There are some things we can’t imagine anymore, such as renting a movie at a store, driving it home and then consuming it. Innovations like Netflix, Spotify & Co. were less a result of consumer complaints, than of brilliant technical advancements opening new business models. And consumers happily adopted it! 

Today, gamers are conditioned to schedule downloads enduring hours of wait. To be fair, the main reason is -or better was- lack of technology allowing instant access to games, which is the only reason for why there are so few complaints.

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In March, an independent firm asked over 2000 gamers if they could suspend disbelief, and imagine starting to play games while downloading with almost zero wait. In addition, they interviewed 11 industry experts, many hailing from today’s biggest game publishers about the impact of such a paradigm shift. 

Gamer Survey Results

Presented with the option that instant access to games would be possible, the answers are almost self-evident:

Click here to view the slideshare of FastStart Market Assessment Gamer Survey Results or message me to get the full Market Study.

Expert Consensus

FastStart is likely to become the standard for digital game delivery based on its value in driving subscription experiences, increasing conversion, and modernizing aging game delivery infrastructure without the pitfalls of heavy investments into building and operating cloud gaming solutions.  

“The benefit to the end-user is undeniable, and still, most providers do not have a proprietary solution. Once a single provider includes a similar solution, it will likely become the market standard to offer Fast-Start.” Chief Business Officer, Fast Game Start Industry Expert Survey Participant 2022.

About ROCKITPLAY FastStart

ROCKITPLAY FastStart is the only aftermarket solution able to bring instant access to any game and cut patching costs by up to 50% – and it is available today. No source code changes or developer support needed.

Reach out and together, we can stand up a test instance on your infrastructure in just a couple of days, making it easy to test FastStart with your games and to evaluate the financial top-line and bottom-line benefits. 

Remember Blockbuster? The game stores of the future will make today’s game stores look like Blockbuster – we will miss the nostalgia but we won’t go back. Gamers are frustrated – games are getting bigger and game delivery, account access, and financial transactions are more complicated and time consuming than ever. Just like Netflix pioneered easy, instant, click-to-play access to movies, soon we will have instant access to games. Infrastructures will operate more efficiently and affordably so more value can be delivered to gamers and developers. How? Through technology that reduces friction to play and enables game stores to reduce costs and lighten their global impact.

Gamers hate waiting! Gamers are blowing their top over long download times, large patches and login procedures. This is a solvable problem. Today, cloud gaming offers instant access, but with lower quality graphics, higher latency, at significantly higher prices than traditional game downloads. Gamers are not willing to take one step forward and two steps back. Games need to start faster, without sacrificing gameplay.

DACSLABS developed ROCKITPLAY using machine learning to deliver games that start almost instantly, with as little as 1% downloaded and reducing patch sizes and therefore delivery costs by 50%. Today, we are the only company that offers this technology, ready to scale as a cloud or licensed service. In September, Valve shared that they are working on a game delivery system that starts games more quickly. Speeding up game delivery and patching is absolutely critical to provide a better experience, and it is now apparent that the rollout of fast start solutions is inevitable. 

A Lower Carbon Footprint

Today, game downloads in the US are already responsible for up to 10% internet traffic. Game stores are expected  to address the massive carbon footprint of gaming. Based on our block-patcher data, we estimate that patches contain over 50% redundant data. Every redundant byte delivered is an opportunity to save bandwidth, reduce friction for gamers, and increase profits for game stores and publishers. Unlike cloud streaming, ROCKITPLAY  actually uses less bandwidth and reduces the carbon impact of gaming.

From Fair Share Publishing to Shop in Shop

The game store of the future might be an un-store, a direct to consumer publishing engine that helps publishers build direct relationships with consumers. Today game publishers pay up to 40% of revenue to game stores. A solution that enables a low cost, easy to manage game distribution infrastructure would enable direct to consumer game publishing, and allow alternative game stores to differentiate and create value. 

Ownership and Transferability as a Service

Game stores of tomorrow will remove barriers between games, social spaces, and stores. Free-to-Play and subscription services can provide gamers with flexibility like the ability to buy virtual goods in one game and move it to other games, trade or share on social media. Users may want to resell games. Instant access will move game logistics out of the way, so stores can focus on games and the user’s experience across games. 

