Content on demand is coming to PC games

SOFTWARE
Content on demand is coming to PC games

Remember the good old days when, if you wanted to watch The Fresh Prince, you had to wait for it to be actually aired on TV, on a specific day, at a specific time? Those days are long gone, shown the door by online content providers about 20 years ago. The content-on-demand revolution, pioneered by Netflix and Hulu, has changed our viewing habits completely.

Netflix and Hulu were rapidly joined by HBO GO, and, well, almost every TV channel in the US today. CW, ABC, NBC – when you want to watch your favourite show, be it Game of Thrones, Daredevil, or Orange Is The New Black, you can do it whenever you want, on any device you so choose.

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Video games (which are arguably the finest form of entertainment known to man) have been a bit behind the curve on this one, and for a number of reasons.

One was technological. You couldn’t just pick up your mobile phone or tablet or whatever, and stream Call of Duty over Wi-Fi or 4G networks. Nope, unlike videos, where a buffering delay of anywhere from five to 15 seconds is acceptable, gamers allow exactly zero buffering in their games.

A number of companies once tried to add game streaming to our day-to-day lives, like the ill-fated OnLive, but they failed because the infrastructure back then, frankly, simply wasn’t good enough. OnLive is actually an excellent example. They were very successful and streamed games at a relatively good quality when they had a few thousand gamers. But as their users increased, they got to a bigger audience, and their servers simply couldn’t handle the load.

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Artist’s rendition

Fortunately, the infrastructure issues are changing, and changing rapidly. With better hardware in mobile phones, faster Wi-Fi routers, and PCs with onboard GPUs, streaming games to different platforms is getting better and better. In fact, we are playing pretty graphic-intensive games like GTA V at full HD, at 60 FPS, on Remotr, the app that our company develops, using networks with speeds of no more than 5 Mbps.

4In a brief moment of not causing widespread destruction in GTA V

It’s not just the hardware, of course – the development platforms are also becoming more robust, making it possible to squeeze even more data through networks, resulting in minimal loss of reaction time.

Another thing that kept gamers in front of their computers was purely psychological: gamers were used to sitting in front of one screen to game, and lacked the option of gaming anywhere else. Yes, there were portable devices, like the Nintendo 3DS (or the Nintendo DS, if you’re feeling really nostalgic). But those weren’t for serious games.

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Source: Wikipedia
Shown: Not a serious game

But with the advent of the smartphone and tablet, and the fact that people watch video everywhere, enjoying your favorite show in front of a secondary screen became commonplace. And gamers were ready to follow suit and move away from their main screen.

So when would we find gamers playing on devices that aren’t their high-end PC gaming rig? How about when they want to grind to get another Griffa token on a long commute (or in a long business meeting, which is what we would never do). Or when they want to play Batman Arkham Origins on a TV screen and don’t want to start carrying their PC around, or have cables lying everywhere. Or when they just want a quick break and play a bit of Black Desert Online without having to disembark from the couch.

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Never move again

How does it actually work?

Game streaming apps, like Remotr, usually stream from gamer’s own PCs. The games can be streamed and played over a variety of connections (from local Wi-Fi networks to 4G mobile data networks), but they must in fact be installed on the gamer’s PC.

Once the game-streaming app is installed on both the server side (the gamer’s PC), and the client side (the end device), a connection is established. Then, when you want to play a game on the end device – which can be a mobile phone, a tablet, a Windows 10 laptop, or even a Smart TV, the game streaming app starts the game on the PC, and sends over a series of snapshots to the client, which then stitches the snapshots back into a cohesive game play video. The game is displayed, and the controls that you press on the touchscreen are relayed back to the server app on the PC.

One of the hardest things we had to do with Remotr was actually getting the controls set up for each game. Not surprisingly, we had precious little leeway to work with on relatively small mobile screens, especially when we needed to fit in complex actions and buttons. Indeed, even a seemingly straightforward game like Shadow of Mordor turned out to require a lot more buttons than we initially thought.

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Source: http://www.gosunoob.com/shadow-of-mordor/ps4-controls-scheme/
For people with 2 extra fingers and a spare thumb

We got around this in a few ways. One was by using Xinput controls. When Remotr detects that a game supports an Xbox controller, the app automatically simulates Xbox controls on the mobile screen. Another way was having the team build control sets literally by hand for the more popular games, and loading them when the appropriate game is launched.

So what’s to come?

Well, first of all, there are going to be huge hardware changes. With the introduction of improved Wi-Fi standards (and Lifi), more powerful mobile devices, and better mobile data speeds, I’ll be very surprised if the next generation of Call of Duty players isn’t playing as much on their tablets as on their PCs. Game streaming is here – and here to stay.

Another pretty huge argument in favour of game streaming, and one that probably deserves an article in its own right, is VR. Right now we are in a pretty rare situation, where there are plenty of ways to VIEW VR, but not a lot of content. Movies are still in the ‘let’s-use-3D’ stage, and most game developers want to see some real proof that gamers will actually want to play VR games. With game streaming apps like Remotr, you will be able to stream games to a mobile-based VR headset like Google Cardboard, for the best simulation of VR games, which will change the VR landscape.

So if you want to play on your mobile phone, or play a PC game on a big TV, or just want to play a co-op game of Castle Crashers using your mobile as a controller – download Remotr from our website (it’s completely free), and try it out!

Avi Kaye
Avi Kaye has been gaming since he got his first gaming PC - a ZX Spectrum. Started Remotr in 2014, and hasn’t looked back since.

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