While 5G and cloud might not solve massive online multiplayer issues, that isn’t necessarily the target
In early November, RCR Wireless News spoke with Subspace’s CEO and Founder Bayan Towfiq who argued that when it comes to online multiplayer games, 5G and edge computing might not be all they’re cracked up to be.
“[5G] solves the last few hundred yards and makes it a lot better, but the internet is still the internet and it was never built for real-time applications,” he said.
However, according to Brian Lavallée, the senior director of portfolio marketing for Ciena’s 5G, packet, and submarine networking solutions, that isn’t the full story.
5G, he explained, does more than just add capacity to the network and offer fasting downloads.
“You’re looking at latency down to 1 ms, which is extremely fast, even for gamers,” he continued. That’s a really, really low latency.”
In addition, he brought up the promise of network slicing, commenting that people always seem to forget about this key feature of 5G. With network slicing, a user can get end-to-end guaranteed performance and latency. Further, it’s possible to “bind” the latency, which is particularly valuable for gamers who certainly don’t want their latency to fluctuate while they’re playing.
“This is a bit way out,” he admitted. “We still need 5G standalone version, but when that promise of network slicing arrives, it will guarantee an end-to-end performance, and that goes far beyond the last mile.”
Lavallée’s mention of the “last mile” is a reference to Towfiq’s claim that 5G really only addresses the last mile of the network, but it’s actually the “middle mile”, or where ISPs connect their networks to one another, that causes problems for multiplayer gaming.
Towfiq also challenged cloud gaming, saying that edge computing won’t solve for the online multiplayer category of gaming either.
“Even if you’re close enough to the cloud gaming server, you still have the rest of the internet to contend with for multiplayer, you still have to go to a server somewhere in the world where all other players are meeting you,” Towfiq argued. And because every multiplayer game needs a certain number of players in each game, you can only have a few servers per continent, and therefore you can’t just keep moving every server closer to each gamer. If you were to do that, “the interactive player pool goes down to ultimately one.”
Lavallée agreed that in order for edge-computing to prove useful to online gamers, there needs to be a lot of data centers, but he also believes that there will, in fact, be a lot of data centers.
“There are estimates that there will be about 500% more [edge]data centers built out in addition to the centralized ones,” he provided. “So, the comments from Subspace that you would need a lot more data centers? Yeah, that’s absolutely the case, but that’s also absolutely where the market is going.”
He admitted that you can’t build the data centers closer to everybody and so they will most likely be placed near larger, denser locations. He also acknowledged this issue of player location brought up by Towfiq is a valid one, saying, “One of the issues with massive multiplayer games is, where are the users. If I’m in New York and I’m playing someone in London, [latency]does come into play because wherever you are on the screen, those coordinates have to be sent to the other users as fast as it can.”
So, while edge cloud does help you reduce the latency of a number of gaming factors, latency is still a challenge in a massive multiplayer online game — but there will still be significant improvement from what gamers are experiencing currently.
“And there are ways to play with this, if you’re the developer of the game,” added Lavallée. “That centralized location that processes all of the coordinates, they can do some artificial intelligence and software coding to make it fair to gamers and smooth out the latency, so that everybody [is]experiencing the same latency.”
The final aspect of this conversation to address is the reality that hardcore multiplayer gamers are not necessarily the target user for 5G and cloud gaming because most of those players don’t even use Wi-Fi when playing. Instead, they hardwire-connect directly into their residential broadband, and there is little reason to expect this to change.
“A true gamer looking to shave [off]milliseconds is probably hardwired into the internet, not over a mobile network,” explained Lavallée. “But if you’re gaming on your mobile phone, for example, you will be a little more forgiving because as soon as you hit the airwaves on Wi-Fi, performance isn’t very reliable, but cellular performance is going to be something different. It’s going to be very fast, and that guaranteed end-to-end performance is something that Wi-Fi can never give you.”
Therefore, the real question is, can 5G and edge-computing deliver a better experience for casual and mobile gamers? For Lavallée, the answer is yes, and more importantly, that is a valuable category of users made up of roughly 2.2 billion people. In fact, according to Iron Source, the global revenue from mobile gaming is expected to reach $76.7 billion by the end of 2020, which represents a 12% over 2019.
“That’s a huge market and I think that they will benefit from 5G,” Lavallée confirmed.