Ready for the Future

At DACSLABS we are on a mission to power game stores of the future. ROCKITPLAY is available today, and yes you can try it out. You don’t need to take our word for it – let’s ask your gamers! Setup is easy (click for video) and, for a limited time, completely free. Just email me at frank@dacslabs.com or reach out here on LinkedIn.

Lets Eliminate Download Dropouts & Reduce Game Delivery Costs by 50%, And Sell Direct to Gamers

Gamers love to play, but they hate waiting for downloads or patches to complete before playing. Today’s games are bigger than ever, and downloads can take hours. Free-to-play games only generate revenue after a gamer starts to play, so getting players into the game – fast – is absolutely critical. 

At DACSLABS we are on a mission to eliminate friction to play using our advanced application FastStart technology which delivers only the data needed to start play or patch a game. Gamers can play in seconds and while downloading. ROCKITPLAY runs on your existing infrastructure and helps gamers start play with as little as 1% downloaded, virtually eliminating download dropout for PC free-to-play titles. And it reduces data required to deliver game patches by an average of 50%, saving costs and bandwidth.

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For each 1,000,000 installs, we estimate about $750,000 in value with an estimated 20% increase in revenues from eliminating download dropouts, 60% cost savings for delivering only the portion of the game actually played, and 50% cost savings on bandwidth for game patches over the games lifecycle.

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ROCKITPLAY Fast Start eliminates long download wait times – driving revenues and lowering the average user acquisition cost. Together, we can stand up a test instance on your infrastructure in just a couple days, making it easy to test FastStart with your games and to evaluate the financial benefits of lower bandwidth costs and convert more gamers into customers. 

Getting players into the game or game demo fast can be critical to making a paid or free-to-play title a success. Friction to play is the common term used to describe the problem of long download times and other obstacles to getting users playing. Earlier this month, DACSLABS tested ROCKITPLAY ( www.rockitplay.com ) – its groundbreaking FastStart Cloud Engine, delivering THQ Nordic’s playable teaser Gothic together with the game test platform Antidote with users worldwide. With ROCKITPLAY, gamers can start a game with as little as 1% of the game downloaded, virtually eliminating friction-to-play. The findings were stunning – over 90% of participating gamers were very satisfied with ROCKITPLAY FastStart and would like to see a feature like FastStart implemented in their favorite game store. In addition, 76% shared they would rather buy a game with FastStart implemented than the same game without it. And 77% confirmed, they would try MORE games if these were available with FastStart. 

“Antidote has proven that community feedback can provide valuable input for emerging game titles,” said Aleix Canals, CEO of Sekg. “Emerging technologies like ROCKITPLAY in combination with Antidote create exciting opportunities to lower friction-to-play for game evaluation on Antidote and ultimately game distribution.”

The Gothic playable teaser packs the full game experience with only a fraction of the game content, a challenge that would stump most pre-load technologies. Yet with ROCKITPLAY, gamers only had to download 1.7GB @ 200Mbit/s or 3.6GB @100Mbit/s of the total 10.4GB teaser to start gameplay. ROCKITPLAY employs machine-learning from real gameplay to always deliver just enough content to start a game as fast as possible. In addition, smart pre-fetching retrieves any missing game data on-the-fly over the network, so that gamers can enjoy uninterrupted, full native gameplay while the download continues.

This demonstration is a major milestone for FastStart technology, and shows how ROCKITPLAY FastStart can support AAA titles with any scale of game distribution. The technology can be employed on any game with no code changes, even game demos that would be challenging for any pre-load approach. ROCKITPLAY FastStart helps game stores differentiate themselves, converting their entire library into a click-to-play experience. The solution can also aid F2P publishers by eliminating download dropouts, driving revenues and lowering the average user acquisition cost. Emerging cloud gaming services can offer a local play option so gamers can play anywhere, anytime.

