Square Enix launched a cloud gaming service named Core Online. The service is currently in beta. The difference to a service like OnLive that streams video of your gameplay is that with Core Online the actual game data is buffered on your PC, so you still need modern PC hardware to play the PC games that Square Enix provides. The service was developed by Copenhagen, Demnark based Hapti.co studio, a wholly owned Square Enix Group subsidiary.
Titles available at launch include Hitman: Blood Money, from the famed Hitman franchise, and Mini Ninjas. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, the award-winning title announced in collaboration with Google at their Google IO event in June 2012, will launch at Core Online in October. Also under development for Core Online is Tomb Raider: Underworld, from the famed Tomb Raider series, and Gyromancer, the first title available on the service from Square Enix Japan. Further titles from Square Enix’s worldwide lineup of content are intended to be made available within the next year. Apart from Gyromancer, all these games are already a part of the OnLive games catalog, as Square Enix is a big supporter of OnLive.
"Square Enix is at the forefront of experimentation of new business and services models in the game industry," said Yoichi Wada, chief executive officer of Square Enix Holdings. "Through our Core Online technology service, users can access our content easily through the browser."
Wada said that the team at Hapti.co studio started developing a browser-based plug-in for Windows games in 2011. They called the technology the Square Enix Secure Launcher. “From there, Hapti.co was quietly experimenting with the technology and created a service around the plug-in, as well as the efforts of our Native Client work with Google, to bring our games to the consumer in a friendly and flexible way,” Wada added. “That began with Mini Ninjas in March 2012. We’re now ready to take the next step and spread the word about the service to our fans as we evolve the content selection and business models.”
Wada is being careful not to hype the business opportunity yet. He said, “We’re in an early phase where we are understanding consumer’s interest and preferred payment models. The browser allows us to present content in unique ways; users can now play high-definition games instantly, on any supported PC, starting and stopping where and when they wish. This is a new frontier for us, and we’re absorbing significant knowledge as we take the lead and grow the service.”
Games on Core Online are made available via a combination of Google and Square Enix's proprietary technology, which allows for support of Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer web browsers. The technology combines Google’s Native Client (NaCl) platform that allows a web page to tap a computer’s 3D graphics hardware to render games inside the web page in Chrome. It also takes advantage of Square Enix's own proprietary technology to extend Core Online to both the Firefox and Internet Explorer web browsers.
David Guldbrandsen, the managing director of Hapti.co studios, said that Core Online is using Google’s Native Client technology as well as other enhancements. Mini Ninjas is already available on the Chrome Web Store as a featured app with 3D graphics. The Square Enix Secure Launcher extends the 3D technology so that it can run in Internet Explorer and Firefox. It uses Microsoft’s ActiveX for Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s NAPI (Netscape Application Programming Interface) technology for other browsers. The technology is similar to Adobe’s Flash or Unity Technologies’ 3D browser plug-in, which you download once.
“The plug-in in itself is very small but allows us to execute game code efficiently within the browser,” Guldbrandsen said. “In time we want to release as many fantastic Square Enix games as possible. It is our ambition to give everyone the possibility to play a great variety of games with very high quality.”
Core Online is easy to use, allowing players to click on a level and start playing instantly, and giving them the ability to start from any part of the game they wish.
Aspects of the user experience such as saves and achievements are managed in the cloud, and can be accessed from the web browser. In the future, Core Online services may be a feature of Square Enix's global online services.
Square Enix also launched a new business model for Core Online, enabling free content supported by video advertising, similar to television advertising. Users can elect to skip advertisements by purchasing levels and entire games.