Sega marked its 60th anniversary this week with a tiny version of the Game Gear. But that’s not the only thing on the company’s mind at the minute. It’s working on a system that would turn Japanese arcades into small data centers.
Arcade gaming is still pretty big in Japan. A report by the Japanese Amusement Machine and Manufacturers Association stated there were 15,612 arcades in operation in Japan as of 2016. Sega owns dozens of these gaming centers, and most of the arcade cabinets are networked to Sega’s All.Net infrastructure. All.Net allows players to compete, share, and access their high scores from any machine on the network. Even many third-party arcades connect to All.Net for a fee.
A print issue of Japanese gaming news outlet Famitsu reports that since arcades are closed for about eight hours a day, Sega figures it can use that idle time to harness the powers of the CPUs and GPUs in the arcade cabinets. According to Dr. Serkan Toto, who shared the news on Twitter, Sega hopes to deliver “ultra-low latency” cloud gaming to players outside of arcades. This idea would still take a lot of infrastructure work to implement but is within the realm of reason.
Sega already has the basic infrastructure in place. At least in Japan, arcades are still prevalent enough for the fog gaming system to be viable. The company owns around 200 of them, and Sega machines are also prevalent in third-party arcades.
It’s not entirely clear whether Japanese players would be able to stream games directly from arcade machines. Famitsu suggests fog gaming would add minimal lag (less than 1 ms) on top of regular network latency, which could make that tenable especially for quick-reflex titles, such as fighting games.
Players actively use arcade machines for eight hours or so a day, and the fog gaming system could give them the option to grind their favorite games outside of game center opening hours. Sega and other arcade operators would also be able to generate revenue from machines when the centers are closed.
It remains to be seen if or when Sega gets the fog gaming platform up and running, or even what shape it’ll take. But at the very least, it points to an even more connected (and potentially more sustainable) future for arcades.