Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Gaikai has Partnered with Facebook to Provide Cloud Streamed PC Game Demos

David Perry's cloud gaming service Gaikai is ready to roll out to social networking site Facebook, offering demos of hardcore PC games accessed with just a few clicks.

Speaking at Cloud Gaming Europe, Perry revealed the deal is already done with Facebook, and follows similar deals that have seen time limited high-end game demos from the likes of EA, Ubisoft and Capcom on YouTube, Best BuyEA Origin, Green Man GamingEurogamer and the biggest retailer in the US, Walmart. Gaikai rival OnLive has partnered with IGN and GameSpot to provide game demos.

"Our next big launch is on Facebook and we've been working with them for some time," confirmed Perry. The company had been showing games running within Facebook at E3 last year behind closed doors.

Perry demoed Blizzard's World of Warcraft on the social network, stating: "Facebook already owns the category of casual gaming, we're going to help them own core games. A click and boom, you're playing World of Warcraft." Later a Gaikai representative stated, "Gaikai is NOT bringing WoW to Facebook (at least not in the foreseeable future). David Perry forgot to preface the demo by saying it is purely a tech demo, to demonstrate how long the sign-up process for games can be and to show how Gaikai can make it so much faster and simpler for consumers."

Traditionally, growth in the games industry hasn't been gradual--it has been a series of step changes, according to Perry. This is just as true now as it was when the Sinclair ZX moved up from a 1K device to a 16K device.

The step from large storage capacities of Blu-rays, solid-state storage, and hard drives to unlimited cloud storage will be a similar jump, he said. The fact that technology already exists to give gamers almost-instant access to every game ever made is a significant opportunity no one has exploited yet, though OnLive is on the way there.

Various other hurdles are also about to be jumped, Perry said. Speech cognition, situational understanding, and AI have all been held back by hardware limitations--but the massive increase in resources that comes with the cloud will put an end to all these limitations.

Used-game sales from the likes of GameStop are accelerating these changes, as they are encouraging publishers to look elsewhere for cheaper distribution options. However, he also held up GameStop as a "shining example" of a company that was investing in a smart way to survive the shift to digital.

The shift to digital platforms will be of massive benefit to gamers, according to Perry. "Free-to-play is pro-consumer" and not something gamers should be "hating on," he said. He went on to describe how traditional publishers could learn from social games by decreasing "friction" in allowing people to try to share games they're enjoying. While cost is one of the main sources of friction, Perry said, much of it is about just making it easier for gamers to play your games.

Making demos easier to access; lowering barriers to entry in terms of downloads, legal agreements, and registration overheads; and making the consumer's needs central to developers' thinking will be key. Apple's approach shows how reducing friction can benefit your sales, as it revolutionised mobile gaming simply by making it easier for gamers to play.

One of the biggest barriers to owning consumers online is friction, said Perry, who highlighted that to play a demo on Valve's Steam service the user needs to click on the screen more than 40 times, filling in forms, answering questions about internet speed, signing terms of service and other hurdles.

Although Steam "saved PC gaming," it is a terrible platform when it comes to friction, Perry said. He illustrated this argument by showing the full 43-step process required to get hold of a game demo via Steam, suggesting a process this long will lose the vast majority of consumers. He said that according to Gaikai's research, 73.5 percent of gamers would choose cloud delivery for games if it were an option.

"Bring the game to the gamer, don't move people, move games," he added. "Zynga has figured out that you put the customer first, very aggressively. You click once and you get to play for free, you share it with your friends and then you pay Zynga if you love it. It's as pro-consumer as you can get and that is why their valuation has skyrocketed."

Perry compared World of Warcraft to Facebook Apps, he said, "World of Warcraft launch-month sales meant that if it was a Facebook App it would have debuted in 67th place."

Most of the money in the industry comes from hits and high-quality games, Perry said, and it's just a matter of bringing those games to the mass audience by making them as easy as possible to try to start playing.

This is something Gaikai is working hard on, said Perry, showing a quick demo of Gaikai's Facebook service that will let anyone stream games through Facebook and play titles such as World of Warcraft, Bulletstorm, and the like without ever actually leaving Facebook or downloading anything. The service will be launched in the near future.

"Some of the traditional publishers who have ignored all of this are falling off a cliff. Look at their stock prices, it's not good," he warned.

The home consoles are up against stiffer competition says Perry, and their desire to become entertainment devices may be their own downfall as they fail to distinguish themselves from TV manufacturers who have realised they can serve games to customers through cloud gaming deals.

"Consoles are in an interesting place right now. If you look at Sony it has a saying that 'It Only Does Everything'. I think that one statement says that consoles are going to go away. This next cycle you're going to see them turn into media devices, media boxes, I don't even think they're going to be called consoles. They won't want to be associated with that word because it just means games."

Games companies make "billions" off games played on TVs, said Perry. "Why should they get to have all the fun?"

"Steve Jobs showed that the trick is not to make money off the hardware but to monetise the devices. Everyone that pays for stuff on their iPhone makes more and more money for Apple. Why should I buy a $1000 TV and then a $500 box when all I need is a TV? By revealing what their goals are they're basically setting the end game for consoles as we know it," he added.

Introducing the Facebook audience to more hardcore opportunities shouldn't be a bad thing. Unless your mom starts sending you invites to join her guild page, "Massive Mamacitas."

SOURCES: GamesIndustry.biz, GameSpot, Joystiq.

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