It has been 3 months since we welcomed our new CEO, Mike Fischer, in an introductory blog article. As much as we were excited by this news and gave a brief explanation of his plans for Shadow, it was a bit too early to dive deep into our new CEO’s vision, thoughts and goals.
The good news is that Mike Fischer had the opportunity to virtually sit down with tech enthusiast and podcaster Neil Hughes during Tech Talk Daily Podcast to discuss all things Shadow: Just click here to listen!
You’re more the literary type and would rather read the answers? Your desires are our command. Here is the entire podcast, transcribed for your reading pleasure:
Q: Can you tell the listeners a little about who you are and what you do?
Absolutely. My name is Mike Fisher. I’m the president of Shadow which is our cloud gaming service and cloud pc service with all around support for any use. We’re based in Paris with a large office in Silicon Valley as well.
Q: Can you tell me the story behind the company and the overall mission there?
Our three co-founders in Paris came out of a successful startup built around mobile phones and still had ambitions to carry their entrepreneurship dream. And they landed on this idea of using the power of cloud computing to liberate people from the limitations of physical devices. And it was a huge challenge because, you know, a decade before, companies like OnLive and Gaikai had made this promise that cloud gaming was powerful enough and fast enough to deliver games online. And they were not able to deliver and the companies ultimately failed. So they jumped into a space that had been fraught with danger before but the improvements in the internet over time and some of the really unique technological innovations that they created have made it possible to deliver that dream of high speed, complex, visual computing that you need for games, deliver it over the cloud with no latency problems. It really is a miraculous breakthrough that they created.
Q: Can you expand that? (vision to free users from the constraints of physical hardware so that all they need is an internet connection on any device)
The benefits to using Shadow as your cloud computing solution are different for different people. For some, it’s wanting to save money because they don’t want to make an expensive upgrade to their device; for others, it’s just the convenience of being able to access their PC from wherever they are. And for other people, maybe folks who have a high-end Macbook for example but want to play a PC game or a PC application. It all really depends. But, I think, the most interesting breakthrough for me was, when I was still on the board of directors, before I took the leadership role at the company, I was showing my wife how it worked and I just said “look, you know, you connect to the internet, and plug in a monitor and keyboard and mouse to any device and you have access to this high-end PC.” She just looked at me and said “Why would anyone ever buy a PC again?” And it really highlighted for me what a fantastic solution this is. So yes, if you have an older device, a Windows, an iOS, or an Android device, anything up to including a tablet or even an iphone, you can access a high end Windows PC and have that full functionality. So in that respect, your devices never become obsolete, your harddrive never breaks down, you never need to worry about updating your drivers, because it’s all there and taken care of and ready for you when you need it.
Q: Can you tell me how Shadow offers this fully realized, constantly upgraded Windows 10 machine in the cloud and up to 2 TB of storage that is accessible by any device, desktop or phone, as long as it has Wifi access?
It’s a really simple thing to explain because it’s not “like” a Windows PC, it is a Windows PC in the cloud. So you take any device you have, from a Mac or a mobile phone or an old PC, you click on the Shadow app and you’re presented with a screen that is your new Shadow desktop experience and you can do anything you would with any other brand new PC. You can store your files on it, you can use it for gaming or design or Word processing or any application that you want. The difference is that the PC’s in the cloud, so when you travel or regardless of what device you’re on, all of your files, all of that compute power is there when you need it. So you don’t have to learn anything new or do anything new, it’s just a PC in the cloud. So it’s funny people ask for a demonstration of how it works, and I’d be like “it’s your PC, it’s not any different experience than the PC experience you’ve always known”.
Q: It’s just got the specs you could only dream of, right?
Right, exactly. We offer a number of tiers, from a Shadow Boost, which is a 1080 PC up to far more powerful configurations. The thing that, I think, surprises most people is how we’ve been able to overcome this challenge of latency; the thing that’s held back a lot of compute, but especially for gamers. Now obviously, Shadow does much more than just play games. In fact, I think, about half of our users spend a significant amount of time doing non-gaming applications which we can talk about. But a little bit of latency is not a big deal if you are a big enterprise managing hotel reservations. But if you are playing Fortnite, a few milliseconds can be the difference between life and death. And that is, I think, one of the unique solutions that we’ve been able to bring so your cloud experience for the vast majority of users, the vast majority of time is totally indistinguishable from a desktop experience.
Q: If you’ve haven’t got a machine that isn’t capable of that kind of spec (rendering videos using a lot of resources like RAM), then Shadow would be appealing too, would that be right?
Absolutely. For some people, it’s a long term, permanent solution for their high-end PC needs and for other people, it may just be a service that they need for a short amount of time. And because this is a monthly subscription, you only need to pay for it when you need it. Obviously we hope people try it and stay with us forever but we recognize that for some people it is a stop-gap solution until they upgrade their PC or just as long as they need to, say, play Cyberpunk 2077 and then maybe go back to another platform. Because we’re an open-platform device, we’re not trying to sell your games, we’re not taking a 30% cut of anyone’s transactions over our platform. We’re an open platform because it’s your PC and you control it and you can do whatever you want.
Q: Who are your services aimed at, do you have any use cases you can share that just help us to understand how it could work in their world too?
