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.