3 screens, 1 cloud

3 screens, 1 cloud

By Billy Thomson

November 22nd 2010 at 9:35AM

Ruffian Games' Billy Thomson looks at cloud gaming and the future

Any first party game developer working with one of the current console manufacturers will know that this partnership comes with some massive benefits. However, they will also know that along with these advantages they are also expected to make sure that their game commits to as many of the publisher’s first party strategic goals as possible as it tries to ensure they lead the way in the console war.

That’s something evident since our publisher Microsoft Games Studios has implemented the ‘three screens and the cloud’ strategy that was unveiled to the public back in 2009. The three screens are the TV, the PC and the mobile device or smart phone, while the cloud represents data stored online. Microsoft announced that they envisioned a future where any Windows device would create a persistent, shared, connected experience allowing people access to their personal data, information, and services across all three screens and the cloud.

Head in the Clouds?

For Microsoft this strategy is not aimed directly at games, the goal is to connect each of the screens and the cloud in as many different ways as possible, harnessing the full spectrum of entertainment mediums. As a consumer it’s clear to see how Microsoft are utilising each of the screens and the cloud from a high level, but what about the specific focus required to make a game cross each divide and present a truly persistent, shared, connected, and valuable experience for the player on every screen? How do we make sure that wherever the player is, that they can access their favourite game in some meaningful way that doesn’t feel like a cheap gimmick?

First of all we focus on the TV, as it’s the one we know the best, all you have to do to consider this one ticked off your list is to make a high quality game that is playable solo as well as multiplayer over Xbox Live. Obviously this game must be adored by the critics and public causing it sell gazillions. Easy. So, now that’s done, what do we do with the rest?

The best connection to the PC is to port your Xbox 360 game across and have it connect to the Xbox 360 game via the Xbox Live/Windows Live integration. This will allow your players to be connected and have a Live shared gameplay experience. This is a great connection between the screens, but the dedication to the PC shouldn’t end there, we still have the social networking phenomena that is Facebook to utilise.

Facebook gives a developer a few options; they can create completely standalone games that only connect to the 360 game by unlocking content between both games, which is a method Microsoft used with their Chuck’s Ducks game that unlocked content in Crackdown 2 when a global game objective had been completed. Or they can create a game that is seamlessly integrated into the 360 game’s universe, which is my preferred option and admittedly far more difficult yet undoubtedly a more compelling proposition for the player. As well as games you also have the ability to create a dedicated Facebook page. Simple, yet incredibly powerful if used properly as it allows you to keep the players interested for a longer period than they normally would be in a game.

Getting smart

While the smart phone is listed as a different screen I find it difficult to separate it from the PC due to the fact that most smart phones have the power and internet connectivity to do everything the PC can do short of porting the full 360 game.

The one advantage that the phone has is that it comes with you everywhere you go – which means that the possibility of having a fully integrated smart phone game that will somehow ease your progress in the 360 game would likely be played at every opportunity, making it a truly valuable addition to the three screens.

The cloud isn’t getting that much attention right now, but it is likely the area with the most potential of all as it allows the developer to keep the data from all these different games and apps in perfect sync and stored online making it theoretically possible to seamlessly move from one game or app to another on a different screen and continue from where you left off.

I don’t know of any game that is delivering on all three screens and the cloud in this way yet, but I would guess there are quite a few being quietly developed around the world right now.