Respawn's Jon Shiring has taken to the developer's official site to answer questions about Titanfall's cloud processing support, the benefits of which remain a little too intangible for comfort. Cost, it seems, may be the key incentive here.
Shiring began by recapping a few of the problems with multiplayer games that run on player-hosted servers, such as host advantage and differences in bandwidth capacity between players.
Developer or publisher-owned dedicated servers, he continued, offer more remote processing muscle, zero host advantage, guaranteed bandwidth allowances, relative security from hack attacks and quicker match-making, while freeing up resources on the console itself for graphics and audio.
"Okay, so player-hosted servers have a lot of downsides," Shiring wrote. "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."
"This is something I have worked on for years now, since coming to Respawn. 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.
"We want to focus on making awesome games, not on becoming giant worldwide server hosting providers. The more time I can spend on making our actual game better, the more our players benefit."
The expanded Xbox Live cloud offers dedicated server support at a dramatically reduced price, he went on - "their goal here is to get more awesome games, not to nickel-and-dime developers".
"I personally talked to both Microsoft and Sony and explained that we need to find a way to have potentially hundreds-of-thousands of dedicated servers at a price point that you can't get right now," Shiring continued.
"Microsoft realized that player-hosted servers are actually holding back online gaming and that this is something that they could help solve, and ran full-speed with this idea." The result, he explained, is that Titanfall offers "a bigger world, more physics, lots of AI, and potentially a lot more than that!" This echoes comments from lead artist Joel Emslie, according to whom "I don't know if we would have attempted something like this had we not had access to [the cloud]".
Shiring took a moment to point out that "cloud gaming" is fundamentally a buzzword, just another way of stating "that [companies] have a huge amount of servers ready to run whatever you need them to run".
However, the Xbox Live cloud isn't simply a super-sized cluster of dedicated servers - Microsoft's infrastructure and global presence give it a distinct advantage. "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!"
Thanks to the Xbox Live cloud, Respawn won't need to guess-timate launch day server loads, nor will it have to find ISPs in each region and rent servers from them, in order to afford players a low latency local connection. The developer won't have to conduct maintenance work on those servers, either.
Shiring concluded by reiterating much-heard promises that Xbox One games will be able to dramatically transcend the capabilities of the console itself, by farming out key tasks to servers. "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! So it's not accurate to say that the Xbox Live Cloud is simply a system for running dedicated servers - it can do a lot more than that.
"This is a really big deal, and it can make online games better," he added. "This is something that we are really excited about. The Xbox Live Cloud lets us to do things in Titanfall that no player-hosted multiplayer game can do. That has allowed us to push the boundaries in online multiplayer and that's awesome.
"We want to try new ideas and let the player do things they've never been able to do before! Over time, I expect that we'll be using these servers to do a lot more than just dedicated servers. This is something that's going to let us drive all sorts of new ideas in online games for years to come."