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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 like Netflix and Spotify, the tech is poised to radically transform the way we play.

Cloud Gaming

(Image source: TechCrunch)

For those new to the term, cloud gaming refers to platforms that enable 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 player’s device in real-time. Cool, right?

On paper, eliminating the need to own a powerful game console or gaming PC to play the latest and greatest games seems like a logical step forward for our 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 currently experimenting with cloud gaming offerings 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 gaming in education contexts:

Affordances

High-fidelity gaming on low-cost devices

A key advantage of cloud gaming 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-demanding games can be streamed directly to modest machines like Chromebooks and iOS/Android tablets. 

These new capabilities have the potential to drastically change the types of games typically made available in education settings – while most of today’s educational games 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’s certainly possible that the learning games of tomorrow could 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-quality learning games being made available to schools and districts is quite exciting.

Improved multiplayer experiences

Another advantage offered by cloud gaming is improved multiplayer features, with Google in particular promising huge innovations for multiplayer gaming as a core focus of its Stadia platform. And this makes a lot of 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 processed internally on their own 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, allowing for synchronous play among students. It’s likely that future game-based learning mainstays will follow in Minecraft’s footsteps and similarly place much emphasis on collaborative learning – and the new capabilities offered by cloud gaming will help make the experience of cooperating with (or competing against) other players more seamless than previously possible.

Drawbacks

High-speed internet connection required

Like Netflix or Spotify, access to cloud-based games require uninterrupted access to a high-speed internet connection – meaning, for instance, those who do not have access to a minimum 10 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 each year, it’s clear that a lack of sufficient internet speeds will likely 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 discussing that cloud gaming – much like other innovative new technologies – comes at a steep cost to users, at least initially. 

It’s challenging to provide a broad overview of pricing for today’s most popular cloud gaming services due to the varying pricing models and features of each offering. Some like Microsoft have chosen to roll their cloud gaming beta into their $14.99/month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, while others like Google Stadia are free to try – with games available either à la carte or as part of their $9.99/month Stadia Pro subscription. And while these examples are far from outrageously expensive when compared to the price of a console or game-ready PC plus games, 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 costs might decline, but the cost of maintaining multiple subscription accounts will likely serve as another barrier preventing cloud gaming from becoming mainstream in today’s classrooms.

With these points in mind, do we anticipate that cloud-based gaming will be central to the future of game-based learning? Truthfully, it’s too early to tell – after all, cloud gaming is still in its infancy in the mainstream consumer market. 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 lackluster state of broadband connectivity in many U.S. schools? We want to hear from you – sound off on our Facebook and Twitter with your thoughts!


More games and learning insights from the Filament Games Blog:
Why You Should Use Unity to Build Your Next Learning Game
What Makes Great Learning Games?
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