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In-Depth: Gaikai's Perry On Gaming's Jump To The Cloud
In-Depth: Gaikai's Perry On Gaming's Jump To The Cloud
November 11, 2010 | By Kris Graft

November 11, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

Dave Perry, game industry veteran and CEO of cloud gaming upstart Gaikai, thinks the industry is at the beginning of an important technological transition, one where more technically-demanding games will be available to almost anyone with access to a web browser.

With Gaikai and other cloud gaming solutions, web goers are able to play a triple-A game without installing it to their hard drives. Reducing the time and amount of clicks it takes to get into a game means greater accessibility for users, and more opportunities for developers and publishers.

Perry likens the transition from disc gaming to cloud gaming to when home consoles became as powerful as arcade machines, which used to be the the pinnacle of video game technology. As consoles brought arcade-grade power to gamers, cloud gaming can bring high-end gaming PC power to average web users.

Notably, Gaikai's business model isn't the same as competing cloud service OnLive -- where OnLive has been selling "PlayPasses" for remotely-hosted games, Gaikai will initially make its revenue by partnering with publishers, which will use the streaming tech to allow users to click on a web ad and almost instantly access a game.

Here, Perry relates past technical advancements in gaming to the current industry landscape, describes the kinds of personalities it takes to make such advancements, and explains why he's "not remotely" worried about OnLive.

Where does cloud gaming fit between digital downloads and currently popular web-based gaming like social games?

David Perry: As games get better on Facebook, you’ll be drawn to them; you’ll find it hard to go back to the old text-based stuff. The history of the industry has also, I think, taken that to an extreme in the past, where you had arcade machines -- I just accepted that I wasn’t going to be buying arcade machines for home, so it was okay to go put your quarters in it.

But you know what? I wanted that experience; I want to play Daytona. And so I was very happy to pop my quarters in and not spend $10,000 on one of those machines for my house.

And I kind of feel like [the industry is] going there again in a weird way. This is the long range forecast -- there are experiences out there that people don’t want to have to pay for the actual hardware to deliver.

So if I told you that $30,000 worth of servers they could give you an experience like you’ve never seen before, inside Facebook, would you want that experience? And I think once you’ve tasted it, you find it actually kind of hard to go back to your old way of doing things. And that just hasn’t ever been technically possible before, so it wasn’t even a relevant discussion; it didn’t matter.

But what’s changed is that that’s not actually even technically that hard anymore. The answer’s "yes we can do that." I would love to be a fly on the wall and have people when they first click and get Call of Duty: Black Ops in Facebook, I want to see the look on someone’s face when they say “owahhh what's going on?!, how could this be possible?!”, right?

And that’s not that that’s necessarily the perfect game for the audience, I’m just saying that the technical capabilities, those walls will be completely taken down and I think people will start chasing after more and more incredible experiences that…

And I don’t think for a moment that Facebook users are only interested in playing FarmVille style graphics. I think they go and see the latest feature movies, and they see when the dinosaur looks a bit crap and then they see the one where the dinosaur looks really good and they’re like, “Wow, this is awesome!” [The audience is] totally capable of making those decisions, you know?

...I remember first seeing Sonic The Hedgehog. Sonic The Hedgehog wasn’t just a game about running around and collecting up rings, it was one of the most impressive pieces of technical programming you’d ever seen.

Blast processing! [laughs]

Yeah, you remember that? I remember looking at it going, “How in the hell is this guy doing this?! This is so hard!”

When I first played that when I was a kid, I was just like, "There‘s no way graphics can get any better."

[laughs] Simply stunning! It’s just every time we get a little taste of it, and usually it’s powered by the hardware in the device. But I guess that’s the point, there’s an opportunity to make people pay attention to your products.

If I was to build a Facebook company today and I wanted Zynga to buy it, that’s what I would do -- I would go and I would make games and put together some really badass programmers to try to move the needle. And not just say, “Well, we’ll just program it kind of the way everybody else is.”

...It’s a very simple mental attitude, which is ‘there must be a way‘. We went to Adobe and we said, “Would you modify Flash for Gaikai?”, and the response came back -- hell no. Anybody else would have said, “Well, Adobe’s not willing to do it, and it’s impossible to do what we wanna do, so therefore that’s the end of that."

But that’s not the attitude when you have the kind of mentality of, “Well, how can we make Flash do this?” And they [Gaikai co-CTOs Rui Pereira and Andrew Gault] start hacking into Flash and working out what will make Flash do what we need it to do.

And we actually got our service up and running on the older version of Flash at that time, and we went to show Adobe and let them see what the experience was like if only they would do what we asked. And when they saw that, they were incredibly responsive and they ended up modifying Flash for us.

