Microsoft's much talked about but only vaguely understood Xbox Live cloud service will offer different benefits to different games, explains Respawn Entertainment engineer Jon Shiring.
Attempting to demystify the benefits of Microsoft's cloud, Shiring explained what the service means to Titanfall, the studio's new online multiplayer-only first-person shooter.
Xbox Live cloud will provide Titanfall with dedicated servers. This doesn't sound particularly groundbreaking, but Shiring explains why this is a "big deal".
"Player-hosted servers have a lot of downsides," he said, noting host advantages, cheating, host-finding issues and more. "So why do so many games use them? They have one really big upside - it doesn't cost money to run the servers! Running hundreds of thousands of servers can be extremely expensive. EXTREMELY expensive," said Shiring.
"A developer like Respawn doesn't have the kind of weight to get a huge price cut from places like Amazon or Rackspace. And we don't have the manpower to manage literally hundreds-of-thousands of servers ourselves," he added.
Shiring said the studio spoke with both Microsoft and Sony on this issue, and Microsoft came back with its cloud service as the solution.
"Microsoft has a cloud service called Azure (it's a real thing - you can go on their website right now and pay for servers and use them to run whatever you want). Microsoft realized that they could use that technology to solve our problem.
"So they built this powerful system to let us create all sorts of tasks that they will run for us, and it can scale up and down automatically as players come and go," he explained.
"We can upload new programs for them to run and they handle the deployment for us. And they'll host our game servers for other platforms, too! Titanfall uses the Xbox Live Cloud to run dedicated servers for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox 360," confirmed Shiring.
"With the Xbox Live Cloud, we don't have to worry about estimating how many servers we'll need on launch day. We don't have to find ISPs all over the globe and rent servers from each one. We don't have to maintain the servers or copy new builds to every server.
"Most importantly to us, Microsoft priced it so that it's far more affordable than other hosting options - their goal here is to get more awesome games, not to nickel-and-dime developers. So because of this, dedicated servers are much more of a realistic option for developers who don't want to make compromises on their player experience, and it opens up a lot more things that we can do in an online game."
But Shiring says that the cloud isn't restricted to providing dedicated servers, and will be used in other ways by different developers.
"Developers aren't going to just want dedicated servers - they'll have all kinds of features that need a server to do some kind of work to make games better. Look at Forza 5, which studies your driving style in order to create custom AI that behaves like you do. That's totally different from what Titanfall uses it for, and it's really cool," he said.
Microsoft's Xbox One campaign has placed huge emphasis on the presence of a powerful cloud service, which it has claimed will boost the processing capabilities of the Xbox One console, offering "the CPU and storage equivalent of three Xbox Ones on the cloud" for each Xbox One system.
The Xbox One's Xbox Live service will be "powered by 300,000 servers" according to Microsoft's Marc Whitten.
Read Shiring's full blog post here.