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Cloud Gaming in the Classroom – What Educators Need to Know

Filament Games | Educational Game Developer

Ready or not, cloud gaming is coming – and just like the introduction of comparable media streaming services Netflix and Spotify, the tech is poised to radically transform the gaming industry as we know it.

Cloud Gaming

(Image source: TechCrunch)

For those new to the term, cloud gaming refers to a service that allows users to play games via a remote server rather than their local machine – that is, rather than installing a game directly to a console or computer prior to playing, the game itself is streamed via the internet to the device in real-time. Cool, right?

On paper, eliminating the need for users to own a powerful game console or gaming PC to play the latest and greatest games seems like a logical step forward for the industry – allowing for seamless, Netflix-like gaming experiences accessible anytime, anywhere (assuming the user is within range of a high-speed internet connection, of course). And it seems nearly all the big games industry players have caught on to the hype – with titans like Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Amazon, Google, and more all in the midst of developing cloud-based game streaming platforms of their own.

Early examples of cloud gaming at play have shown promising results – but how will these new services impact the future of games for education? To answer this, let’s examine a few of the major pros and cons of cloud-based game-based learning:

Affordances

High-Fidelity Gaming On Low-Cost Devices

A key advantage of cloud gaming over traditional gaming setups is the ability to play virtually any game on any hardware (per the specifications of each cloud gaming service, of course) – meaning that modern, graphically intensive games can be streamed directly to modest machines like tablets and Chromebooks. The ramifications of this new capability could drastically change the types of games typically made available to K-12 classrooms – while most games designed for education today are designed with low-spec devices in mind, future learning games streamed via the cloud will no longer need to be developed specifically for these devices. Cloud gaming has the potential to offer classrooms fully-realized, powerful learning games featuring expansive worlds and detailed 3-D visuals – without the need to purchase high-powered gaming PCs and other expensive devices. With developers no longer constrained by the limitations of low-spec devices, it is certainly possible that the learning games of tomorrow will share similar visuals to the cutting-edge commercial games of today – and as a studio that exclusively creates games for education and impact, the prospect of console-like games being made available in schools and districts is very exciting.

Improved Multiplayer Gaming Experiences

Another benefit offered by cloud gaming services is enhanced multiplayer capabilities, with Google in particular promising huge innovations for multiplayer gaming arriving alongside the release of its Stadia cloud gaming platform. And this makes perfect sense – after all, Stadia’s reliance on Google’s servers ensures that the company is in complete control of every aspect of the online experience as all instances of a game are being processed on its servers. In addition to helping learners develop key social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, one of the key factors behind the widespread adoption of Minecraft: Education Edition in K-12 classrooms is the inclusion of multiplayer features, allowing for synchronous play among students. It’s likely that future game-based learning megahits will follow in Minecraft’s footsteps and similarly feature multiplayer features – and the new capabilities offered by cloud gaming will help make the experience of cooperating with (or competing against) others more seamless than ever before.

Drawbacks

High-Speed Internet Connection Required

Like Netflix or Spotify, access to games streamed via the cloud requires uninterrupted access high-speed internet connection – meaning, for instance, those who do not have access to a minimum 25 megabits per second internet connection (per user) will be unable to access games using services like Google Stadia. While this may not pose much of an issue for non-institutional users, research shows that a mere 69% of U.S. school IT administrators identify themselves as “very confident” in their wireless connection’s ability to support a minimum one device per student. While high-speed broadband access continues to expand to more classrooms and districts each year, it’s clear that a lack of sufficient internet speeds will be cloud gaming’s biggest hurdle as it attempts to break into K-12 classroom settings.

Cloud Gaming Comes At A Cost

Finally, it’s worth nothing that cloud gaming – much like other innovative new technologies – will likely come at a steep cost, at least at first. While promising upcoming services like Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud have yet to reveal their pricing schemas, early examples of services such as Playstation Now and Shadow Ghost each cost roughly $20-$35/month per user for unlimited game streaming – not outrageously expensive when compared to the price of a console or game-ready PC plus games, however one must consider how dramatically more expensive these subscriptions would become when scaled to a class of 30 students (let alone a school of hundreds or thousands of users). Over time it’s possible that these subscription costs might decline, but the cost of maintaining dozens of subscription accounts will likely serve as another huge barrier preventing cloud gaming from becoming mainstream in today’s classrooms.

So…with these points in mind, do we believe cloud-based gaming is central to the future of game-based learning? Truthfully, it’s too early to tell – after all, game streaming has yet to hit the mainstream consumer market, let alone widespread K-12 classroom and district adoption. Yet it’s undeniable that cloud gaming – if implemented in a cost-effective and user-friendly way – has the potential to dramatically shift current gaming paradigms in the consumer space, which would undoubtedly have a ripple effect down into the learning games of tomorrow.

That’s all from us for now – but the conversation isn’t over yet! What do you think – will cloud gaming prove to be an instrumental innovation for game-based learning-friendly classrooms? Or is the tech simply a passing fad, given the “primitive” state of broadband connectivity? We want to hear from you – sound off on our Facebook and Twitter with your perspective!


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