia's GeForce Now, the GPU maker's game streaming service that launched out of beta earlier this month.
But there might be a small silver lining for Australians who want more options for streaming their Steam library. In a couple of separate statements and follow-up remarks, the company indicated that Australians might be included after all - and those were backed up with more winks and nods from one major Australian ISP.
Following the release of GeForce Now worldwide, I got in touch with Nvidia to ask: what about Australia? While parts of Nvidia's streaming service are available wherever you are - their Gamestream technology functionally does the same thing within a home network as Steam Link, for instance - GeForce Now is reliant on an Nvidia-operated data centre, which doesn't exist in Australia.
During Nvidia's recent quarterly financial results, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang was asked about GeForce Now and the broader strategy. He replied by saying that there were multiple aspects to the program, one part of which is primarily applicable to countries like Australia:
"Overall our GeForce NOW, you guys saw the launch, reception has been fantastic, reviews have been fantastic. Our strategy has three components; the Geforce Now service that we provide ourselves, there's GeForce Now alliances with telcos now around the world with regions we don't have a presence in, and that is going super well."
In other words: in countries where we don't have a data centre of our own, we'll work with ISPs to use theirs.
In Australia, the first port of call for this has traditionally been Telstra. The conglomerate has worked with gaming developers in the past to host servers on their behalf - Telstra ran most of the servers for Blizzard in Australia until recently, although the company will be moving their infrastructure over to Google as part of their recent deal.
So I reached out to Telstra and asked if they could provide any more background, if they'd been working or investigated the possibility of expanding GeForce Now here, and what it'd take from a theoretical standpoint.
Naturally, the company didn't mention Nvidia or GeForce Now outright, but they did speak openly about "working with a variety of providers" on bringing services that were "previously not possible or were considered a long-term ambition".
"Here, 5G plays a critical role in our long-term strategy for delivering exceptional gaming experiences including cloud gaming products," Nathan Gumley, Connected Home Principal at Telstra, told Kotaku Australia in a statement.
"We’ve been working with a variety of providers on opportunities to bring these types of products to Australia, previously not possible or were considered a long-term ambition. We’re excited to show Australian gamers and customers about our work later this year as we strive to become the best network partner for gaming in the nation.
In the meantime, we’ve been working closely with Microsoft with Xbox All Access and have been able to map the way our network sources content from Microsoft Azure in order to bring it “closer” to the players that want it. With Microsoft hosting its game content on-shore in Azure’s Australian point-of-presence and optimising our networking routes to the data centre itself, we’re actively speeding up the gaming experience for Telstra customers."
Gumley added that Telstra was working on more optimisations on the "gaming and in-home Wi-Fi network experience," but as was the case when Telstra announced their Xbox All Access program last year, there's no concrete details on precisely what those are just yet. There is a nugget of detail in Gumley's statement, namely how the networking routes were remapped to minimise the distance between players and the content, although that's still a very top-line overview of how Telstra is making this work.
But the nice thing is, despite Telstra obviously talking up their Microsoft partnership whenever possible, Gumley specifically mentioned "providers". That includes companies like Nvidia, but also opens the door to things like Sony's PlayStation Now service, that cloud gaming venture Amazon has been working on for aeons without officially saying anything, EA's streaming venture in Project Atlas, and obvious future opportunities with platforms like Steam and its existing streaming capabilities.
While Microsoft and Google are getting ready to duke it out over their cloud gaming services, Valve still has a foot in the market. They might be throttling production of the handy Steam Link device, but the software lives on - and you can use that to stream games "from any computer running Steam".
Of course, there's always the elephant in the room: lag. It's one thing to offer a service in Australia, but how many games will be playable in a genuine, enjoyable manner? And despite the protestations about the potential of 5G, there's also the reality that Australia's 5G implementation is still quite limited, with the crucial millimetre wave spectrum necessary for 5G's faster speeds not being sold off by the government until 2021. Regular gamers will also have to wait until new 5G modems are released that can take advantage of multiple 5G bands all at once, like they do with the 4G network currently.
So the key here is "long-term strategy," rather than the short term. So while GeForce Now might make its way to Australia with Telstra's help - or another ISP if they want to play in that space (and Optus's parent company, Singtel, has a long affiliation with gaming particularly in South-east Asia) - don't get your hopes up for something properly viable for a little while. On the plus side, however, at least we're not missing out entirely.