MCV/DEVELOP has featured the full press release online and you can read a news feature (in German) at Gamesmarkt

Cloud Gaming Challenges

Cloud gaming has had growing pains, and now more than ever we believe that cloud streaming will not take off without a local play option. So far, cloud gaming services have struggled to offer the right combination of value and pricing. 

Providers are facing steep upfront investments into a cloud game server infrastructure, porting games, and offering exclusive content. They must serve games in a constant data stream at preferably higher bandwidth speeds. Consumers are expected to pay adequate compensation and need to show up with sufficient bandwidth, carefully managing data caps and service costs. According to FairInternetReport, in 2020 only 10% of homes in the US and Europe met the minimum bandwidth requirement for Google’s Stadia Pro (35 Mbps). But even if the minimum bandwidth required is available, there are more obstacles to a great gaming experience: Video quality, latency, and bandwidth – all three are locked in an unbreakable relationship. 

A Local Play Option for Cloud Gaming

ROCKITPLAY FastStart technology overcomes cloud gaming’s obstacles to deliver native video quality, low latency and minimum bandwidth by maintaining local play and delivering an uncompromised, high resolution gaming experience. The network requirements of cloud gaming aren’t going away. Combining emerging cloud gaming services with ROCKITPLAY FastStart can help emerging games-as-a-service solutions to get traction. 

FastStart-as-a-Service

Below is a review of recent industry events that seem to pop up almost daily supporting the potential for FastStart to work together with cloud streaming, delivering local play so gamers can play anywhere, anytime. 

EA: The company’s recent patent filing confirms the value of bringing instant access to games. “Due to the size of the video games, the installation process can be quite time consuming,” reads the EA patent description. “The size of games, in some instances, can be over 100 GBs of data to download over a network, which may take many hours to complete. This download process can be quite frustrating if a user is interested in playing a new game with friends or has a limited amount of time to play the game.”

Microsoft: Microsoft FastStart was the first announcement by a major game platform to bring hope to gamers to cut down frustrating waiting times by introducing a fast start option on selected Xbox games: ”Fast is good. FastStart will use machine learning to let you jump into your games twice as fast.”  

Google Stadia: A recent Bloomberg report has provided great insight into the extent of Google’s investment in third-party content for Stadia. According to sources, Google spent “tens of millions of dollars” to encourage major publishers like Ubisoft and Take-Two Interactive to bring their biggest games to the cloud gaming service. Google spent millions on Stadia ports, including a reported $20M for Ubisoft games.

Amazon Luna: Similar to Stadia, Amazon is dependent on strong third party content. In addition, the streaming quality is currently limited to HD, while games are being developed for 4k and even 8k resolutions. However, streaming services are also impacted by consumers’ data caps. “As reliable as the service is, the dream of an all-streaming future can turn into a nightmare when you consider the realities of the world we live in. Namely, millions of people are subject to data caps by their ISP, and Amazon Luna is an absolute vampire of data.”, reflects Destructoid in their recent article “Amazon Luna is a stunning example of why data caps suck.”

If you are new to our blog series “Cloud Gaming Will Not Take Off Without Local Play” be sure to read the first three blogs, Ownership as a ServicePlay Without Limitations, and Lessons From Streaming Entertainment. To read more about the cost of operating cloud gaming services, check out “The Cost of Cloud Gaming: Services May Need to Charge $30 per Month Just to Break Even.

The broad industry consensus is that cloud gaming is not ready for prime time, it’s over hyped, and gamers have shown such resistance in 2020 to streaming that there is no way 2021 is the breakout year. The three major obstacles to cloud gaming are latency, libraries, and local play. Latency is still too high and game libraries are too thin to meet gamers’ expectations and to get these services off the ground. 

Although I concur with the consensus, I do believe that cloud gaming is about to take off – and here is why. Technical hurdles will be overcome and content libraries will improve. The vast growth of the video games industry attracts new players and services, just like Google Stadia. Competition is fierce, putting pressure on value-for-money. But I also believe that without offline, local play, gamers will largely reject streaming. Users need to be reassured that a game service doesn’t just simulate ownership – it actually delivers the best of game ownership and instant access to a vast game library. I call this Ownership as a Service.

