Cloud gaming was a big topic of discussion at the Game Developers Conference last week, prompted by OnLive's announcement that it was launching a games streaming service for Mac and PC. The service, it's claimed, will allow users to play the most high-end PC titles over the internet without owning or downloading the games, and without lag. The service should also be available for home TVs and monitors, with the addition of a set-top box.
A day after OnLive's announcement, former Shiny boss and creative director of Acclaim, Dave Perry, revealed he also had begun work on a similar streaming games service, Gaikai, which would not require any additional hardware beyond a broadband connection.
With fellow execs Andrew Gault and Rui Pereira, Gaikai is based in Amsterdam, and claims that through its Streaming Worlds service, any PC will be able to play cutting-edge games anywhere there's an internet connection - with nothing to install, not even a browser plug-in. Initial details on the service can be seen at the Gaikai website.
In this exclusive interview, Perry agreed to discuss some of the early ideas of Gaikai, although a big reveal is planned later this year at E3. Here he discusses creating a frictionless environment between content and user, why cloud gaming is the inevitable future, and why OnLive won't be able to compete with Gaikai.
Q: Where has the idea for Gaikai come from, and what's been holding such a service back?
Dave Perry: I've always had this dream of playing game I can't afford. And in a round about way, the issue is that the internet is not fast enough and therefore we've been held back. And the reality is with the right deals done with the right ISPs, we actually could achieve the bandwidth required to deliver incredible experiences today. The problem is it's going to require the support of major ISPs. So you're going to have to have servers in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, in New York, etcetera.
Q: Cloud gaming came up a lot at GDC this year, not only because of the OnLive announcement, but it was discussed in detail at the Luminaries Lunch by Will Wright, Warren Spector, Brian Fargo...
Dave Perry: Right, I think they got the taste, and these guys are on top of their game. When they started thinking about it they all at some point got to agree that this would change a lot about videogames. It would be a big deal, and they like the idea.
What happens is that any time a new platform comes out there's always a problem with it and we as designers try to get around the problem. Like the Nintendo Wii controller has inaccuracies but people try to work around it, and they end up making great games. With cloud computing, what most spoils the idea is ease of access, ease of use and all that stuff. Wouldn't it be convenient to have a whole bunch of games that you could just click and play? There's no question that it reduces the friction to almost zero. I don't even have to wait in the same way that when you put a CD or DVD into a player you have to wait for it to boot. All of that is gone, just imagine, firmware updates, all gone.
Q: As if price of consoles and software isn't a barrier, home hardware needs user attention before it can even play games. I know this is something that winds you up...
Dave Perry: I joke about the firmware updates on the PS3 but it's not funny because it really bugs me, every single time I go and turn on my PS3 I get this stupid message. And it's not quick. It's this big long process. And I sit there thinking I hope the power doesn't go while I'm doing this because it's always telling me not to switch off my machine. Why put me through that so much? It's funny because the concept of firmware updating is not a problem for me, I'm looking forward to the iPhone's 3.0 software, because I know it's going to be much better. I'll be excited to use the device afterwards. I'm not excited if it's a security patch, or a hacker patch, and I can't see any change on my console whatsoever. I have no problem with once a year or once every six months, but come on.
Q: Considering how close the games business says it is to its consumers, there's still these clumsy barriers in the way, and that's where cloud gaming comes in – in theory it's instant?
Dave Perry: It's something that we as users shouldn't have to deal with. I like the Update button on the iPhone because it's on my time. I don't have to update now, it never says 'you can't use your iPhone, you can't make any calls or anything until the handset is updated'. Making access as easy and seamless as possible is key. You should give hardware permission so that any down time it sees over the next three or four days it sneaks it in there but I don't have to see it myself.
Q: Is cloud gaming the inevitable evolution of videogames? Is this in effect, the realisation of the one console future?
