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GDC: iSwifter expects hundreds of PC games soon

The streaming game technology can bring PC games to mobile without writing any code

The announcement yesterday by iSwifter of its PC game streaming technology raised a number of questions, so we talked to founder Rajat Gupta to get get some answers in this exclusive interview. iSwifter made $10 million in revenue in 2011.

GamesIndustry.biz How is iSwifter different from other streaming technologies?
Rajat Gupta

The unique thing about us as compared to OnLive and Gaikai, they were built like 10 years back, so essentially they were really in a gaming era that's different from what it is today. If you really think about what OnLive did, they took games that were initially being run on consoles and they brought them to PCs. Their technology, their architecture and their stack was built specifically for that use case. We are the next generation, taking games built for the PC and we're taking them to mobile. At the end of the day, all of these companies are streaming companies, but the technology stacks are very different.

GamesIndustry.biz How exactly does your technology compare to OnLive?
Rajat Gupta

Onlive uses dedicated hardware, so with every server they slip in a proprietary card, and that has a couple of implications. One is the cost structure goes up, the second is because they're building this custom hardware that has limitations on the scalability. This is why they've taken over $100 million in VC money and they have only 140 games.

This game [indicating the demo] is actually running on an off-the-shelf low-cost server running in our office. Which means our cost structure is very much less compared to somebody like OnLive. Another difference is on a platform like OnLive you actually have to go and write code, optimize it for their platform and then they can stream. This is on-the-fly; we did not exchange a single line of conversation with this publisher in order to make this work.

"The number 1 game on iSwifter is FarmVille... These games are free-to-play, yet people actually pay for iSwifter to be able to play these games."

Rajat Gupta
GamesIndustry.biz Can you announce any PC games that will be available through your technology?
Rajat Gupta

Currently iSwifter is working with multiple publishers to bring their games en masse to mobile. We've done a license deal with a large PC games publisher. We're under embargo right now with that publisher, and we are very close to signing deals with several others. There should be a couple of hundred games available in a couple of months.

GamesIndustry.biz Why should a publisher work with your technology?
Rajat Gupta

Publishing shrunk over 8% last year, while mobile grew over 60%. This way, instantly, with no redevelopment effort, the same game will come out on the iPad, it will come out on the Kindle Fire.

GamesIndustry.biz How do you handle converting the PC game inputs to the mobile environment without writing any special code?
Rajat Gupta

There's an abstraction layer that takes mouse and keyboard inputs and in real-time maps them to touchscreen gestures and actions.

GamesIndustry.biz How do you deal with the different screen resolutions between the PC games and the tablets or smartphones?
Rajat Gupta

Screen resolution works in favor of mobile devices, it scales down in real time. What's going to be very interesting is what happens when the iPad 3 comes out. What we're doing, from a scale-down perspective won't really matter then because it's much higher resolution. There's going to be an even larger library of games that's going to run in even higher resolutions. So they will look that much better right away.

GamesIndustry.biz What about shooters? Can your technology handle an FPS where latency and lag are such critical issues?
Rajat Gupta

There's a category of games we're not focused on at the moment. A game like an FPS, this platform is not focused on that right now.

GamesIndustry.biz You've talked about tablets, and shown a demo on a tablet. But what about smartphones? Smartphones are a different market, since the screen real estate is so much smaller.
Rajat Gupta

Not all kinds of games work well on that size. FarmVille, social games, they all work really well. All you need to do is scroll around and point out things on a map.

GamesIndustry.biz Your iSwifter app allows users to play any Flash game on an iPad, and it's been out for a year. How has it been received?
Rajat Gupta

With iSwifter you just launch it, log into Facebook and play any game you want. Over Christmas it was the #6 game in the App Store. The number 1 game on iSwifter is FarmVille. Why it's ironic is that FarmVille has a native iOS app which is reasonably full-featured. These games are free-to-play, yet people actually pay for iSwifter to be able to play these games.

If you look at the FarmVille native iOS app, it's not in the top-grossing apps. The iSwifter app, we own the users, and we make money allowing them to play free-to-play games. The iSwifter app was meant to be a prototype, and it's done reasonably well.

GamesIndustry.biz Final thoughts on iSwifter?
Rajat Gupta

Game development cycles are very long, and why not just build your game once and have it available on a variety of platforms?

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Steve Peterson

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Steve Peterson has been in the game business for 30 years now as a designer (co-designer of the Champions RPG among others), a marketer (for various software companies) and a lecturer. Follow him on Twitter @20thLevel.