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Gaming the future

Next-gen technologies such as AI and 5G are making gaming smarter, faster, and more inclusive. As a result, once-impossible ideas could soon become mind-blowing experiences. Three visionaries explain how.

Picture this: A gamer in Los Angeles dons a haptic-response bodysuit and activates a device on his forehead that transports him into a fully realized virtual world. He can interact with every object in this digital space and get real-time sensory feedback―sights, smells, sounds, and feeling on his skin.

He links up with other players from across the globe, while dynamic artificial intelligence crafts a unique gaming experience. The game is specifically tailored to their personalities, skill levels, interests, and fears—it's unlike anything they've seen before.

As they compete, thousands of fans in packed stadiums cheer them on. Many of these spectators are wearing haptic-response VR gear themselves, so they can truly experience what's happening on the playing field.

This scenario may seem far-fetched, but it could soon be reality. We are at the dawn of a new age of gaming, one that could usher in experiences that stretch the limits of the imagination and bring seemingly impossible ideas to life. The immersive, haptic-feedback, real-time, edge-synthesized, immersive experience gamers could use for entertainment is the same one that's needed in augmented neurosurgical operating theaters or the hot zone of an Ebola outbreak or to deal with the ionizing radiation and hard vacuum of space.

Gaming is becoming more powerful, more personalized, and more portable. Advanced virtual and augmented reality will soon make it more immersive than ever. Competitive e-sports will continue to gain popularity, reaching an estimated 557 million viewers and $1.7 billion in revenue by 2021. And with prize pools in excess of $100 million for the leading tournaments, a top-ranked e-sports competitor could soon earn more than the highest paid stars in professional basketball and football.

 

Gameplay has a unique set of demands. It needs latency so low that it can synthesize a whole world, frame by frame in HD, faster than human cognition time. That may require super-efficient compute from gamer to cloud and back to gamer, as well as a network and efficient code to make it happen. That virtual world needs to be so compelling in detail and so realistic in experience that there is no barrier to being lost in the story, and that requires massive data resources that move quickly.

Finally, people demand that their experiences first be personalized, localized in time, space, and language, and then memorialized, shared, and treasured. It's not just about the resources required to create an endless variety of worlds; it's about the resources to record, replay, and relive meaningful experiences in those worlds. Content distribution has data that flows one way, from the cloud to the edge. But gaming has time-critical and huge-volume data flowing in both directions, as well as rich topologies of individual players and spectators.

What is fueling these advances? These gaming innovations are closely tied to emerging technologies such as 5G, AI, and high-performance computing (HPC). The growth of these technologies and the growth of gaming will go hand in hand, helping to advance the way people live, work, and play.

VR-enabled multiplayer games will depend on fast data and real-time analytics. Intelligent data enables those capabilities and could allow nearly anyone around the world to play—or even build—those immersive games on almost any device. Wireless connections providing bidirectional high-bandwidth, ultra-low-latency access to computing power and data is the key to crafting such immersive experiences. But that will require different technologies and different physics for different physical environments―Wi-Fi 6 for indoor environments, stadiums, and arenas, and 5G for open-air and metropolitan settings.

It will also depend on how seamlessly security and authentication can be woven together. When running through an augmented reality landscape game that is fusing physical and virtual worlds and synthesizing multiple sensory experiences in real time, you never want to hit a boundary because of an authentication error, and you want to make sure you're sharing this experience with just your network so you can always stay in the zone of peak performance.

Global technology leader Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has the technology to enable this next level of gaming.

"We're now able to deliver these incredibly evocative gaming experiences with an incredible depth of information that can be marshaled to any one spot in space and time for every individual," says Kirk Bresniker, chief architect and HPE fellow at Hewlett Packard Labs. "If you look at how consuming, how enthralling these games are, you see that society is close to developing the ultimate entertainment platform."

We spoke with three gaming visionaries about the future of technology and how new digital experiences will impact the real world. These experts shared their ideas for how this exciting new age could unfold.

Asher Kagan, The Connector

Asher Kagan is chief executive of Blade Group, a start-up that's working on one of the biggest initiatives in the gaming business: the race to launch streaming game subscription services. The goal is to allow subscribers to play thousands of cloud-based games on laptops or mobile devices for a modest fee. But some nagging questions remain: Do enough people have the bandwidth to stream immersive games? And can any single service carry enough games to justify the subscription?

Kagan claims to have leapfrogged these problems. Blade Group's Shadow platform provides subscribers with their own high-end virtual Windows gaming PC located in the company's data centers. Users can download any game they want onto the PC and access it on nearly any device.

Shadow has developed an AI-driven algorithm that optimizes each user's game quality based on their individual Internet connection. It can work in most homes without the need for new Internet infrastructure, Kagan says. But he's still excited about the potential for the rollout of a nationwide 5G network that will coexist with much-improved Wi-Fi 6, which is set to be a true game changer. Wi-Fi 6 will nearly triple the theoretical maximum speed of a wireless connection to an upper limit of 9.6 Gbps and help optimize bandwidth usage on networks with dozens of devices connected simultaneously.

