Sega wants to turn Japanese arcades into 'fog gaming' data centers

The company might be developing a streaming platform for arcade machines.

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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.

According to Weekly Famitsu (via Kotaku), Sega will tap into powerful CPUs and GPUs in arcade machines as part of an ultra-low-latency streaming system. It's calling the idea "fog gaming," and it's based on fog computing. Devices in a fog computing system are much closer together physically than those in a cloud setup, which lowers the length of time it takes data to travel between them. As such, Sega reckons the fog gaming platform could reduce lag to less than a millisecond.

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.

The company's machines are connected to game center servers, which are also linked to the cloud. Many of them use the platform, which is a backbone of online arcade competition, and also lets players track high scores, rankings and profiles across various game centers. But Ars Technica reports that non-Sega arcades are cutting ties with because "the fees make it untenable" amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.