Gaikai adds rapid downloads to cloud game arsenal

Gaikai is known for streaming cloud games from faraway servers. Now, CEO David Perry reveals to Gamasutra a new rapid download tech that utilizes a "self-learning algorithm" that learns from users' play styles.
Gaikai, the cloud games company founded by industry veteran David Perry, is best known for its streaming technology that allows games to be played locally from faraway datacenters. But that's not all that the company is up to. Perry revealed exclusively to Gamasutra an impressive new download technology that he's calling "Gaikai Cloud Delivery" that allows players to start playing downloaded games in a fraction of the time that it takes for services like Steam, Direct2Drive or Origin. The difference between this new tech and Gaikai's currently available streaming tech is that the delivery service puts game data on players' local hard drive, which is an advantage for customers in regions where internet speed is too slow for the high connectivity demands of streaming tech. It's all part of Perry's plan to remove the "friction" that's typically associated with starting to play a game demo or trial. That friction -- which is being erased in movie and music delivery -- might rear its head as anything from a long signup form for a new MMO, or a long download period. Perry knows there's a lot of business that is lost to such accessibility issues. "The goal is to try to not let you leave your machine [while a game demo or trial is downloading]," Perry said. "What really happens today is a lot of gamers start a download, then go to bed. That's the problem, that's where you see the drop-off. Because when they come back [to their computer], they come back to do something else." Gaikai is business-facing, partnering with game publishers that can license the company's technology to deliver games and playable demos via web browsers. This new tech isn't meant to replace the existing streaming service, but to complement it. Publishers pay per install, per registration or per gigabyte delivered. I was able to personally try out the cloud delivery tech in alpha form this week. I went to the website, clicked on a button to download the demo for BioWare's Dragon Age II (the full demo is 2GB in size), and I was in the game, playing, in about three or four minutes. With my connection, I'd typically play a downloaded game of that size after about 40 minutes. During this download period, a window shows a timer and progress bar, as well as a video box that can show trailers or developer interviews -- anything to hold the customer's attention during those few minutes so they stay engaged with the product. All of this was done through the browser, with no downloader to install.
The technology didn't have quite the same "black magic" effect as the first time you see Crysis streaming to a mid-range PC through a browser, or as when Gaikai demoed World of Warcraft running on an iPad, but in this early stage in a controlled environment, the new download tech is still impressive. The tech also has an impressive name: "Non-Linear Progressive Crowd-Sourced Proximity-Accelerated File Delivery." Perry explained that the loading statistics from games are gathered from Gaikai's customers. That data is used to determine what parts of a game need to be pre-loaded on a hard drive for maximum time efficiency. "It uses sort of a self-learning algorithm that basically finds the optimal path of data for you, based on your play style," Perry explained. "You're already playing, and there's only a fraction of the game that's downloaded. It's just what you need for you to play, based on what you're doing." That the Gaikai downloader tech is non-linear is an important distinction, as Gaikai isn't the first company to try to speed up entry into a game by delivering it in pieces. InstantAction -- a now-defunct company that Gaikai teamed up with back in 2010 -- was one firm that developed progressive download technology, which delivered a game in predetermined chunks. The problem with that is that games today are often non-linear, so downloading level 1, then level 2, 3, etc. just won't accommodate many modern video game experiences. Not only that, but that method is more of a burden on game developers and publishers. "Basically, what it's doing is that we start off with the concept that nobody plays games in a linear fashion anymore," said Perry. "We set a whole team of people on research to try to work out how to do it crowdsourced, so we'd be automatically learning from the players all the time."
So what's the future for the tech? Perry just showed the delivery service to publishers on Monday this week in San Francisco, and said he hopes that it will go live sometime this year. In theory, a company like EA (already a Gaikai streaming partner) that already has a download platform -- Origin -- could embed Gaikai's downloader code into its app in a licensing deal, according to Perry. Gaikai's streaming tech is currently being used mainly for demos -- click on a banner ad, and drop into a streaming game demo almost instantly. And the downloader will in part be used for demo delivery as well. But Perry said both technologies are capable of delivering demos or full games. It's up to the publisher's needs, and Gaikai's rollout plans. The company has its fingers in many facets of the industry. Gaikai has teamed up with a wide array of major publishers to stream their games, and recently announced streaming trials of MMOs such as Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online. The company also made its Facebook streaming debut, and has been making deals with electronics manufacturers such as LG to incorporate its streaming service into televisions. Gaikai's looking to take its business everywhere, so to ignore video game consoles would be remiss. Perry has said before that console makers "would be insane" not to consider streaming tech for the next generation of hardware. Asked if Gaikai's new download tech could make it to future consoles, he said, "Yes, [you'd use the] same code, and you just basically reassemble it for a console. That's exactly what I'd like to do for a console -- offer all three methods of delivery": streaming, non-linear downloads and full-on traditional downloads. "My expectation is that games are just going to get bigger -- you even see that on Flash right now," said Perry. "When you see games coming out that are 28 GB like Star Wars: The Old Republic, and currently the only option is to download the whole thing, it's not very practical, all of a sudden."

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