Video games function with a simple set of tools: a box, a TV, and a disk. You put a disk in the box and play it on the TV. It’s a simple system to understand, which is why Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have been so successful in peddling their respective consoles.
Samsung thinks it can do one better. Recently, it announced a partnership with Gaikai, a company that specializes in cloud gaming, to let owners of Samsung’s Smart TVs stream video games directly through their broadband connection, no downloading or installing required. Not to be outdone, LG recently announced a similar partnership with OnLive, another cloud gaming company that has expanded from computers, TVs, and even tablets and smartphones. Owners of LG Smart TVs with Google TV will soon have access to OnLive’s library of classic and current games.
Cloud computing is already in widespread use — Dropbox, Google Docs, and other file sharing services all have their own huge servers so regular users don’t have to. Cloud gaming takes the same idea, but adds the processing power needed to run programs. The ramifications of this technology extend beyond being able to play a video game on your computer or TV without buying an expensive graphics card or console. As a high speed connection is really the only requirement, any device that has access to the internet — including tablets and smartphones -— could conceivably play these games.
OnLive has also developed mobile apps for iOS and Android, so subscribers can play OnLive’s catalogue of games on their iPads, iPhones, and Android devices, either with a touchscreen controller overlay or separate wireless gamepad. It will soon be possible to start a game on your TV, and continue it on your tablet at work (as opposed to, you know, working). Companies such as Rockstar, of Grand Theft Auto fame, have taken the time to modify their games for optimal performance on smaller screens, like mobile and tablet devices.
The advent of high quality games on smartphones and the like could spell the end for shallower experiences that are readily available for 99-cents. But sometimes people only want to play for a few minutes, rather than the hours needed for a full game. Rather than displace these smaller games, it is more likely that a new market for streaming games will open up. Instead of buying the Angry Birds app and paying extra for new content packs every few months, you could conceivably pay a small monthly fee and receive a constant stream of updates. Buying individual games may become a thing of the past when you can have access to every game, with every update, for just a few bucks a month.