On more than one occasion over the last year I have been asked by the British media about ‘cloud computing’ (CC) and implications for both players and the gaming industry. In practical terms, CC refers to software hosted and accessed online, rather than on physical hardware or servers. In essence, CC involves an external third party storing and/or hosting data and/or applications for the company using the service. Although CC is a relatively new term, the underlying idea (and arguably the technologies) has been around for some time.
In the last decade online gambling has started to take off and appears to be slowly displacing offline gambling activity. Although the numbers of people who gamble online are in a small minority, internet access has become cheap and other external factors (such as national smoking bans) are starting to impact on the offline leisure industry (including gambling).
There are of course a number of reasons why gaming companies are moving into cloud computing. Advocates of CC are almost evangelical in their praise for what it can offer companies. Many commentators refer to CC as “a game changer”. In relation to video gaming, I have even seen CC described as a “console killer” as gamers will be able to play from anywhere on any device that has internet access (such as their iPads). In this context, “cloud gaming” can stream ‘on-demand’ games to players who don’t want to buy expensive and/or bespoke hardware. For instance, the millions of Farmville players on the social networking site Facebook shows the impact of games using CC can potentially have.
Almost every article I have read typically asserts that if implemented and used correctly, CC brings a number of immediate benefits to commercial online companies to help them ‘stay ahead of the curve and the competition’ including (i) increased performance and efficiency savings, (ii) enhanced security, (iii) increased reliability, and – arguably the most important – (iv) reduced financial costs. The reduced costs primarily come from companies being able to try out new applications without having to invest in potentially expensive information technology infrastructure. Additionally, company start-up costs are likely to be lower, and the cost of using CC storage and services are likely to be cheaper than the cost of maintaining its own servers.
Gaming businesses will need to offer services in the way that customers want them. In the gambling market, the most obvious application will be when large amounts of people want to gamble or bet on a particular high profile sporting event simultaneously and/or at short notice such as a major league football final or the Kentucky Derby horse race. The other area where CC is likely to be of help in the gambling arena is for gamblers who play games in multiple media including the internet, mobile phones, and interactive television. CC allows gambling to be available 24/7 even when people are on the move. Other benefits include (i) the opportunity for social gameplay (i.e., playing along with many other gamblers), (ii) the opportunity for servers to be added on a daily basis, (iii) games can be reconfigured automatically, and (iv) services can be corrected with relative ease.
The move towards cloud computing in the gaming industry is starting to happen. In the UK, Bet 365 (a leading British online operator) adopted a cloud computing solution to reduce the latency of its core betting system as a way of improving gamblers’ experiences on its website. In layman’s terms, it speeds things up for those accessing the website and can handle large simultaneous demand. The use of CC in Bet 365’s ‘in-play’ betting system now means that gambling can increase their stake in less than two seconds and can support up to a few million gamblers concurrently.
As I noted in a previous blog, in-play betting is something that many of us in the problem gambling field are keeping an eye on because it’s taken something that has traditionally been a non-problem form of gambling (e.g., betting on a soccer match) to something that is more akin to betting on horse racing. If the reward for gambling only happens once or twice a week, it is almost impossible to become addicted. In-play has changed that because we now have soccer matches on almost every day of the week making a daily 2-hour plus period of betting seven days a week.
Successful gaming companies are likely to be those that cater for what their customers want. There appears to be a demand from gamblers for access to a much larger number of events and markets. Cloud Computing appears to provide the infrastructure for how the demand can be met – even if it is unpredictable!