Friday, 20 July 2012

Google goes OnLive as Sony gets Gaikai!

Welcome to the heavyweight game streaming wars...

Two things happened in the world of on-line game-streaming recently:
1)      Sony bought over Gaikai, currently the only real rival to OnLive.
2)      Google signed a deal to incorporate native OnLive support into Google TV.

At first sight this may not sound like much of a problem, just the integration of this emerging technology into the more established marketplace... Well on first sight maybe, but this has already caused some unease even before any set-top devices utilising these technologies have been released.

Google and OnLive have announced that both the OnLive service and its proprietary controller device will be incorporated into the Google TV service. Support for the controller will be ‘baked in’ to the software, and the streaming service will be available as a Google TV app, regardless of the manufacturer producing the set-top hardware.
This means that set-top boxes like Sony’s NSZ-GS7, which incorporates Google TV, would ‘in theory’ be capable of running the OnLive games streaming system. There was some initial speculation that this would indeed be the case, but then support for OnLive seems to have been quietly pulled.

Sony has obviously bought Gaikai to provide the same, or fairly similar, functionality with its own range of hardware, so won’t want their proprietary hardware used to run the competition. I’m not saying that the Gaikai service is bad here; quite the contrary, it’s because it’s a good system that this situation has arisen; but surely this state of affaires raises some serious marketing issues for Sony, even if they don’t admit it. This has led to speculation of Sony ‘banning’ the use of OnLive (a third party developer in this situation) on their devices due to Sony’s purchasing of Gaikai, and it isn’t exactly good PR to be seen to publicly ‘ban’ anything based on it’s possible effect on your profits, although I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense or isn’t understandable. After all, it’s a bit like being able to run Xbox Live through PSN! Good for the consumer, but not so hot for the manufacturers profits.

But this isn’t a theoretical battle, Sony’s game-streaming competition has already started, the Co-Star set-top box from Vizio is built on similar hardware to Sony’s box. This also incorporates Google TV, but more importantly it is shipping with the OnLive application built in as standard. Although Google TV isn’t where it wants to be, they are hoping this new range of  lower priced set-top system like the $99 dollar Co-Star will turn things around, and they seem to be willing to put their money where their mouth is, so watch this space...

If all this shown anything I think it shows that on-line game streaming services are definitely going to become a force to be reckoned with. They are here now, and I believe they are here to stay. It will be interesting to see what influence this has on future generations of consoles. What exactly is a games-console in a world where a set-top box, Blu-ray player, or whatever other device can play your favourite games without you purchasing anything but on-line rights to play?

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