Sony Computer Entertainment has announced that it has entered into a “definitive agreement” to purchase videogame-streaming service Gaikai for approximately $380-million. This acquisition should erase any doubts that streaming will be a big part of the future of gaming. The deal gives Sony all sorts of flexibility and potential to change the way it delivers games to customers. Mobile devices like the Apple iPhone and iPad have changed gaming forever; streaming technology like Gaikai gives Sony the potential to compete with devices like the iPad and future home consoles from its current competitors.
In today’s press release, SCE president and group CEO Andrew House said, “SCE will deliver a world-class cloud-streaming service that allows users to instantly enjoy a broad array of content ranging from immersive core games with rich graphics to casual content anytime, anywhere on a variety of internet-connected devices.” The last bit is the most fascinating detail. When I wrote about Gaikai in April, I mentioned that the service was running on Facebook. At last week’s Google I/O 2012 conference, the company showed the service running on Google Chrome. Imagine being able to play “PlayStation” games through a Sony phone, tablet, or television? In theory, the flexibility of streaming gives Sony some crazy reach. Its customers would no longer be limited to people that buy a box that goes under the television. That’s a tremendous game-changer.
Naturally, there’s some debate on how quickly SCE will implement Gaikai. Large companies generally implement new tech at a glacial pace. A respected colleague of mine believes that Gaikai will be used for nothing more than demos over the next few years. He could be right, but it’s not just due to utilizing new tech. The broadband market in many countries (hello America!) is too restrictive for enthusiast gamers to rely on streaming for the majority of their gaming. Broadband services will hopefully evolve to make streaming (and digital downloads) more feasible. Personally, I view this acquisition as prep for the next generation of PlayStation software and beyond.
Then there’s competitor OnLive. The company has been getting attention longer than Gaikai, but it lacked a dynamic and popular leader like Gaikai CEO David Perry. The obvious speculation is that a competitor (i.e. Microsoft) will buy OnLive in order to compete with Sony’s acquisition and/or engage in a patent war. It will be interesting to see how quickly the Gaikai acquisition changes OnLive’s fortunes. Obviously OnLive can’t compete with a consumer electronics giant like Sony, but the move could also cause a big fish to overpay for the company.
For the last year and a half, a good friend of mine at Sony has been screaming and shouting about how the days of standalone boxes for gaming are coming to a close. While I’m positive Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai had nothing to do with his rantings, it reflects his opinion. Now I’d like to hear yours! What do you think of Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai? How do you think it will change gaming as we know it today?