Hi! My name is John Bruno – I am a Lead Program Manager from the Xbox Live team. For as long as I can remember, games have been part of my life. Whether it was playing my Commodore 64 in my basement as a young kid, feeding my spare quarters into arcade machines in the 1980s, or playing “Project Gotham Racing” on the original Xbox - I have always enjoyed playing video games. We’ve obviously come a long way with games since I started playing, and for me personally, it has been an incredible experience bringing Xbox One to life and supporting the forthcoming game titles that are launching on this console generation. I’m especially proud of what our team has been working on with Xbox Live Compute, and I’m glad to finally be able to share more details with you as part of the “Week of Xbox Live!”
As you have heard over the course of the past weeks, Xbox One will benefit greatly from the power of the Xbox Live cloud. This obviously represents a broad Microsoft commitment that spans a number of scenarios, all intended to bring the best of entertainment and gaming experiences that our game creators have to offer. Xbox Live Compute represents one of the ways that games will be better on Xbox One. This service is specifically designed to enable game creators to utilize the scalable computing resources that Microsoft deploys within our regional datacenters, to enhance their game experiences beyond what is generally possible with the finite resources of a console. This sounds great, but what does it really mean for gamers and developers?
Well, for starters let’s talk about what the Xbox Live cloud is all about. Simply stated, it’s about massive numbers of high-powered servers running in Microsoft datacenters all over the world – all performing various computing workloads. At Microsoft, running hundreds of thousands of servers that power experiences like Bing, Skype, or Xbox Live is in our DNA.
So, why did we build Xbox Live Compute? When we were planning the next generation of Xbox Live, we spent a lot of time talking with game creators about ways to make games better. We realized that there was an incredible opportunity to bring together the resources and global scale of Windows Azure, with the game services of Xbox Live to build a cloud computing platform that was uniquely focused on gaming and game creators. Our intent was to enable developers to take advantage of server resources in their games without having to deal with the challenges that come with building, managing and running servers at scale. So, we chose to provide cloud features that allow the game creators to push the limits of their gameplay experiences and apply the bulk of their investments to game creation, rather than server and operational resources. In fact, we even give them the cloud computing power for FREE so they can more easily transition to building games on Xbox One for the cloud.
As you’ve seen since its debut, Xbox One is a powerful device, and it will do amazing things for entertainment and games. The challenge with the compute power of any consumer electronics device, however, is that the resources it ships with are finite. Building games that leverage the power of the physical device often requires game creators to strike the balance between the fidelity of the player experience and the available computing resources on the device. In essence, the richness of the game world they create is often limited by what they can do with the power of the device. With every generation of console we have seen the richness of the game experiences improve as the power of the devices improved. However, in this generation, we really want to help game creators draw on the ever-expanding power of our server infrastructure to drive continuous innovation in their game experiences – innovations that translate directly to better, more engaging gaming experiences. The really exciting part becomes evident when we consider a few things game creators can do when they use these additional computing resources in the cloud:
- Higher fidelity game experiences – As I mentioned before, cloud compute can enable developers to offload computations for all sorts of environmental elements. In a typical game development scenario, the game creator needs to balance resource allocation across each area – world management, rendering, controls, networking, lighting, physics, AI, as well as networking and multiplayer. Balancing the local computing resources for all of these elements often results in developers making tradeoffs that result in more focus on core gameplay, and less on environments, NPC and other elements of world fidelity. However, when cloud compute is available to support the various computationally-intensive elements of the game, these kinds of tradeoffs become much easier for developers to make. Games can afford to provide higher fidelity worlds and deeply intelligent NPC AI all at the same time. These experiences could only be accomplished by leveraging the resources of servers.
- Improved multiplayer game experiences – This is perhaps the most obvious example of what is possible with Xbox Live Compute – dedicated servers! If you have played a lot of multiplayer games, you know that playing on dedicated game servers has advantages over peer-to-peer gameplay. With server-based multiplayer gaming, not only can more players play the game (think hundreds of players simultaneously), the gameplay will be much more reliable for the players. No more host migration interruptions, suboptimal experiences for the host, home network NAT constraints, or player cheating! Additionally, Xbox Live Compute can be utilized to persist game state so that your squad can live to fight another day without losing any progress. A great example of a game that is using Xbox Live Compute for their dedicated server multiplayer experience is “Titanfall.”
- Adaptive & evolving game play – Imagine the game you play every day improving each time you log in. Imagine joining a match in your favorite first person shooter to find new maps and game modes even though you never downloaded a game update. Imagine playing with your friend even when he/she is not online. When games are powered by Xbox Live Compute, they can be dynamically updated, tuned, changed, and improved continuously. Games will evolve and live on for greater periods of time, continually providing fresh content and new experiences. The flagship example of this application of cloud computing can be found with “Forza Motorsports 5, “and its Drivatar system.
- On-demand compute improves game availability – With all of the potentially interesting things that can be accomplished with Xbox Live Compute, one of the most important things is that the resources (e.g. servers) are available when gamers need it most. It is the geographic availability of this service, and its elastic scalability that enables gamers to connect to an available server and play without experiencing busy or unavailable servers. This ensures that games meet the changing demands of their player communities for compute, and gamers experience optimal connectivity based upon their geographic location. Additionally, it means that game creators can be assured that the server capacity they need, in the appropriate geographies, will be there when they need it.
With Xbox Live Compute we hope to inspire a new era of innovation in game development and game experiences for Xbox One. We expect that this platform will help our development community build more of their games as services – games that are intelligent, immersive and continuously evolving experiences for the players – powered by Microsoft’s ever-expanding cloud infrastructure. This is only the beginning though. We are really excited for the opportunities that lie ahead for the platform, our development community and ultimately our amazing Xbox owners. Stay tuned though, as we’re excited to share more of the nuts and bolts details about how we’re bringing this platform to life.
To learn more about how developers are taking advantage of the cloud, check out this “Forza Motorsport 5” cloud piece and watch for additional posts on games and the cloud to come.