Friday, 1 June 2012

Gaikai Will Power a Cloud Gaming Service from Samsung and Possibly from ASUS

The Verge published an article about their visit to Gaikai's headquarters in Aliso Viejo, California. Part of that article was an announcement about a partnership of Gaikai and Samsung that will be announced at E3. The article was pulled down pretty quickly and is now back up again.

At the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles next week, Samsung will formally announce a partnership with Gaikai to introduce a cloud gaming service for its high-end Smart TVs, and roll out a private beta soon afterwards.

The Verge were shown a Samsung Smart TV, playing high-end PC games like The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition without so much as a set-top box; they're delivered solely over the internet. More importantly, it's an existing TV that's already on sale, with only a firmware update on top.

"We don't need special chips or hardware," said Gaikai CEO David Perry, adding that the update has been in the works for over six months with engineers flying to and from Korea in the interim.

That might not immediately sound like a game-changing announcement, but Gaikai executives are over the moon: Samsung is arguably the world's largest technology company — "There isn't a bigger deal to do in cloud gaming," said Perry — and it's not Gaikai's first rodeo. Samsung rival LG already committed to updating every one of its 2012 Cinema 3D television sets to include Gaikai back at CES, and the company believes it's going to be a strong differentiator. In Gaikai's spacious glass conference room, Perry showed two TVs on a wall and said, "The TV on the right plays every video game ever made, the one on the left doesn't. The cost difference is nothing. That's why we think it's going to be compelling."

If that sounds akin to the Netflix strategy of putting a popular streaming service on every viable platform to shake out the most users, it's no accident. "We're incredibly jealous that movies and music are everywhere, on every device, and we would really like everywhere you see a Netflix icon, for there to be the best games available as well," said Perry. The difference is that Gaikai isn't trying to build a paywall for protected content: the company wants its games to be as ubiquitous as YouTube. Today, if you go to Best Buy or Walmart in your web browser and check out a supported game, you can play a timed demo right there embedded in your browser window, even blow it up to full screen, without ever leaving the store's page. In the near future, though, Gaikai plans to make that YouTube analogy complete. It's planning to offer full embed codes so you can put a Gaikai window in any old blog or website, and shortlinks that you can tweet. With embedded buttons and scannable QR codesPerry suggests, every single marketing material for a game (whether poster or email blast) could direct you to an instantly playable game demo.

David Perry said that if you've got a Samsung Smart TV, you won't be playing on Gaikai proper; You'll be playing on Samsung's cloud gaming service, powered by Gaikai's cloud gaming network. While Gaikai facilitates the transaction, negotiates rights to particular games, integrates them into the service, builds the UI, and even puts the physical server racks together, it's Samsung that's footing the bill and Samsung that reaps the rewards. Samsung will get a cut of the purchase price, just like a brick and mortar retailer would. The secret, Gaikai says, is that each new partner pays for their own set of dedicated servers in Gaikai's cloud, such that every time there's a new company, the whole network expands that much more and thus lowers the latency to end users. Each partner that isn't using their full capacity at a given moment leaves that much additional bandwidth for others to stream their games, and as a result, Gaikai claims its service is now live in 88 countries. In short, this means that it's not a centralized Gaikai that's expanding, so much as a slew of prospective grey-label providers using Gaikai's cloud gaming network.

As Gaikai doesn't demo on certain hardware coincidentally, a cloud gaming partnership with ASUS is also in the cards. ASUS also let loose a Computex 2012 teaser video that's heavy with clouds, maybe some of them are of the gaming kind. You can watch the video below.

The Verge got a look at a hefty ASUS laptop with a 120Hz 3D screen, streaming Darksiders in stereoscopic 3D. Gaikai says it takes a bit more bandwidth for 3D content since it's processing twice the frames, about 8-10 megabits compared to the 5-6 megabits the company typically recommends for streaming. They've also got a first taste of Hawken, an innovative Unreal 3 engine powered free-to-play multiplayer online game where players battle giant armored mechs amongst the ruined cities of a toxic planet, and even managed to pull off an ultra combo in Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition using a Logitech F710 wireless gamepad on a NVIDIA Tegra 3 powered ASUS Transformer Prime.

Both Hawken and Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition ran exceptionally smoothly on ASUS' tablet and looked great on the relatively small IPS LCD screen. Gaikai partnered with Meteor Entertainment, a newly formed publisher of free-to-play video games to bring Hawken to gamers via their cloud gaming network.

One of the major challenges for cloud gaming services like Gaikai is figuring out how to deal with the growing popularity of devices that only have touchscreens. Here, though, Gaikai has aces in the hole: Brendan Iribe, chief product officer at Gaikai just so happened to be the president, CEO, and co-founder of Scaleform before its acquisition by Autodesk last year. If you're not familiar, Scaleform created an extremely popular middleware solution also named Scaleform for building scalable video game user interfaces, used in blockbuster titles like Batman: Arkham City and Mass Effect 3. In fact, Iribe's also brought over his partner Michael Antonov, who was Scaleform's chief technology officer, and Gaikai just signed a deal to license Scaleform last week. Surprise, surprise: the tablet and TV interfaces that Gaikai showed were built on Scaleform, and the company's also prepping touchscreen controls for its Android App using the tool. Gaikai engineer David Coles let The Verge take the rudimentary touchscreen UI for a spin, and while they think it's not particularly impressive at this early stage — just a virtual D-pad and some buttons — the vision is rather neat: You'll use your tablet as a touchscreen controller for your Gaikai-equipped television, then press a "Takeover" button and transfer the whole session to your tablet screen so you can take your game with you.

As chief product officer, with his background in the Scaleform UI tech, Brendan Iribe is in charge of Gaikai's tablet and TV initiatives. But he says that's just one piece of the puzzle. He's here to help build an SDK that not only lets TV, tablet and set-top box manufacturers get integrated with Gaikai's cloud gaming network, but game developers too. "They want to start targeting the cloud as a new platform," Iribe says. Gaikai CEO David Perry added, "Think about all the new things you can do in a game when you have unlimited storage. Like if the game is 100GB, that's fine by us. If the game needs multiple GPUs, that's possible too."


  1. This seems to suggest that it's Onlive that's partenered with Sony...

    1. There are also rumors flying around that Sony will partner with Gaikai to allow current-generation hardware to play PlayStation 2 and PSone games, so who knows, it goes back and forth. At the end nothing might come of it, at least at E3, but we'll know soon enough.

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