Dave Perry: Do you like spending six or seven hundred dollars on consoles? I don't like spending all that money over and over and over. And I also don't like having to rifle through a shelf to get at a game. When Netflix came along and I could click on movies and they would show up, it seemed really convenient. I thought that was the best thing ever, until I used Netflix streaming. That's even better. I'm discovering movies I wasn't even aware of. To just click and get your content, that's the future, there it is on your screen. Can you imagine that with games? You're reading the review, and you read that the next Crysis game is phenomenal, and click – there it is. Now I'm playing it. Once you do that once or twice you will never ever want to go back.
Q: It sounds ideal in theory, but doesn't it now all come down to technology barriers?
Dave Perry: The question is, can it be done technically? Not in the past, no. But today, absolutely. The issue that we have in the US is that we're very slow on the uptake of real broadband. I'm embarrassed, I come from Northern Ireland, it's this little place, and they've got much faster internet connections than we have. We're in California, Silicon Valley, but are you kidding me? It's rubbish. The thing that's retarding this is simply the uptake in the US. In European country's content delivered like this is a given. In Asia there's no issue whatsoever.
Q: And that's the main barrier – broadband connections? OnLive made a big splash at GDC but people are really questioning the technology behind the theory.
Dave Perry: The company that I have, Gaikai, it's just that our solution is arguably better than anything OnLive has. But of course I'm biased. I'll tell you the reason why, and there's one reason why we're better than them – they're never going to be able to beat us on this. They have to download one megabyte and install it on your computer. What does that mean? It means that everyone in schools, or any kind of uptight or professional business location is not going to be able to download some random game via the internet and install it. And they'll have to go through patches and updates and everything else. Ours has no download. That's the difference. It seems trivial, only one megabyte download, but it's not, it's the act of having to download it.
Q: Are you taking lessons you've learnt from Acclaims' free-to-play market over to Gaikai?
Dave Perry: I know from the free-to-play games business that we lose approximately 60 per cent of our players, and we pay for that. We have this funnel where players start downloading the game, and they start falling down the sides during the download process. It's stunning how many complete the download process – the whole thing – and then never click on 'install'. They get distracted, it took an hour and a half and they've gone off and done something else. There's a certain amount that actually click install and then run out of hard-drive space. And then they need to get the latest drivers. And we require registration, and people hate that. And at the end of the day, when they show up in the game, we've lost 60 per cent. So we have a much bigger audience that we've paid for than we actually get. We're left with 40 per cent and we're hoping they will continue and actually make us money. If we can solve that, we get 60 per cent of our audience back.
With Gaikai we're not going to make users register before they play. Ultimately, we're not going to do what the obvious is because we've learnt a lot from the free-to-play business. We've got tricks that are very important to getting frictionless involvement with entertainment media. OnLive is creating friction and they are forever doomed as a competitor if they have to do that. What we're always looking for is the next step that will make it even easier. As well as that, it's about price. You don't have to buy a console. I want to be really clear about what the concept is. The concept is you can play PlayStation 4 games without having to actually buy it. You can play any major title without actually installing it. You never have to go through any of the pain at all. It's frictionless from beginning to end. And that's the value.
Q: But how does that work in terms of the IP rights? You're going to buying rights to host a company's games?
Dave Perry: You have a revenue sharing deal. It depends, but the obvious way is to say for the amount of time people choose your game, you get that percentage share. So 50 per cent of playtime goes to your game, you get 50 per cent of the revenue share. It goes in a pool and we take a percentage for maintaining and running the service.
Q: Have you discussed this with many content creators, and what's their reaction been?
Dave Perry: That's a really good question, because the problem was I planning to launch this at E3. I was extremely frustrated, OnLive has been working on this a long time, and they're not done. They are nowhere near done. It's frustrating because they stole the limelight and I feel pushed to talk about it before I'm ready to talk about.
Q: Do you think they announced it at GDC early because they know there's competition coming?
Dave Perry: They know there are other people coming. They're smart. Do I hope they're successful? You bet I do. And secondly, talking to content providers is always a lot easier when someone else has already done a deal with them. I think overall it's a very exciting thing. But at the end of the day it's going to come down to a technology decision by the consumer, what's easiest?. And I think that's where we're going to win. I would be concerned if I was them, I would be very concerned, because they've placed their bet on the table and committed to it now.
David Perry is co-founder of Gaikai. Interview by Matt Martin.