Game Ownership as a Service

Ownership and local play are essential to gamers. Game ownership is a feeling, and it’s real and it’s complicated. Streaming as a service requires gamers to accept a EULA eroding and potentially denying them pride of ownership. Like a great card collection, a user’s game library is the ultimate game badge, a coveted achievement for which they are willing to pay real dollars.

Cloud Gaming Won’t Take off Without Local Play

Today gamers embrace digital download over physical discs because it’s more convenient and efficient. The moment the installation was at least as fast via download as from a physical disc, gamers only had to overcome the nostalgia of their bookshelf collectibles. So in this light, bundling local play and streaming into one service, gamers keep what they love (including their modded, custom tailored hardware) but are becoming early subscribers to a new era. To ease the pain from letting go of beloved boxes, game stores are offering curated libraries for collectors who clung onto their bookshelves. Similar to the shift from disc to download, offline play is the perfect bridge to kick-start cloud gaming. This could improve a user’s sense that the EULA they are being offered is something BETTER than today’s ownership. And offering a better and differentiated service is the critical prerequisite to takeoff. 

The Best of Both Worlds

ROCKITPLAY FastStart technology bridges the gap between the local play / ownership paradigm and the cloud / subscription paradigm. Instead of persuading gamers to let go of their hand crafted high performance PCs, ROCKITPLAY delivers instant-like access to downloadable content, honors ownership and let’s gamers keep their uncompromised local, native play they enjoy today.

ROCKITPLAY is SaaS for digital stores and publishers that easily converts any game or game library into a click-to-play experience. With ROCKITPLAY, a game can start with as little as 1% downloaded while the rest continues to download in the background. It also reduces patch size by 20% to over 50%, creating lightning fast updates. 

Cloud gaming is new technology struggling to distinguish itself.

To differentiate themselves, cloud gaming services can offer 4K resolution, but delivering modern games at the best resolution is challenging. Streaming a game at 4K requires 3 times the bandwidth of HD resolutions and a stable internet connection of 35 Mbps or more. In 2020 only 10% of homes in the US and Europe met the minimum bandwidth requirement. Gamers need to show up with plenty of bandwidth and a fast, low latency network to play games on a cloud gaming service like Google’s Stadia or Amazon’s Luna. These requirements automatically create challenges for any cloud gaming service to grow at scale. 

But even if a gamer has the minimum bandwidth required, there are more obstacles to a great gaming experience: Video quality, latency, and bandwidth. All three are locked in an unbreakable relationship. The delay between game action, like pressing a button, and a change of what you see (after the long round trip up to the cloud game server and back again) is significantly higher than local play. Further, these streams are not the highest quality, they have visual artifacts you don’t see in local play, they lack the same level of visual detail, but they are today’s benchmark for the required sustained bandwidth. 

Video Quality

There is no easy way to reduce the bandwidth required to deliver a real time, high-quality game stream. Video encoding standards evolve slowly and require client devices to offer hardware based decoders. Today the H.264 codec is the most widely supported standard. Google’s own VP9 codec offers better quality at lower bandwidth at the expense of higher latency as it requires more computation for encode and decode. There is no free lunch! 

Latency

While it is possible to deliver higher quality video with lower bandwidth, encoding requires a lot of processing time, which increases the delay between a scene being rendered and it being encoded, one of the largest contributors to latency. So as quality improves, latency increases and gamers experience lag. Today, latency of Google Stadia is about 2 times higher than local play according to our observations and online evaluations of cloud gaming latency. Unlike cloud gaming, as gamers upgrade their PC hardware, they can actually reduce game latency, making games even more responsive and improving frame rates for local play.

Networks

The available bandwidth in 2020 by country in the US and Europe shows that even in developed markets 4K cloud gaming is out of reach. According to Google: “To play in 4K resolution, you’ll need an active Stadia Pro subscription and a network speed of 35 Mbps or greater.”

