Whilst functional online gaming is something most of us have only been able to enjoy over the past couple of decades, it is now so commonplace in the gaming world, that it’s strange to imagine life without it. Live online gaming takes many different forms. The Xbox brought about the first big change and continues to be one of the industry leaders, along with Nintendo Switch and the Playstation network. Additional smaller sectors have popped up in recent years though, taking our love of online gaming to whole new levels.
Live dealer casinos have been helping those gamers stuck at home to capture a little of that ‘real’ casino magic. Broadcasting services such as Twitch have grown exponentially, enabling gamers to watch the real pro’s doing what they do best. So what technology is involved in making all of these platforms work?
Early Attempts at Online Multiplayers
Nowadays we are all too familiar with logging on and playing online relatively trouble-free. However, it’s taken us a long time to get here. Perhaps the first successful attempt to create a multiplayer online platform came in 1994 with the development of the XBAND. This 3rd party piece of kit cost $20 upfront with a monthly fee of around $10 for unlimited usage. XBAND owners could plug the equipment into their Super NES or Sega Genesis consoles and play multiplayer online games.
Whilst the tech did initially take off, the number of people actively using the XBAND more than quadrupled during 1995, eventually the popularity of the consoles it served faded, leaving the XBAND redundant. Amazingly the XBAND still has some die-hard fans now, with a thriving Reddit community and even a feature-length fan-made Youtube documentary.
Live Dealer Casinos
Live Dealer Casinos are a relatively new addition to the online multiplayer pile. Much like Twitch, the real-life action is broadcast from the casino to viewers at home, but this is where the similarity ends. Viewers at home are able to interact via their keyboard and mouse clicks to take part in the game. This is possible thanks to two main components of the live dealer casino setup. Optical Character Recognition software (OCR) allows the characters on the cards, roulette wheel, dice, etc. to be recognized.
This data is collected and processed through the Game Control Unit. This device enables the video that is being filmed to be immediately broadcasted, as well as transferring the data from the OCR into a format that users can click through on their screens at home. The final task of the Game Control Unit is to enable an interaction between the dealer and the players at home.
Live Game Streaming
Live Game Streaming really began in earnest with Twitch. What began as a pretty niche site now has more than 30,000 people live streaming content at any given moment and has had peaks of more than 2 million streams at a time. These statistics should go some of the way to showing Twitch as one of the largest live video distributors in the world. Perhaps the most impressive string to Twitch’s bow is their video system. This part of the setup is responsible for taking content from the live streamers to the viewers.
This process begins with the video streamed from the gamer, which is in RTMP format. This is put into the transcoding system, which morphs the stream into multiple HLS streams. These streams are distributed to all of Twitch’s ‘Points of Presence’ which are physical locations, spread out far around the world. This spreading enables people in even remote areas to get as reliable and high quality a streaming experience as possible. Once that’s all completed, live viewers will be able to watch streams in real-time.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the technology that goes into entertaining us. Yet even just scratching the surface shows the levels of ingenuity that have gone into enabling even those of us who are geographically far apart, to play together in perfect synchronicity.
So the next time you fire up your laptop or your games console and are immediately connected to people all around the world, stop to think about the technology that’s helped to make that possible. Don’t stop for too long though, or someone might blow your head off, or something.