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A flood from the stream: Gaikai’s boss on the turning tide

Friday, 1st July 2011 07:51 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Cloud gaming may be the future but it’s real now, Gaikai’s Robert Stevenson tells Brenna Hillier. You shouldn’t be setting fire to that physical media just yet, however.

Robert Stevenson

Gaikai’s Senior VP of Interactive Entertainment.

Held executive roles at Namco Bandai, Atari, and DreamCatcher.

Holds qualifications in design, computer science, and business.

Over 15 years experience in the industry.

Consumers tend to be more interested in streaming game service OnLive than Gaikai, because the latter isn’t being marketed to them; the service itself is the platform which does the marketing. But Gaikai, by its nature as an advertising tool, is something everyone can experience, and that sends a message to gamers that cloud gaming really works.

“At a very high level Gaikai and OnLive are doing the same thing, streaming games from the cloud,” Robert Stevenson, Gaikai’s interactive entertainment head, agreed.

“After that 50,000 foot point-of-view, the companies head in different directions approaching their target markets.”

Not only are they heading in different directions, but they’re doing it at very different speeds.

“From what they have stated, they have three data centers and are working towards a new one in the UK later this year,” Stevenson said of OnLIve.

“The Gaikai approach to enablement has really been to establish the fastest, broadest reaching network in the world and currently has 24 data centers, all live and streaming away. This gives us a solid reach into three continents and well over a dozen countries.

“We also focus heavily on peering and transit agreements with the major networks and ISPs to make sure our streams arrive efficiently into the ‘last mile’ to the consumer’s home. This is where we are today and we are continuing to aggressively grow.”

Gaikai came out of closed beta in February, and according to Sevenson, has been signing new sites and content “almost weekly” since then.

“Since we have deployed a broad reaching gaming cloud with 24 data centers and counting, gamers in North America and Europe can try some of the best titles today, and our service in Asia – where servers are already running – will become available to the public soon,” he explained.

“The fact that the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 still offer compelling gaming experiences and need to be fully amortized by the platform holders is a clear case that physical media will still play a role for many years. In terms of the lifecycle of cloud gaming, it is still quite early.”

“Today, it is definitely possible to run blockbuster games in all of the key gaming markets. It is early, but it is already being done. As more clients – browsers, TVs, tablets and other thin client devices – become enabled, the points of access for consumers will be everywhere. This will be extremely convenient for gamers, but the build out will take time and it will be years before it becomes the only option for gaming.”

On that note, Stevenson shot down my suggestion that physical media is just barely clinging to life.

“In the world of video games, another full generation of hardware, much less two, is still years away,” he said. “The fact that the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 still offer compelling gaming experiences and need to be fully amortized by the platform holders is a clear case that physical media will still play a role for many years. In terms of the lifecycle of cloud gaming, it is still quite early.”

An appreciation of physical media and the slow rollout of broadband globally also contribute to the pastic case’s grim grip on life, but it won’t hold on forever.

“The tide is turning and much like music, movies and books digital will eclipse physical and probably more rapidly than people think,” Stevenson said.

“Even if we discount the current crop of consumers and platforms as only partially transitionary in going fully digital, the inevitable reality is that there is a generation of young people today that only know content consumption through digital channels and their attachment to physical goods like CDs or DVDs is going to be relatively low.”

Demolishing road blocks

Before we arrive at the glittering, platform-agnostic future, we’re going to have to do something about the pathetic spaghetti delivering dribbles of data to our homes. Asked what kind of connection we’re talking about, Stevenson obligingly produced some numbers.

“While cloud services can of course operate on less capable connections, let’s say lower-end DSL at less than 2.5Mbps, the performance won’t be stellar and certainly will fall way short of the wow factor for the latest blockbuster FPS titles running at high resolution,” he admitted.

What is Gaikai?

A marketing tool offered to publishers, as opposed to a consumer service, that allows streaming game content to be played in a browser.

Headquarters in Orange County, California.

Allows limited time trials or demos to be streamed directly to the consumer.

Has a major content partnership with EA.

Delivery partners include Walmart and Eurogamer.

Plans for 10 million MAU by autumn.

Expected on Internet-capable TVs in 2012.

Backed by Intel Capital, Limelight Networks, Rustic Canyon Partners, Benchmark Capital, and TriplePoint Capital.

“A more reasonable target would be in the 5Mbps range as a baseline for a nice experience. More bandwidth of course, is always better.”

In this regard, ongoing improvements in connections favour Gaikai’s approach.

“In many countries particularly in Europe and Asia, 20, 50 and even 100Mbps broadband are becoming normal package offerings from top MSOs and ISPs,” the executive pointed out. “Countries that are lacking deep broadband penetration are also steadily improving. 4G/LTE mobile access is also another factor opening up more and more reach.”

Even in the shallower reached of the data pond, Gaikai is determined to get content out.

“One of the cool things about the Gaikai solution is that we dynamically present games to the end user based on the capabilities of their connection, Stevenson said.

“If for instance a user has a cable modem set-up at their house that gives them an 8ms ping to our nearest data center and 10Mbps worth of bandwidth, both very realistic numbers in the real world, they will see all of the games publishers have approved at that performance level.