That is, to some degree, one of the hardest questions to answer because we definitely are focused on gamers because of two reasons: 1 is that they are an audience that is opened to new experiences; sometimes, maybe financially constrained with the challenge of buying a $2000+ high-end gaming PC. But if you look back, historically, the two major drivers of any new tech adoption are games or pornography. We felt that games were a safer place to go. That being said, if you can prove yourself to the gaming audience, then you’ve really proven yourself to almost any other application because high end games put more demands on a PC performance than just about any other application. So our feeling is that having proved ourselves with games, then we’ve demonstrated our ability to run whatever kind of application you may need. And that’s where we’ve seen people use us for very powerful applications like Autodesk or Unity or Unreal Engine because they’ve just found that it’s a really convenient way and also a low cost way to get that high-end PC performance, even if it’s not a game.
Q: How have you gotten around the latency issue?
So I’m not an engineer. I dropped out of engineering in university and probably saved thousands of lives by making that career choice. So I’ll explain it in simple terms because they’re the only way I can understand it. We don’t try to beat the speed of light. In other words, we aren’t trying to overcome the natural latency that it takes for a signal to go from your home to a datacenter and back. You can’t beat the speed of light. And we’re not trying to brute force it by putting big-edge computer datacenters in every neighborhood because that would be billions of billions of dollars. Instead, what we’ve done are found different shortcuts, all throughout the processing and the signal that’s moving around inside your device at home. And we shave a millisecond here, millisecond there, between your monitor and your device or your keyboard and your mouse and through a lot of those “latency workarounds”, we’re able to compensate for the natural time it takes that signal to go back and forth to the datacenter. So the result is you won’t feel that difference at all when you play on your device. Now every signal to the home has its own unique situations so I can’t promise that you’ll never experience lag or latency but it is remarkably consistent. That being said, your mileage may vary. If you’re living on a farm in a rural area with a very old copper wire, that may not be the best fit but we have a speedtest at the front of our website so it’s easy for you to use that to connect to the nearest datacenter and see how it works.
Q: Has there been a big increase in gaming this year due to the pandemic and people spending more time at home?
Yes and it’s kinda a mixed blessing for us. Because there’s a greater need than ever but if you see on social media, there’s a waiting line to get into our service. We cannot fulfill the demand as fast as we would like. It also means that for the people who are using our service, they’re using it more and more hours a day and they’re using it at greater levels of currency which puts more and more stress on our system, on our network, so it’s harder work for our engineers. I wish we had the unlimited resources to stand up even more servers and to support all the people who want to jump in. But yes, there has been an amazing spike in our usage. And we see it in different ways. The first spike of COVID, there was really across the board rising level of usage. For the second wave, it seemed to be even more particularly focused on weekends. Which is strange because people are staying at home anyway but I guess our premise is that the folks even who were working from home would still go out on the weekends but as the lockdowns became stricter, even the weekend activities were off the books for them so there was even more time spent online. So yeah mixed blessing, good things for us in terms of more people wanting to use our service but definitely more stress on our infrastructure and our services.
Q: Can you tell me more about Shadow Ultra and Shadow Infinite and when are they coming to Europe?
Shadow Ultra and Shadow Infinite are our higher spec tiers that offer even more memory and even higher level processing power. It’s been harder than we thought to roll it out and more time-consuming. And I think we did probably announce it earlier than I would have liked. It’s coming out, even in the US, to limited regions starting this month and then early next year we’re expecting to roll it out in Europe as well. But if you look on social media, we definitely built up people’s expectations a little too soon so the last thing I want to do is over-promise it now because we already have a long queue of people waiting in line to get that added memory and to get those even more powerful processors.
Q: What’s next for Shadow? Any teasers?
Yeah, I always remember being the marketing guy at a number of gaming companies and the CEO would get excited and pre-announce something. It would just drive me crazy so I would never want to be that guy. But I think the interesting thing about us is it’s not so much that we’re constantly rolling out headline-making, new features and services because, again, at the heart, what makes our service great is that it is just that Windows PC you love but it’s in the cloud. What we’ve done recently is even more important to our users which is that we’re constantly rolling out new improvements to the user experience. Now, for the first few years, it was just getting that latency down, getting that visual fidelity high, and making it a better technical performance. If you tried Shadow two years ago and you tried Shadow today, it’s an incredibly improved experience. A part of that is because the internet and infrastructure keeps getting better but a big part of it is a lot of small improvements we’ve continued to make behind the scenes. Some of the things we’ve done more recently is, as I mentioned, we’ve put out a speedtest on our website so you can ping our servers and make sure you have quality of service before you sign up; we’ve rolled out things like dynamic bitrate; we’ve even added mouse and keyboard support for iOS so you can operate on an iPhone, a windows desktop PC experience, using a mouse and keyboard. We’ve even rolled out an alpha for VR so if you have an Oculus headset, you can try our alpha and have that experience. We have even more improvements coming out in the weeks and months ahead and I think if you go to social media and you look for the features everyone’s crying for, you’ll get a pretty good sense of the new things that we’re working on that we hope to be announcing soon. We listen to our users, we listen to our fans, we’re very active across Discord and Reddit and all of our social media and we take that feedback very seriously. I don’t post very often but I read all of those comments. Sometimes they’re inspiring, sometimes they’re heartbreaking. But those comments and that feedback is really important to us.
Q: Where is the best place for interested people to learn more about Shadow or keep up to date or even contact a member of your team?
The best place to start is our website, Shadow.tech, but we also have a very active Discord community as well as a great subreddit, ShadowPC. So I think those are great ways to find us and to get involved with our community and our community members and many times our employees and executives are also active on that. We have a great Twitch stream, JBK, our CTO, often goes on that stream to talk about our new improvements and innovations and breakthroughs there.
And voilà! We hope you enjoyed reading this transcript. Until next time, take care!