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The Revolution Will Be Televised

OnLive, Gaikai, PlayJam and TransGaming present the case for games on Smart TV

Depending on who you talk to or which study you read, the average person spends anywhere from four to six hours a day watching television. No doubt, there are many gamers whose playing habits rival or even exceed those figures, but those people belong to a small, dedicated niche found at the very fringes of the "core" audience. They are hours burned away in front of online shooters and PC MMOs - the colateral of the few.

Television is different. The 28 hours the average British person spends watching TV each week is more inclusive, and the same goes for the 36 invested by the average American. Unlike gaming, there isn't a small clutch of demographics cheerfully bolstering the figures while the vast majority of the rest dabble for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. Watching hour upon hour of television spans age, gender and social background in a way that playing games has never come close to rivalling.

While games are on every phone and every browser, in the living room they remain a secondary concern. For companies like OnLive, Gaikai, PlayJam and TransGaming, this is the final obstacle standing between the industry and true mainstream penetration, and the proliferation of internet-connected and Smart TVs present the best opportunity to finally achieve that goal.

Of those companies, OnLive is arguably the most progressive. First announced at GDC in 2009, the company's promise of AAA games streamed from the cloud made hardware specs obsolete and signalled the end of console gaming as we know it. It was also greeted by a chorus of dissenting voices and raised eyebrows, understandably wary of such a lofty claim and its disruptive implications.

More than two years later and OnLive has already been operational in the US for nearly 15 months, and on September 22 it will receive an official UK launch. The critics may not have been silenced altogether but OnLive is gathering momentum, and that will only increase by the end of the year, when the company's deals with Vizio and Intel result in the first OnLive-integrated Smart TVs and Blu-ray players hitting the market.

Core gaming, up untill now, has been a pretty planned experience... There's not that Netflix experience. With OnLive, there is

Steve Perlman, OnLive

"OnLive certainly is important to the game space for making it so you don't need a console in order to enjoy a game on your TV," says founder and CEO Steve Perlman. "And then the most obvious place to put it is in the TV, and not in a separate box."

According to Perlman, OnLive's cloud-based service provides manufacturers with a powerful tool to address a problem unique to connected and Smart TVs: obsolescence.

"When all that TVs were doing was playing back video, the only obsolescence you might have is going from standard definition to high definition - which happens, what, once every fifty years? TVs had a very, very long life," he says.

But the hardware on any given Smart TV is more complex, and its relative performance can be measured in a greater number of ways. Even a company making apps for a single manufacturer might have to consider several models, all with different specifications.

"They might have a feature they want to do and they find that nothing more than one or two years old can run it," Perlman adds. "So in walks OnLive: we work on every TV, we add no cost to the TV, and anybody who wants to develop an application can now develop that application in the cloud and it works perfectly."

On a number of occasions during our interview, Perlman mentions the "TAM." This stands for "total addressable market," and Smart TVs stand to improve OnLive's by several orders of magnitude - if Perlman's projections are accurate, around the service could theoretically reach 75 million people by the end of this year alone.

"It's the same thing that happened to Netflix - in the United States, you can't buy a TV or Blu-ray player that doesn't have Netflix," he says.

"Netflix has got, what, 28 million users now? Those users didn't come just because they have a set-top box or PC or Mac; they came because Netflix is everywhere, and because people who felt like watching a movie just found that it was there. It was the casual usage of streaming media."

"Core gaming, up till now, has been a pretty planned experience: you've got to fire up the console or PC, put in the disc, load up the game you've been playing. There's no, 'I heard about this interesting game, I think I'll try the first five minutes and see if it interests me.' There's not that Netflix experience. With OnLive, there is."

Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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