Videogames Reach for the Cloud


By Ian Sherr

For decades, consumers have played videogames in arcades, on personal computers or specialized consoles hooked to televisions. Sony Corp. SNE +2.21% is placing a bet on a different approach—technology that streams games to Internet-connected devices.

Last week, the Japanese electronics maker announced a $380 million deal to acquire Gaikai Inc., a company that runs games on servers in its data centers. The technology lets gamers play fast-action, visually sophisticated titles through a Web browser—without the need to install specialized game software or buy hardware with special graphics circuitry. Players can use laptops, tablets, smartphones or even some TVs.

For Sony, the acquisition presents an opportunity to expand beyond its PlayStation 3 videogame console, whose growth has slowed in recent years since launching in 2006. Global sales of traditional consoles are falling as more people move online to play games.

Sony’s move is a vote of confidence in the nascent technology, commonly called cloud gaming. The first prominent entrant, OnLive Inc., launched in 2010 following nearly a decade of development. Since then, a handful of competitors have sprung up, including Gaikai, an Aliso Viejo, Calif., start-up that launched in January 2011.

But game industry executives also say the technology still has technical and financial hurdles to pass before it becomes a truly viable replacement for traditional game machines.

To read the rest of the story, either contact me directly or read more online at the WSJ: here. (subscription required)


(Published July 10, in The Wall Street Journal.)

Gaming Vet Pitches Android Console on Kickstarter


By Ian Sherr

A Southern California start-up is attempting to sell a game console to challenge more expensive devices from the likes of Sony Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Nintendo Co.

Boxer8, founded by game industry veteran Julie Uhrma, has developed Ouya, a console about the size of a Rubik‘s Cube that connects to a television and comes with a controller for playing games. The company hopes to make games less expensive and easier to distribute.

Boxer8 is shooting for a price tag of $99, and a requirement that all games offer some free aspect to it, such as a trial download.

To raise funds, Boxer8 turned to Kickstarter, a popular website that lets people solicit funds from individual backers. For a pledge of as little as $95, people can pre-order their own console and controller due out in March, or for more money receive a special developer‘s version scheduled to ship in December.

The company began pitching Ouya on Kickstarter on Tuesday. Within a few hours, people had already pledged more than half of the device‘s $950,000 funding goal; about eight hours after it launched, people had already pledged more than the company‘s funding goal. Boxer8 will continue accepting pledges until Aug. 9.

Even with the modest price, Boxer8 doesn‘t intend to skimp on performance. Rather, it hopes to offer an economical way to get three-quarters of the power of one of Microsoft‘s Xbox 360 consoles–which carries a list price of $199—by exploiting Google Inc.‘s Android mobile operating system and Nvidia Corp. chips that are meant for mobile phones and tablets.

By offering game-console quality at a low price, with free games to boot, the company expects to have some impact on the industry.

“We want this product to be powerful,“ said Ms. Uhrman, who previously worked at companies such as GameFly Inc., a game rental service, IGN Entertainment Inc. and Vivendi Universal Games.

Tablets and smartphones, of course, are already being used to play games. What they typically lack, Ms. Uhrman argues, is a connection to a TV and a controller designed specifically for gaming.

Others have come to similar conclusions. There are devices such as the iCade, which attempts to turn Apple Inc.‘s iPad into an arcade machine complete with a joystick and buttons. There‘s also Apple‘s own Apple TV device, which can be used to display game action from the screen of an iPad, an iPhone–and soon even a Mac computer–on an HD television using a wireless connection.

There are also other companies, such as GameStop Corp., which have built specialized controllers for Android devices.

But there‘s a hitch: Many of the controllers require that game makers add code to their applications to work with the devices. Naturally, game makers are hesitant to do this for every device, since it not only takes up development time for them but also because they have to continue supporting it in the future.

Boxer8 will attempt to gain support among game makers by creating its own version of Android, with a different look and separate storefront. As a result, support for its controller will be part of the overall effort of making games for the Ouya. The controller will also have a touchpad, aside from its two analog sticks and array of buttons, to make it easy to bring mobile games to the device. And, the company is also giving away access to its development tools to anyone who purchases the device.

“What people will buy into is the idea,“ Ms. Uhrman said.

The console already counts some popular game developers among its supporters—including Mojang, developer of a hit game called “Minecraft.“ As the device gains more traction, Ms. Uhrman said she expects it will attract top-tier game makers as well.

Read more online at the WSJ: here. (subscription required)

(Published July 10, in The Wall Street Journal.)