Interactive digital media distribution

For a long time I resisted backing up my data online, but I now use Dropbox for most of my documents, my email all comes though gmail and I’m trying out Live Mesh. The online future seems increasingly “Cloud”y – but then we are used to clouds Northern Ireland.

Over the past month a lot of my thoughts have been directed to streaming/down-loadable/online interactive digital media technologies. The most recent development is the announcement of work towards 3D browsing and allowing Javascript to hook into OpenGL ES. Companies are increasingly looking at streaming/down-loadable content for applications. In the games sector it is seen to be important to secure digital media against piracy and to build a stable revenue stream. STEAM, console DLC and the casual game market (e.g. Flash games) demonstrate that people are interested in downloading digital interactive media. Are we ready for streaming game content (or server based games) using a system such as Onlive or Gaikai? Advocates of this approach argue that it would stabilize the potentially destructive nature of the console upgrade cycle. If processing is primarily being done on the server side then games such as World of Warcraft could potentially be played on many different clients, e.g. iPhone, TV, computer. Hardware could be more easily and more regularly upgraded on the server. This approach is also popular with developers who see the 2nd hand market in retail shops as stifling creativity and revenue within the industry.

Developments with server-side game processing is an exciting prospect but I think we are some way off streaming triple-A graphics quality games to the masses. Server technology already supports the approach but the network infrastructure is not fast enough nor does the internet, in general, have the consistency and reliability required. Edge magazine carried a discussion with four top UK game designers this month in their 200th issue and one of the predictions for the future from the group was the increase in server-side game processing. It seems that this technology service has a future but I’m not sure how widely it will be adopted/pushed by the major games companies. Sony, Apple and Microsoft’s approach to date has been about putting a hi-tech device (entertainment hub!) into a user’s living room or pocket. Platforms such as Second Life and Metaplace demonstrate the state-of-the-art for streaming interactive digital media. For now these are low resolution graphic platforms with a key emphasis on social networking as opposed to high speed interactive entertainment.