Samsung and Gaikai are imagining a world where we can play modern games in the cloud without a console to weigh us down.
This year at the 2012 Electronics Entertainment Expo, Samsung and Gaikai unveiled a brand new way to play video games. No, it's not a new console, and no, it's not a mobile device. Rather, the respective South Korean and American companies have combined their individual talents to put Gaikai's cloud-based gaming into Samsung's 2012 line-up of TVs with dual-core processing. This technology could result in high-quality, contemporary gaming without the need for a console as a middle-man.
(Since we originally posted this article, it was announced that Sony purchased Gaikai. We are not certain if the partnership with Samsung, a rival of Sony's in the TV market, will still happen. We reached out to Samsung, but they have yet to comment on how it could affect the deal. Regardless of the brand, this could change gaming significantly.)
This development provides considerable advantages to the average consumer. Take Microsoft's Xbox 360, for example. It's a great investment if you intend to purchase a number of games, downloadable titles, subscribe to their online service, and/or use it as a media hub for Netflix, Hulu, or Facebook. But what option do consumers have if they simply want to play one or two modern games, but don't want to make the investment in a console? Samsung and Gaikai's cloud-based gaming will hopefully give consumers the chance to play today's high quality, detail-intensive games at their own discretion, in the same way that Netflix and Hulu provide that service for movies and TV content.
A look at the current availability of "TV video games" reveals that the selection is more than lacking – they're mostly Flash-based games that you would expect to play on a web browser. We've seen some of the gaming apps available on Samsung and LG's smart platforms, and they are rather unrefined, to say the least. It used to be that some motel and hotel chains offered in-room video gaming from a TV only, but the console powering the game was merely hidden within the entertainment center and programmed into the TV's content system. Games like Dracula's Coffin are fun for a few minutes, but they're a far cry from the kind of in-depth, rich experience that is currently available to console and PC gamers.
According to what we saw at this year's E3, Samsung and Gaikai have set up the cloud-based gaming service in the style of Netflix or Hulu Plus: once the Samsung gaming app is booted up, players simply scroll through available games and select the one they want. The game streams wirelessly to the TV off of Gaikai's cloud servers, and should start up fairly quickly, although this will depend entirely upon individual internet connections. We're not yet sure how many games will be available, and if they'll be ports of a particular console version (as in Xbox 360, or PlayStation 3). We do know that Samsung's 7000 and 8000 series TVs will be required in order to use this service, and that those models will ship with Logitech controllers designed specifically for this app's primary functions.
Samsung is currently hosting an early access program as a way to beta test their cloud-based gaming app before pushing it too publicly. The first 150 people selected to participate will receive a free version of the Logitech Gamepad that's meant to ship with the 7000 and 8000 series Samsung TVs later this year.
We're not sure how the app will handle a game's online functions, as it seems that streaming the game would be taxing enough for a wireless internet connection without tossing the latency-laden formula of online multiplayer into the mix. We can at least say that this could be a step in a very smart direction, for Samsung, Gaikai, and game developers. Having a "console" that is really a TV also takes the game company out of the mix, and may be one of the only mediums to allow Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo games to live side by side in the same light.
The Samsung Cloud Gaming Beta is currently enrolling users, and we can expect to know more about the official release later in the summer. Perhaps the only obstacle keeping cloud-based gaming from being a threat to console developers is the price of the TVs themselves: the Samsung 7000 and 8000 series televisions are fairly pricy, much more so than a single gaming console. Until Gaikai finds a way to bring cloud-based gaming to TVs that don't have internet functionality, their target audience remains somewhat slim.