What Sony could do with Gaikai

So Sony just picked up Gaikai, the online gaming service, for $380 million. This could be a big deal. Here’s why:

In June, Sony started throwing the phrase “instant game” around in the Playstation Plus section of the PS Store. A slew of popular, new-ish games (Infamous 2 and Ratchet & Clank All 4 One being the freshest) were made available for PS Plus members to download and play “instantly”. In addition to high quality retail releases, there were also a number of arcade-style games up for grabs, including the excellent Sideway: New York, which I reviewed last fall. Once downloaded and installed, those games can be played for as long as you’re a PS Plus member.

For me, this was the moment that the $50/year Plus membership looked like it might be worth paying for. It looks like this Instant Game initiative is a gaming Netflix. You pay for a service membership and get to access the media on the service for as long as you’re a member. Like Netflix, the library constantly shuffles, bringing in new and/or classic games each month. The big difference between Netflix and Sony’s services is that whole “Instant” thing.

The Playstation 3 has always had a horrible download and installation system. Games must first be downloaded--you have to tell the system to do it in the background by the way, as if anyone would prefer to stare at the download bar--then you have to go to their location on the hard drive and install them. Want to play Infamous 2? You’re looking at least an hour (likely more depending on your connection) wait to download and then install all 14 gigs.

That’s where Gaikai comes in. They’ve been at this streaming game playing thing for years. I’m not sure if they’ve ever really gotten the traction they were looking for, but it’s certainly an interesting service. It essentially turns your computer into a dumb monitor. All the heavy lifting is done on machines miles away. Sign in to the service, plug in your controller, and you’re literally playing a new-ish game instantly.

You can see where this is going right? If Sony can somehow plug the Gaikai tech into the Playstation Network, you could play full games instantly. Or maybe you could start playing a game while it downloads. Or instead of waiting on a demo, play a bit of the game in the same time it would take to download a trailer. Not sure if we’ll see this acquisition bear fruit this generation, but who knows, maybe Sony will start testing it out before the Playstation 4. 

This does make me wonder what Microsoft is up to, and how they intend to compete. My $40 a year (I always find and buy XBL Gold cards on sale) for Xbox Live Gold doesn’t seem worth much right now. Why do they gate Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and others behind the pay wall when a zillion other devices from the Playstation 3 to Apple TV to Roku and Boxee boxes all give it to me free? I shouldn’t have to pay for the ability to use a service I’m already paying for, that’s just stupid. Yes the multiplayer and communication infrastructure is fantastic, but so is the one in Steam, and that’s free.

The next generation of gaming is going to be an interesting one. Hope you have a good internet connection.