Moreover, 5G technology facilitates the movement of bandwidth-hogging gameplay to the edge of the network―that is, to servers closer to the players―further reducing the lag that can hinder play. It also optimizes network traffic so the network can handle more tasks at once.

Today, the latest advances make it affordable to position data in close proximity to those who have expressed demand for it. This is based on speculation about how long to retain cached data in a place where there is proven prior demand or, occasionally, when it's known that something big is going to drop.

"We're now generating so much information that within the next several years, much of it will never make it to anything we'd call a data center," says HPE's Bresniker. "We need to understand how we will capitalize on all that information out in tens of billions of mobile devices and smart things in near real time to not only educate us but also to entertain us. We're seeing the first heartbeats of that with games driven from the interaction of people in spaces that are connected and amplified by the technologies around them. Tomorrow's games will be deeply personal, insanely evocative, and hyper-localized. All of that will be driven at the edge."

Virtual reality users currently have to wrestle with cords, bulky headsets, and lag that can prompt nausea. By reducing lag and increasing bandwidth, 5G could enable wireless streaming of cloud-based VR, which would open the door to an array of new experiences. Apart from more immersive gaming, it could enable more effective VR-based training for doctors, teachers, and law enforcement professionals. This shift could be a major leap forward for making the world a better place.

Rami Ismail, The Globalizer

Ask Rami Ismail about some of his favorite games over the past few years, and you'll hear some surprising answers. He lists an Iranian puzzler featuring innovative mechanics and Persian carpet-rolling action; a Polish game inspired by the siege of Sarajevo, in which players aren't soldiers but civilians fighting to survive; and an atmospheric game based on an indigenous Alaskan folktale.

"People are making games inspired by their own culture and for their own markets," says Ismail. "That is going to make gaming so much richer."

Invited to speak to game developers around the world after creating his indie smash "Ridiculous Fishing," Ismail discovered "a world of inspiration." Throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, he's watched enthusiasts start small gaming studios and schools launch gaming programs. They're determined to make games despite frequent blackouts, spotty Internet connections, and other obstacles. "A lot of people in gaming in these emerging territories are banding together to achieve something," he says.

Co-founder of Netherlands-based studio Vlambeer, Ismail is the organizer of Gamedev.world, billed as the world's first truly global gaming conference. All its talks are closed captioned and translated into eight languages. Ismail knows what it's like to feel excluded. Growing up, he couldn't program games properly until he learned English fluently. However, gaming has an incredible reach outside the bounds of the English-speaking world. The fastest growing markets for video games are in Asia, with $71.4 billion in annual revenue, and Latin America, which generates $5 billion in annual revenue. China alone represents 28 percent of all consumer spending on games.

Ismail is encouraged by new distribution platforms and tech tools that are democratizing game development, such as digital streaming systems, virtual design toolkits, and open-access coding.

In the meantime, he's sending development kits to coders in emerging countries to help them get started. "There's a passion around the world to make games, and you can't put a barrier around it. I want to make sure that no matter where or who you are, if you want to make games, there's a future for you in this industry."

Amy Jo Kim, The Do-Gooder

Gaming has the power to transform virtually every field of human endeavor, says Amy Jo Kim. Kim isn't talking about gamification, which frequently devolves into tacking a point system onto routine activities. She's talking about how game design can help humanity move toward making the world a better place—for everyone.

Kim, who has a doctorate in behavioral science, has done systems design for several blockbuster games. The most successful games, she says, guide players through choices and challenges on a "journey toward mastery." A good game helps players achieve a state of "flow" that can make skill acquisition fun. She calls this game thinking.

As technologies such as 5G, Wi-Fi 6, and AI evolve, games can move people toward action in an entertaining way. Customers reveal useful insights about their needs and preferences while playing "games," Kim notes. "Cloud-based technology enables the analysis of very large datasets that can grow smarter over time," she says. Companies can use the data to increase personalization and improve the player experience. By sharpening employees' skills and expanding their creative capabilities, these data-driven experiences can lead to breakthroughs in fields as diverse as healthcare, science, education, and finance.

Game thinking can also bring people together in socially constructive ways, notes Kim, whose specialty is in cooperative gaming. "It's a way to engage people over time and to help them collaborate in something larger than themselves," she says. That can mean organizing communities around philanthropic efforts, creating common ground to peacefully resolve long-standing conflicts, and helping experts from seemingly disparate fields work together in solving a problem.

We do, however, need to be mindful of how these technologies are used.

"These technologies can create amazingly evocative experiences, but now we have to consider whether we're approaching them in a responsible, ethical way," says HPE's Bresniker says. "Are we using them to nurture the best versions of ourselves and not to reinforce the worst parts? We're at a tipping point where this technology can affect a person, an individual enterprise, or even a nation."

The industry is already making concerted efforts to focus on ethics in gaming, with designers discussing ways to reduce violence and addiction, while supporting developers' and consumers' access to freedom of speech.