“In the case of a slow connection, we may not pop-up ‘play now’ offers on Gaikai-enabled websites or on a Gaikai-enabled digital TV the catalogue of games being presented might be altered to show the games that will work best for that user. The key point is that we want to give the gamer a great experience that is suited to their capabilities.”

Despite all this, many of us – I don’t hesitate to guess most – haven’t seen Gaikai in action. Perry hinted this week that Gaikai has some major partner announcements to make in the not-too-distance future, and Stevenson echoed him by teasing new tech.

“We actually have a wide variety of clients live and available, completed and not yet live, or just in the works,” he said. “Look for future announcements as we progress.”

We most certainly will.

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5 Comments

  1. thesamy

    i cant use any of this cloud gaming in isreal
    but with viodes ive seen onlive will be the winner of this battle between
    them it look very good for now mybee in a year or 2 when connection will be fast enough this will be worth somthing

    #1 3 years ago
  2. OlderGamer

    All depends where you game from thesamy, I have a fast and smooth gameplay experience when playing Onlive. The only trouble I see with that service is the low selection of included games to play in their all in one play pack.

    These type os services will not succed if all they attempt to do is demo or sell one signel title at a time. It would be like Netflix. Why would I be interested in Netflix if it only let me pick(and pay for) one movie per purchase? that would make no sense. Netflix works because when I turn it on, I have thousands of choices. I can watch whatever I am in the mood to watch.

    Streaming gaming has to have that same level of service or it will fail. Paying full price for one game at a time is not a quaility ground breaking service. Thats what Steam or any other digital or brick and morter store already ofers. There is zero value to the consumer in that.

    Again if Netflix charged me 10usd per movie, and then allowed me to stream it(with limitations) I would be better off buying the said movie at walmart. Hell MS Zune marketplace allows us to purchase and stream and/or store movies in that fashion.

    Netflix works because it is low in price and high in selection.

    Onlive needs to achieve that same level of service.

    Gaikai needs to go away in my opinion.

    The trouble with Gaikai is that current platform holders will use and adapt its toolsets to attempt to control content and of course drive prices up. The first step will be able to see this will be when games come in demo fashion, and then require you to purchase/unlock content. the demo will be timed and non repeatable once time expires. Games will be nontransferable and locked into one system. Just like Live, requiring you to reunlock the game for other systems in other rooms, for fear that a family member(that didn’t pay for the game) might happen to use it. Gasp, because that would be a crime.

    It can’t work that way. But that is what Perry is trying to do. He is trying to sell his tech to MS/Sony/EA/and other such entities.

    It has to be one low price and a large selection of games. It has to work with one login from anywhere. Otherwise it will becomes just another form of DRM and a way to drive up prices with games being sold bit by bit as unlockable DLC/packs.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. evan

    I highly doubt that AAA games would cost $60 or more if full games were sold through Gaikai, usually digital distribution and healthy competition bring prices down–if Onlive was the only player out there for example, and game distribution changed over to the cloud and physical retail went away, they would eventually have incentive to charge $60/game – Just think of M$$$oft. And if a developer took 3 or 4 years to make a game and cloud distribution was the only way to sell it they’d have to make their money back somehow, either charging $60 or maybe microtransactions.

    Apple was the only choice of touchscreen/app market mobile OS for a while and they were ridiculously expensive and bundled with crappy AT&T service, now there are awesome affordable Android phones out there, multiple network choices, and mobile game development is growing like crazy.

    I’m really excited about what Gaikai is doing, especially finally giving us gamers more options for free game demos. Hopefully they’ll come out with more demos for more games. I checked out Mass Effect 2 and Dead Space 2 on Walmart and both ran amazingly well. The way I see it they can only bring cloud gaming up.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Phoenixblight

    “I highly doubt that AAA games would cost $60 or more if full games were sold through Gaikai, usually digital distribution and healthy competition bring prices down”

    You are wrong Publishers set the price and then the retailer has to bump it up to make a profit. With the advancement of technology we will infact be paying more and the downside of this Cloud services is you are not paying to own the game you are paying to use the publishers license for 3 years once the 3 years are up you have to buy the game again IF it is even on the server.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. OlderGamer

    What PB said.

    Thats one of the reasons that Gaikai is evil. The service it aiming for is one the Platform holders will use for their benifit. The service I want is one where I can pay a low price, then be able to use a large selection of games. Like Onlive. Like the old Sega Chanel. What Gaikai aims to do is to enable MS/Sony/Nintendo/EA/Acti and the like to distribute their products in such a fashion that they can control what you play and what you pay to the point where the only ones that win are the MS/Sony/Nintendo/EA/Act types.

    Imagine if record companies of old could have charged you for each listen of a song – beit on the radio, in a store, at a ballpark, or a friends sterio/cdplayer/whatever… if they could have gotten their way they would have done that. That is what Gaikai is aiming to give the power to companies to be able to do.

    Cloud is good. Gaikai is bad. That simple. Its all in the aplication of the tech. Do you serve gamers or do you provide more control and a larger stream of revenue for companies?

    My gut tells me that Gaiaki will be very popular, maybe not it in and of itself, but some form of what they are trying to sell.

    #5 3 years ago

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