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Cloud Computing: How Sega hopes to use Japanese arcades as streaming data centers

Cloud Computing:

Streaming through the fog —

Idle arcade hardware + cloud gaming infrastructure = a new “fog gaming” business?

Cloud Computing: How Sega hopes to use Japanese arcades as streaming data centers

If you thought the

3-inch-wide Game Gear Micro

was going to be the weirdest announcement out of Sega this week, think again. Instead, we give that honor to the company’s announcement of a strange and somewhat amorphous concept known as “fog gaming,” which seems set to utilize idle arcade machines to distribute a new type of cloud-gaming service in Japan.

Details on the initiative are pretty scarce at the moment—the main source of English-language information is a tweet from a Japanese analyst working from a summary by a Japanese blogger (Google translate) of a story appearing in the new print issue of Japan’s Weekly Famitsu magazine. Journalist Zenji Nishikawa was teasing the story last week as a “major scoop” on the level of Wired’s revelation of the first PlayStation 5 details last year, which seems a bit grandiose for now.

In any case, the “fog gaming” concept seems to be centered around converting Sega’s massive infrastructure of Japanese arcades and arcade machines into a kind of widely distributed streaming-gaming data center. Those cabinets—and the decently specc’ed CPUs and GPUs inside them—are only in active use by players for perhaps eight hours a day at a busy location, according to Adam Pratt, an arcade operator who runs industry website Arcade Heroes. The rest of the time, those machines could serve streaming gaming content to homebound players, without the need for an immense, Google Stadia-sized data center investment.

In theory, at least.

Cloud Computing: A uniquely Japanese idea

This kind of “fog computing” idea—where work is distributed between “edge node” devices rather than hefty centralized servers—isn’t exactly new. Router-maker Cisco has been integrating the concept into its “Internet of Things” devices since at least 2014, for instance. Meanwhile, IEEE standardized an open fog computing architecture in 2018.

But using otherwise dormant arcade hardware for a purpose that extends beyond the arcade walls is a relatively radical new idea for the game industry.

Japan’s still-robust arcade scene seems perfectly suited for this kind of experiment. Sega alone already owns and operates dozens of game centers distributed throughout the country, usually near major population centers. Sega arcade machines can be found in third-party Japanese game centers as well.

  • My arcade gallery begins with easily my favorite find of my Japan travels: DanceRush Stardom. Notice the on-screen indicator, which looks like a Guitar Hero note grid…

  • This tells you when to put one foot down (or, in this case, two) and how far to the left or right. Otherwise, you can step as far forward or backward as you please. This affords players an opportunity to truly dance while playing, and dance they did.

  • Since I was pretty intimidated by the DanceRush spectacle, I instead opted to play a similar game using my fingers. It asks you to tap your fingers on a touchpad to coincide with Guitar Hero-like notes…

  • …but its gimmick is an “air action” sensor that asks you to snap your wrist at an exact moment, as if you’re also playing percussion.

  • This game, which didn’t have a name in English characters, drew crowds in many arcades’ “bemani” sections.

  • This bemani game has a clearer emphasis on crazy-fast piano playing.

  • This train-conductor cabinet includes beautifully rendered imagery, on par with a high-end computer running Unreal Engine 4.

  • But the gameplay revolves around driving a legitimate train in safe, fast, efficient, and comfortable fashion. Meaning, no races or crazy stuff. It’s solely for train freaks. FYI: 900 yen is about eight bucks, but the pricing structure on this game is a little fluid.

  • The newest version of Mario Kart for arcades.

  • Horse-racing simulators are no joke in Japan. However, they’re all very dimly lit, so this is the best photo I got. Some of the horse-racing game stations include extravagant set pieces with toy horses on rotors running around a physical track. I’m very, very sad that the photos I snapped of those didn’t turn out.

(Above: A look inside a modern Japanese game center from our own Sam Machkovech. Click through

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