Streaming Game Services in the News: OnLive, Gaikai, Gamestring

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When I posted Thursday about using iSwifter to play Starcraft 2, I had no idea that was just the first in a torrent of news stories about streaming gaming. I guess it t'is the season to talk video games, though. Today I've got three more bits of news on the subject, so let's get started.

First of all, a nice complement to playing Starcraft 2 on the iPad is playing World of Warcraft on an Android phone, thanks to GameString's technology. I talked about Gamestring a little bit back in November (back then it was WoW on Google TV) and I guess not too much has changed publicly since then. Yesterday's report comes from Droid Gamers, who say that the server is running a standard WoW install using "GameString Adrenalin Host Server with Dual-Mode Delivery." On both ends of the line they've got a 2 Mbps connection (up on the server end, down on the client end) and the client is 80 km from the server.

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Gamestring's server superimposes a touch interface over WoW's GUI and, at least in the short video Droid Gamers shared (embedded below), it seems to work pretty well. This is exactly what I had in mind when talking about iSwifter yesterday; I guess my subconscious was remembering Gamestring at the time! The Gamestring beta countdown is down to 45 days so maybe we'll get some hands on time in six weeks or so.

Next up is some news from streaming game service OnLive, which has announced the details for their subscription service, called the PlayPack plan. It'll cost $9.99/month and give you unlimited access to OnLive's library of indie and slightly older games. You'll still have to pay regular rates for brand new titles, but save games will work across plans. So if a new game comes out and you buy a 3-day PlayPass for it then decide it isn't worth paying full price for, if it cycles over into the PlayPack system you'll be able to load your saved game and pick up right where you left off.

$10/month is cheaper than I expected the subscription to be, but the value contained in it is fully dependent on what games are included. PlayPack goes live on January 15th, 2011 and OnLive says there'll be 40 games available at that time. OnLive subscribers who purchase the OnLive Game System will get access to a beta of the PlayPack for free until January 14th. As of right now there are 14 games available (check the current list) so they have some work to do to get to 40. The selection they have now is a good start, with shooters, strategy, action and puzzle games all represented. We'll see how things develop over the next 6 weeks or so.

Last topic for today is Gaikai. Engadget has a lengthy post on the service and we finally get an idea of what their business model is. Rather than try to sell to gamers, Gaikai is positioning itself as a kind of demo platform. The idea is that you see an ad for a game and if you want to try it out, you click a button and it starts streaming immediately. You can play for a limited time and then choose to buy (or not, as the case may be).

Gaikai charges publishers a penny/minute for the time you play, and they say they're not limited themselves to games, however they are being selective about what products they offer through their service. They don't want publishers paying for nothing (ie, for people who play the streaming version then don't buy) so they want to carry only products that they think will sell. And to be clear, when you're ready to buy, you'll be handed off to the publisher's store; Gaikai isn't a vendor or an on-going service, just a demo delivery system.

At least that's how I'm understanding it to work. Gaikai may go live as soon as December 15th so we'll know more than. In the meantime the Engadget post has a lot more details, including a video of the service in action (which I'll also embed below). Granted it is still in beta but the system doesn't look as snappy as OnLive to me.

It's funny to think just a year or so ago the idea of a good streaming game service seemed rather far-fetched and now we have a variety of services either available now or coming soon and providing gamers with a good experience. Hardcore gamers (generally) aren't convinced yet, but this is just the beginning, right? Presumably the quality of these services will continue to improve. Is it time for game retailers to start to worry?

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith .

This story, "Streaming Game Services in the News: OnLive, Gaikai, Gamestring" was originally published by ITworld.

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