SkyDrive, MyPhone, Hotmail, Live Mesh… all of the Microsoft “products” give you free webspace for your files. Websites like Meebo manage millions of accounts for users, free of charge, all with massive friends lists. At the time of writing, Google is offering 7.3GB of space with a GMail account. Microsoft offers “cloud computing” on a large scale through services like Azure, for a fee.
“Cloud Computing” has become quite the buzz word, lately… though the concept has been around for quite a while. I’m a huge computer geek, but I’ll try not to get too technical: “The Cloud” is basically any network that is generally spread all over the world, and is sometimes just a generic term to define “the Internet.” If something is saved/stored in “the cloud” you can access it “over the internet” at any time. As cloud computing grows in popularity, several companies are still wondering how to benefit from this, while shelling out for massive amounts of data storage, all in an attempt to impress their customers. If you can have access to your information at any time, why wouldn’t you want that ease of access?
“What does this have to do with gaming?” I hear a few people starting to mutter… the answer is already on the lips of most readers: everything. Through podcasts, written interviews, comments, forum discussions, and phone calls… we have all heard, time and time again, that the Xbox Live Friends List “is what it is.” Sticking users with a limit of 100 friends. Now, true, 100 seems manageable… the majority of us don’t LITERALLY have more than 100 friends, and the “Players” list should facilitate any users that you play with on a regular basis, but aren’t quite friends. But how is it that I can have 7 GB of email space, but the folks at Xbox can’t give us more than 100 friends? AOL’s Instant Messenger gives you 500. But this just isn’t your typical rant about the Friends List. Cloud storage goes so much deeper. Right now, the Xbox team does an amazing job at helping you track and display your Achievements through Xbox.com. You also get to share your digital self, as your avatar and gamerpics are available through the website.
Now, true, having more information available over the internet, and the ability to Recover my Gamertag at any location (if I’m patient enough) is also appealing. I can hang with a friend and be myself, from his couch or mine. Now comes the tricky part. The Playstation is getting better at doing all of these things as well, and PSN is also still free. “Here we go again,” you sigh, “another Xbox Live should be free rant.” Not at all. Now pay attention, because this is where it gets tricky. A lot of people think Xbox Live should be free… fine, whatever. I don’t mind paying for it – but the biggest benefit of paying for live is the MultiPlayer aspect. I’m not a big multiplayer gamer, to this day. I love storyline driven games, and playing when I don’t have to worry about whiny voiced brats, or staying up until God awful hours of the morning when my friends get out of work. Trade me features. Make multiplayer gaming free for everyone. But if you do that, nobody would ever pay for Xbox Live again. Unless, another feature was offered in its place. What feature am I talking about? The Xbox Cloud.
The Xbox Cloud would be a featured part of Xbox Live. Much as it exists now with Xbox originals, if you want to download a game and play it, have fun. Do I want to do that with “any” game? Maybe not quite, not yet… but it is a nice benefit to be able to delete the game from my local hard drive, and redownload it later without an additional fee. The Xbox Live Marketplace does a fantastic job with that. But the feature that I would gladly pay for: access to my Saved Game data, via The Xbox Cloud. That’s the highlight, the supreme feature, the boldest bullet point of my argument. Some people may be rolling their eyes, but I would hope that this would expand to “Games for Windows Live.”
You see, this past weekend I reformatted my computer’s hard drive, backing up the “My Games” folder – then reinstalled Windows Vista, reinstalled Gears of War for Windows, copied my “My Games” folder back over, and yet my saved game was gone. I get to start over, and I was all the way to General Raam. Frustrating. This would be a wonderful feature for Xbox Live, Games for Windows Live. You could easily free up space on your Xbox 360’s hard drive, never have to worry about going back to a game and worrying about whether or not you deleted files related to that gaming, never expecting to play it again. It would protect you against hardware failures (although, admittedly, Xbox 360 hard drive failure rate seems astonishingly low). For people upgrading to larger consoles and not bothering with Data Transfers, this would be an easy way to access your old saved games, or would facilitate faster transfer by giving you the ability to move saved games from your local drive to The Xbox Cloud before the transfer.
A feature like this isn’t likely to ever happen, as storing save game data for 20 million users would actually pile up. Perhaps some sort of statute of limitations, like the file must be access within 36 months, should be in place. It would take quite a bit, but I often wonder if every single Gmail user actually claimed all 7.3GB being offered, if Google could actually handle it. Again, that’s another free service – so why can’t at least some of my Xbox Live Gold subscription dollars go in to The Xbox Cloud storage feature? One can only dream. With the next generation of console we’ll see more titles available through digital distribution, but why not something to keep track of saved games? Just something to think about, next gen developers!