This week, Facebook announced the launch of cloud streaming games from Facebook Gaming. These are games that are rendered in the cloud and then streamed to your computer. Cloud-based gaming has been seen by the entire industry as a way to make games more widely accessible by making them playable on less powerful hardware. Facebook is also betting that one day they can do the same for VR.
Facebook Gaming’s new cloud streaming feature no longer supports VR today, but it’s clear the company is keeping an eye on this as part of its roadmap.
The company’s just launched cloud streaming service is not only being led by Jason Rubin, a former Oculus executive, but there is talk of VR cloud streaming at the top of the company as well.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg answered a question during Facebook’s last quarterly earnings call this week, detailing the intersection between Facebook’s cloud gaming and VR initiatives:
“In the long term, I think the VR piece will obviously come into play [our gaming strategy] also. Some of the cloud gaming things we do are going to come in handy for VR too, of course, and we’re building a huge community on Oculus. But [our cloud gaming service]… I think this will be a very exciting growth opportunity and the ability to offer a lot of innovation in the years to come, “said Zuckerberg.
Jason Rubin, the former Oculus executive who was named Facebook VP of Play, unveiled the company’s cloud gaming vision this week and kicked off with a not-so-secret shot on Google’s cloud streaming service Stadia :
We believe in the long-term future of cloud gaming, but we’re not going to try to amaze you with the wonders of our data centers, compression algorithms, resolutions, or frames per second. Streaming cloud games to the masses still has a lot to do, and it’s important to take advantage of both the benefits and the reality of the technology rather than trying to sell where it will be in the future.
Rubin also touched on the today’s reality of streaming game latency, knowing that competitive and VR games have exceptionally high latency requirements that the service is not yet ready for.
It is important that we start with latency tolerant gaming so that we can provide a good experience for players on a wide variety of devices. For the purposes of our beta, this includes genres such as sports, cards, simulation, and strategy games. This is cloud gaming after all, so even with latency tolerant gaming, gamers may experience some glitches. […]
As the beta progresses and cloud technology continues to scale, we will increase the variety of game genres. This expansion will start with action and adventure games in 2021.
Although Rubin doesn’t mention VR in the announcement for Facebook cloud games, he specifically addressed this in an interview with protocol earlier this year:
Here’s what I can tell you: Nobody relies on cloud processing to make standalone VR headsets work. We need to make them viable with the chipsets in them. In the long run, however, the cloud solves many problems by making the most effective use of processing power where it is needed. Now there are latency problems, resolution problems, frame rate problems, and tons of problems. And it’s a hell of a lot more uncomfortable having a picture right in front of your face than missing a picture on a TV that is across the room. So all of these things have to be resolved, but nobody thinks it is impossible. It’s a hypothesis that can be made, but it doesn’t come quickly. It’s very, very complicated.
Elsewhere he added, “Ultimately, we’re going to dump these processors in a server farm somewhere and stream them to your headset. And a lot of people will say, “Oh my god, this is a million years away.” It’s not a million. It’s not five. It’s somewhere in between. ”
While we don’t expect the company to roll out VR game streaming anytime soon, Facebook is actively positioning itself to offer the service later.
As the only consumer company with a full tech stack for VR cloud streaming, the strategy seems solid. While other companies like Amazon, Google, NVIDIA, and Microsoft are building their own cloud game streaming services, none of them have a standalone VR headset and an important VR ecosystem for a complete end-to-end solution.
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