New Numecent already has a cloudpaging spin-off for gaming

Approxy will offer a white-label platform delivery service for game developers and publishers, allowing them to publish their games as cloud titles.

By Jon Peddie

[Editor’s note: For an introduction to Numecent and its cloudpaging technology, see the GraphicSpeak article, Numecent introduces Cloudpaging as a new category of computing.]

One of the first moves Numecent is making as it introduces itself to the world is to spin out a new cloud gaming company called Approxy. Approxy will be headed by Yavuz Ahiska. Meanwhile, Numecent will focus on the larger cloud computing opportunities. The new company’s charter is obviously about internet delivery of games, but the terminology and the technology is not well understood by the users, press, or suppliers; e.g. what is application streaming? What provides the best user experience? Pixels from the cloud? Downloads from the cloud? Or Instructions from the cloud?

Approxy envisions using Numecent cloudpaging technology to deliver games on-demand. (Source: Approxy)

And then to what device are they delivering the game? There is a lot of confusion about the platforms in the gaming industry. The PC is currently the primary cloud-gaming platform and most services ask for a subscription. But the PC is getting company. Other devices are being used for games, even advanced games. PC games playable on the iPad have grabbed the headlines, but the new breed of devices are rapidly gaining their own content. It’s pretty obvious smartphones and tablets are rapidly becoming a dominant native platform. The GPUs in those devices are similar to PCs or game consoles a few years ago.

The problem with pixel pushing

Up until now, the solution for the delivery of games to a PC (for example) has been downloading the entire game; or downloading (i.e., pushing) the pixels in a scene. Both approaches have shortcomings. Pixel-pushing requires running a network of expensive edge server data centers and requires a GPU on the user’s client (GPU virtualization is not an option for demanding AAA-rated First-Person Shooter (FPS) games). The model of a GPU per user would be impossible for a high-powered Massive Multi-player Online (MMO) game with > 1.5m concurrent users—especially if it is free; how could you pay for those GPUs? And it’s not economically feasible to upgrade server infrastructure every two years to keep up with Moore’s Law.

(That said, by the way, Lucid Logic has an alternative. They can enable a GPU to serve multiple game sessions; see the GraphicSpeak article, Lucid—delivering on a promise & more: Lucid takes GPU virtualization to the cloud and beyond.”)

There are also bandwidth related issues, which are getting worse, not better. Pixel-pushing can be ruined by latency and so relies on short ping distances. To overcome that resolution, scene features, and/or frame rate is sacrificed because of the compromise of bandwidth. Usually multiple users in the same home cannot play, and overall game play is badly affected by network jitters. Plus there is no offline gameplay, and there is no way to support motion/gesture controllers or instruments such as Kinect.

Paradoxically, pixel streaming will only work well so long as it does not become popular.

Downloading games comes with its own set of problems. Some big games can take as long as a day to transfer more than 10 gigabytes of data to users. Progressive download only works well for linear content; and once installed it’s still on the target PC—no real virtualization, no platform shifting.

So Approxy thinks they have the solution to these issues with their cloudpaging approach. Approxy will offer a white-label platform delivery service for game developers and publishers, allowing them to publish their games as cloud titles. Such games are executed in the cloud and delivered as “pages,” or fragments, that run on the user’s computer or tablet on a just-in-time basis. The company claims this cloudpaging approach reduces the data sent over a broadband connection by 20-100 times. That enables high-end games to be played on just about any device. It is the same kind of benefit that cloud-gaming service OnLive offers, but Approxy claims its technology is much more efficient than what rivals offer.

Cloudpaging divides a downloadable game into small fragments called pages, which are then fetched on demand over HTTP/S by a Virtual MMU (Memory Management Unit) on the client machine. The game immediately starts executing inside a Virtual Console, without actually requiring any actual installation. Subsequent accesses to previously fetched pages are locally cached, so the experience remains as good as a game that is locally installed. And, as mentioned before, the game can be played offline, without a network connection.

Approxy says this can reduce “time to gratification” by anywhere between 10× to 50× for a large game.