US and European Nations Internet Performance by Country

According to the Annual Report: Europe vs US Broadband Performance 2020 by FairInternetReport, less than 10% of the combined population of the US and Europe have an average bandwidth above the minimum of 35Mbps. This is not stable bandwidth, it is average bandwidth, so the number of homes that can sustain the minimum requirement is significantly lower. And that bandwidth is expensive too, with cloud gaming pushing on user bandwidth caps and service costs. 

Adding a Local Play Option Can Help Emerging Cloud Gaming Services Lift-off

ROCKITPLAY FastStart technology overcomes these imperfections in video quality, latency and bandwidth by maintaining local play and delivering uncompromised, high resolution gaming experience. The network requirements of cloud gaming aren’t going away. Combining emerging cloud gaming services with ROCKITPLAY FastStart can help emerging games as a service get traction. 

The fate of cloud gaming lies in the hearts and wallets of gamers. Cloud gaming services like Luna and Stadia require paying customers to meet Stakeholders expectations of Return on Investment. So let’s talk about the perceived value of on-demand entertainment and what consumers are willing to pay. 

Spotify meets consumers’ cost-benefit-constraint for an encyclopedia of music for $9,99. Within a decade Netflix increased its premium plan from $7.99 to $17.99 and consumers continue to subscribe. Stadia Pro is offered at $9,99 and Luna HD streaming at $5,99. So far, cloud gaming services have struggled to offer the right combination of value and pricing to entice consumers to adopt. Cloud gaming as a service is challenging for both, providers and consumers.

Providers

Distribution platforms need to procure the latest and fastest CPU and GPU chipsets requiring steep investments into up-to-date infrastructure. Games must be ported to the cloud platform – traditional PC games run on Windows and most cloud services use Linux for improved cost and scalability. In addition, running games as a service requires a huge amount of data at preferably higher bandwidth speeds. Finally, content licensing can become another significant cost block depending on the business model. Referring to Mark Lugris from thegamer.com, “Google Spent Millions On Stadia Ports, Including $20M For Ubisoft Games.”

Cloud gaming requires very high speed and reliable internet access – about 3x faster than what is required for NETFLIX at the same resolution. These large streams can add up to a lot of total data. Serving a game in a stream over the full run of gameplay can easily outrun one time install by 10x or more. 

For example, The Witcher 3 provides an average of 70 to 100 gameplay hours. Local download requires 36GB plus occasional patches. For 100 hours of gameplay cloud gaming at HD requires 10x and at 4K 30x the data required for local play. 

Consumers

Consumers are expected to pay adequate compensation for an unprompted offer of emerging streaming services. Further, gamers need to show up with sufficient bandwidth carefully managing data caps and service costs. “As reliable as the service is, the dream of an all-streaming future can turn into a nightmare when you consider the realities of the world we live in. Namely, millions of people are subject to data caps by their ISP,” reflects Destructoid in their recent analysis of the emerging cloud gaming data usage. These caps require gamers to pay for the service, content, and expanded data access – it’s no wonder they are balking.

Local Play for Games as a Service

ROCKITPLAY FastStart technology provides fast access to games as a service but offers local play for an uncompromised, low latency, high resolution gaming experience. The network requirements of cloud gaming aren’t going away. Combining emerging cloud gaming services with ROCKITPLAY FastStart can help emerging games as a service get traction by offering local play at full performance. With ROCKITPLAY FastStart, a game can start with as little as 1% downloaded while the rest continues to download in the background and reduces patch size by up to 50%. 

If you are new to our blog series “Cloud Gaming Will Not Take Off Without Local Play” be sure to read the first two blogs, Play Without Limitations and Ownership as a Service. To read more about the cost of operating cloud gaming services, check out “The Cost of Cloud Gaming: Services May Need to Charge $30 per Month Just to Break Even.”

ROCKIT Fast Game Start Provides All The Perks of Cloud Streaming Without Burdensome Infrastructure & Economics 

Fast Game Start provides many of the experiential benefits generally associated with cloud streaming. ROCKIT Fast Game Start is ready now, on today’s infrastructure, with almost zero impact to the cost of delivering games.

In our prior blog we wrote about the many opportunities created by offering users Click to Play experiences that can power subscriptions, rentals and instant-play demos. But how does ROCKIT compare to cloud streaming?