And so, it’s that kind of attitude you get stuff done that normally people would stop at. I call ‘em hurdle jumpers ... Those are the people that are absolutely worth their weight in gold.

So you’re not too worried that OnLive’s been out since June?

Not at all, not even remotely. They’re having to give this service away. Every time I fire up OnLive I watch dollars fly out of my machine, because it’s just setting their money on fire.

Every hour I play of OnLive is an hour of their server time gone, so it’s a pretty funny…it’s a fun business model to watch. It’s got to be making their VCs a little uncomfortable, watching this as it goes down.

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Kris Morness
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I'll definitely be keenly watching how this whole thing plays out. But I really don't quite get it yet. With all the consoles and gaming PCs out there, there isn't anything advanced enough out there to really warrant anything like this yet, but do you really think that playing CoD inside Facebook is going to be a good investment of cash for the obviously huge bandwidth and lag challenges? I can't see this working viably in today's conditions.

Let's say, someone out there makes some incredible MMO game running on a cloud that just blows everything away from a graphical and interaction standpoint -- the old arcade analogy. And say anyone can play the game on any computer with a browser anywhere in the world. Now you've moved your barriers of entry from hardware and performance to bandwidth. But in doing so, the costs have migrated from the users purchasing their own hardware to the guys running the cloud service. Bandwidth right now is not cheap, nor fast nor plentiful. I don't see this improving drastically enough in the next 5 years.

And I wonder if the types of users that would be most willing to pay for a service like this would likely be the ones that already have capable gaming machines. If I'm a gamer with a browser laptop, I'd be faced with paying some sort of subscription fee -- maybe $15-20 per month, but also risk bandwidth limitations depending on IP or the cloud subscription. I do respect that Gaikai has a different business model involving publisher sponsored games that are free to players initially, but I don't see that being very sustainable nor profitable either.

I guess the point is, if I wanted to play CoD or WoW -- I'd just play it on the respective gaming system and be done with it. Playing them on a laptop while on a flight or at Starbucks might be cool and convenient, but not a preferred situation and I don't really see this as solving a problem. Maybe in 5 years?

Bob Sanders
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Would love to see the tech of Gaikai working!

Christopher Boothroyd
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I agree with Dave that Onlive wasn't really the model to follow. Yikes piles of burning money! It will be the Gaikais or GameStrings (our browser cloud gaming effort) that initially bring this is in under a less direct model and make it stick.

Two drivers to consider:

* Bandwidth & Server hardware costs drop every day (yes even in the US)

* Once you've played a game like this in your browser, its reeeaal hard to go back to disks and downloads!

Its all about convenience and those 10-30min social gaming sessions now.

Christer Kaitila
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IMHO "remote control action gaming" will succeed only when everyone's ping is under 1ms. Until then, only puzzle games, adventure games, and non-twitch games can possibly be fun. Shooters, racers, shmups - anything twitch is absolutely not playable with ping over 10ms. Luckily, I'm sure that within 15 years ping will indeed be low enough for this to be viable. Until then... this is still great for adventure games/cinematics/movies and turn based strategy games like Civ 5.

Ian Uniacke
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The problem is that within that 15 years download speeds will be so fast that there may be no point for cloud gaming. On top of that hardware is becoming extremely cheap, and even a budget model PC can have kick arse graphics. So this interestingly puts the squeeze on cloud gaming. Is it a model that will ever have a time? I'm not convinced so.

Adrian Ghizaru
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The fact that budget PCs can output decent graphics (not at all kickass for the modern day, in my gamer experience) is not the point at all. What's interesting to see instead is what kind of games can you come up with if you can target a render farm instead of an nVidia GPU!

Basically, we're witnessing the birth of a new platform, and judging it by the experience of playing CoD on it is myopic. Hopefully it will allow for a new kind of games that we just can't have at home.

Michael Joseph
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In-Depth: Gaikai's Perry On Gaming's Jump To The Cloud


not very in-depth. When he was asked if he was concerned about OnLive having been out since June, I thought the subtext of that question was "out there since June AND not doing very well...." and instead of addressing why he felt Gaikai would not suffer the same fate, he talks about how happy he is to see them having trouble. Seems to me he should be happier if they were succeeding since it would lend credibility to his venture.

There business model may be a little different, but what does that matter if people just aren't interested in running mid to high end (in terms of graphics and performance) games remotely?

And if the service is only good for puzzle games and other low system reqt games, then they're not really saving the customer much inconvenience in terms of download times and the user's hardware can likely handle such games.