One day, children will gaze up at the sky and fully believe its cottony bounties were named after hyper-sophisticated streaming data networks. I plan on being dead by then, so that's good. But, at least in the short term, Gabe Newell's not so sure. Yes, there are some fairly functional examples already up and running, but Newell believes they're far from optimal. Here's the real kicker, though: this, he claims, isn't a shortcoming that a little time and elbow grease will fix right up. Actually, those things may well make it worse.
"Cloud gaming works until it starts to be successful – at which point, it falls over," Newell explained during his DICE keynote in Las Vegas. "All the spreadsheets ignore the producing levels that consumer networks use. When everyone starts using a continuous network connection in order to get their applications, prices are going to go through the roof."
"Let's say our industry had never done consoles or consumer clients. Even if we just started out with cloud gaming, you'd actually go in the direction of pushing intelligence out to the edge of the network, simply because it's a great way of caching and saving you on network resources."
So basically, he thinks that cloud is, by nature, more of a hassle, more expensive, and less efficient on an individual basis. And the more widespread it becomes, the more those issues will rain on its parade. But it's not just an issue of lost frames and heightened blood pressure. Valve's infernal future labs have run the numbers, and they've found that hardware will eventually be even more dependent on a hiccup-free experience than we are.
"Another point is that cloud gaming puts latency compensation in the wrong place: in the center of the network rather than the edge," Newell explained. "And one thing we believe is that latency sensitivity is actually going to increase in the future. The ability to do local high-speed processing will become more important than it is now. For now, people think of it as the customer experiencing lag during play, but in the future, there'll be a bunch of hardware that has even more sensitivity than a human does. So putting functionality at the center of the network will actually be impossible."
All that said, Valve isn't writing off cloud gaming entirely. But it's a sideshow. The main event, so far as Newell and co are concerned, will remain safely inside our machines. Not on some server in space or something.
"I think there's a place for cloud gaming, but more as a feature or for things like demos and spectating. But not as core architecture."
So then, probably don't expect Steam to fully embrace the cloud any time soon.