In the cloud streaming model, games are hosted on cloud servers with similar hardware to gaming PCs. This hardware is allocated to users every time they play. With Fast Game Start, users host their own games on their own hardware, but have quick access without long download times. Implemented effectively, the experience for users is similar – they are able to browse and play games with little switching time. But the back end, the infrastructure, has major differences impacting all aspects of technology and game business economics.

Fast Game Start does not require building a new infrastructure for instant access to games. Using industry standard servers and protocols much as they are today, combined with cloud based machine learning ROCKIT enables unlimited scalability at minimum cost.

Cloud Streaming requires games to run in the cloud with all of the hardware necessary for gameplay except the screen and I/O devices. Those servers must include gaming-grade graphics cards, memory, CPU’s and more. Instead of a display, they render graphics to an internal frame buffer which is then encoded like a video for transmission to a remote client.

“The main challenge I believe has been service infrastructure, the bandwidth you need to deliver that opportunity on scale” Matt Bilbey, Executive VP of strategic growth, Electronic Arts (EA).

The infrastructure technical requirements and the cost to provide these services are frequently sighted as major obstacles. But how complex, and how expensive will it be to operate these services? And what price can consumers expect to pay?

The cost of operating gaming PCs in the cloud is a function of the hardware cost, power, and server density. We estimate that future game servers will be able to accommodate 4 simultaneous users, with a capital cost of about $7,000 and a data center cost of about $300 per concurrent user per year, bringing the annual cost per concurrent user to over $1,000. The network bandwidth requirement for a single concurrent user, streaming at 4mbps of encoded video, would total 15,768 Gigabytes per year and would cost $157 annually. For a game that is pay to play, presumably you would monetize those costs. But for free to play, where perhaps 19 out of 20 users don’t pay anything, the cost of running servers would be $23,140 per year per concurrent paying user – and of that, $21,980 would be for the players who aren’t monetized!

“Storing and running a game in the cloud may be insanely cheap, but beaming that game over the network to players may be very expensive to one party or the other,” Rob Fahey, gamesindustry.biz.

If we assume that each concurrent user maps to about 20 real world users, and if we assume that about $140 per user would be required for content licensing for premium games, then a premium cloud gaming service would need to charge about $360, including marketing and business expenses. That’s $60 for operation, $140 for content, and $160 for marketing & business expenses. So a cloud gaming service would need to charge about $30 per month – just to break even.

The challenge continues as these servers must sit at the emerging cloud-edge, in local data centers close to users to minimize latency. This opportunity to run data centers 24/7 serving Cleveland by day and Shanghai by night does not work in the edge paradigm – peak capacity needs to be locally accommodated, and game-centric servers may sit idle as consumer sleep.

Gamers have a universe of things to do and games to play. Capturing their interest is a critical milestone in their journey to become a player and a customer. But today, after piquing their interest users encounter their last obstacle to entering the game: the multi-gigabyte download. We estimate that dropout rates range from 40% to 80% depending on game size and the user’s internet download speeds. These users slip through your fingers and never, ever enter the game.

The challenge of getting users into a game is a form of friction between the ad or game store and the end-user. Reducing this friction promises to get more users into the initial stages of gameplay and build them into happy, paying customers. Imagine if it were possible to eliminate the delay between download and game start. Without adding new infrastructure, without streaming, without code changes, and without disrupting the user journey. Dropouts would fall, new users would enter the funnel, and ads and game stores could offer click to play to make the journey faster and smoother than ever before.

ROCKIT is a technology developed by DACS Labs that is on a mission to totally eliminate user dropout for F2P titles. How does it work? ROCKIT delivers only the data necessary to initiate game start. It intelligently predicts the sequence of data required by the game to bring start time down to an absolute minimum. By reducing game start times to seconds, F2P titles can eliminate game dropout and turn everyone who downloads a game into a player.

Today, Free-to-Play games are larger than ever, and take longer than ever to download and start. A 50% abandon rate doubles user acquisition costs, or seen another way, every download dropout reduces your F2P revenue potential. Larger games in regions with expensive broadband suffer the most.