How data intelligence is changing the game

Three ways AI-driven storage will revolutionize video games:

  • Vastly improved portability, allowing players to access their games from anywhere, on any device. The number of mobile gamers in the U.S. alone is expected to climb nearly 10 percent, reaching 192 million players by 2020.
  • Dramatically increased speed and performance of data-heavy open-world games, opening up major opportunities for virtual reality. An estimated 500 million VR headsets will be sold by 2025.
  • Dynamic gaming experiences, crafted by AI-derived insights, that understand and react to unique player needs. In fact, 41 percent of consumers believe AI will improve their lives.

While the speed to move data is important, data location is also imperative for the experience. Intelligent storage means the right datasets are always positioned at the right point between any edge and every cloud so that the user is fully immersed in the augmented intersection of the real and physical worlds. Any glitch due to buffering or loading and the experience is lost, but moving bytes has real-world consequences in terms of energy and costs. And there is exponentially more data created than we can afford to speculatively move, so it has to reliably anticipate the actions of each individual user.

The evolution of data storage in gaming

Data storage in video games has evolved immensely in the past few decades. This timeline shows how it has changed from the 1970s to today.

1970s – 1986: Pen, paper, passwords

In the early days, video game developers were stuck with read-only memory (ROM), which prevented new data from being added or stored on a game. So, how did players make progress? They had to write down passwords in a notebook to access specific levels.

1987 – 1995: When the cartridge was king

The first big leap came with battery-backed cartridges―units with small, built-in batteries that tricked the games into thinking they were always on. This enabled them to store data ranging in size from 512 KB to 4 MB. However, their hard plastic shells were bulky, and the size of the game data itself was very limited.

1996 – 2002: Remembering the memory card

The advent of CD-ROMs introduced storage capacity several hundred times larger than those of cartridges, but CDs themselves were incapable of storing player progress. The solution? Portable RAM in the form of memory cards containing up to 8 MB of data. These could be plugged into multiple systems—or lost to a gamer's heartbreak.

2003 – 2012: Hard drives lend a hand

As video games became larger and more sophisticated, so did their data storage needs. To meet those needs, a new generation of consoles emerged with built-in mechanical hard drives storing between 4 GB and 40 GB of data. However, this data wasn't portable, and the hardware itself often proved bulky or vulnerable to damage.

2013 – 2018: Ascending to the cloud

Improvements in Internet connectivity and lower latency have enabled the current generation of video game systems to combine larger, 500 GB to 1 TB hard drives with cloud-based storage for saved game data. Thanks to the cloud, progress is portable once more.

2019 – 2020: Intelligent data platform

AI-driven storage that is built with intelligence ensures that data is always on and always fast. Rather than having to download and store enormous files on a hard drive, these advances allow entire games to be stored and streamed from the cloud. This enables seamless, go-anywhere gaming, untethered from any discrete physical system.

2021 and Beyond: The e-sports explosion

In e-sports, AI coaching enables prediction of game outcomes, allowing competitors to simulate multiple strategies to train against dynamic, always-learning computer opponents. As e-sports viewership balloons in the billions, top competitors start to earn more than their counterparts in traditional sports, and fans now don their own VR suits to experience the competitions firsthand.

The e-sports arena of the future

New tech advances like 5G, high-performance computing, and intelligent data platforms are bringing competitive gaming to a bigger audience than ever before.

From the POV of an e-sports competitor sitting at a PC, looking out onto a crowded arena, we see transparent lines (representing data) streaming out from their computer.

  • Hotspot on the PC screen or tower: High-performance computing is making powerful CPU and GPU capabilities that were once available only to the largest companies accessible to nearly everyone. That means games will be faster and smoother, and able to be played in full VR.
  • Hotspot on the crowd: 5G networks are reducing latency and increasing connection speeds. This will make streaming competitive gaming easier and faster, with audience members able to participate seamlessly in real time and on nearly any device.
  • Hotspot on the illustrated lines of data streaming from the PC: Thanks to AI-driven storage solutions, e-sports competitors will be able to replay matches live, take their competitions on the go, and allow fans to upload and simulate the same matches themselves, bringing everyone directly into the action.
  • Hotspot on the arena stage: Competitive gaming has made a 360-degree turn, moving from physical to virtual and back to physical events again in the modern, cutting-edge e-sports arenas where today's tournaments are held.

Gaming for good

It may be surprising that a seemingly trivial use case like gaming can drive societal benefits. Yet gaming technology is already being used to help the disabled and tackle major diseases. Examples include a university-based mainframe project that is crowdsourcing gaming data to assist with cancer research, a game designed by medical researchers that is helping to unlock the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme, and an entire series of games that has been built to help autistic children, offering a literal lifeline to those in need.

In other words, innovations in gaming affect much more than just entertainment—they ripple outward into homes, businesses, and communities. Groundbreaking technologies, from intelligent data to 5G to high-performance computing, are dramatically changing the way people interact with each other and the world around them.

As with any new wave of tech solutions, the potential for change inevitably leads to the question: What sort of real and virtual world do we want to create?

We'll learn the answer to that question very soon.

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This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.