If you thought the
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.