Cloud Gaming On Gaikai – Dave Perry Interview
Congratulations on your recent EA publishing deal, it’s a massive coup…
Yeah we definitely won the hearts and minds of those guys, which was good. Technically they’re the number one PC publisher so that’s why we went after them. What’s happened is, we’ve been trying to think about how to deal with a question we keep getting from publishers which is, you know, they’re excited when they get five million players on a game and they’re all high-fiving like, ‘Woo we got five million players, this is awesome.’ But they know in their hearts and they keep asking ‘is there some way to get to fifty?’ You don’t get from five million to fifty million by simply tweaking stuff. You have to do something radically different. So that’s what we’ve been approaching.
We’re keen to see what came out of your behind closed doors E3 publisher demo. Could you tell us how that went?
It was awesome because we didn’t just show them what they were expecting. They were just expecting to see some streamed games, but we actually showed them the concept of ubiquity, which means that games can be everywhere. So we showed World of Warcraft running inside Facebook for example. We showed it on the Xbox, you can even play Xbox Vs Facebook on a game that’s not available for either Xbox or Facebook.
We also had it for iPad and iPhone and notebooks that were so graphically weak they couldn’t run World of Warcraft, but because it’s essentially video streaming from our servers, they’re actually able to play the game. So basically you have all of these devices that cannot run World of Warcraft playing against each other. That’s what we were demonstrating at the show and that really was a fun one for people.
It’s been a while since Gaikai was first announced and since then you have received a lot of funding over the last 12 months. Has the scope, or the development of Gaikai changed in that time as a result of increased funding?
That’s a good question because we didn’t change our strategy at all. It’s been interesting because the investors always say to us, ‘So, what’s the strategy now?’ as it’s normal that it changes five times as you try to roll out these companies. But I’m like, ‘Nope, it’s the same as it’s always been’ and they like that a lot, saying ‘Really? You’re still doing the same plan?’ and yeah we’re doing the same plan and closing deals so that’s really the most important thing. Now just a case of getting the service in a form that I can roll it out swiftly worldwide and in a way that the publishers will get excited about it.
And with OnLive out stateside now, do you feel there is any kind of pressure to launch sooner?
Well, it’s a completely different strategy really. If you think about it, we’re helping publishers acquire players, which is very compatible with their needs and why they are excited about the service. Whereas OnLive is a digital retail strategy direct to consumer. We’re business-to-business, they’re direct to consumer and they’re two different strategies completely. We also don’t take a percentage of sales or anything like that so we’re not really getting in the way of the publishers intention to embrace digital distribution and to make more revenue for it. So all we are is a company that sells server time.
Here in the UK, Virgin Media recently suggested it was going to start offering broadband connections that would optimise depending on what you were using them for, for example, streaming games. Is that something you would be interested in, or as a partner here in the UK?
I’m always interested in Virgin. I used to work for Virgin Games when Richard Branson did that whole thing. So, I’m very pro-Virgin. So anything they want to do I’m happy to be a part of. In reality, our technology is designed to go through the internet and it’s also designed so that if they wanted to go from a head-end they could do, which is how they all operate as cable operators. But our focus initially is to get people to fall in love with games, to try lots more games.
As E3 is a show largely built around the promotion of physical products, we actually spoke to an analyst in the states last month that suggested that the ales of physical game media would see a massive slump until 2015. He actually namedropped Gaikai as one of the reasons for the turnaround. What are your thoughts on that?
Wow that’s a really interesting one! That’s a really interesting one. I’ve never heard that. It’s fascinating.
Yeah, I wondered what your thoughts were on the decline of boxed games and this predicted turnaround. What’s going to change?
It’s funny, I’ve never heard that but it actually makes logical sense. It’s a very interesting perspective to put on that one. I like to use Asia as a kind of crystal ball, because Asia has reached a point where the piracy is so high that it has destroyed the music industry over there. It sort of gives you a window on what’s going to happen when the piracy is just off the charts here in the US and Europe as well.
Therefore digital distribution…does it have a future or not? Well hold on a minute, Asia’s game industry is booming and it’s actually growing faster than the rest of the world and it’s all 100 per cent digitally distributed online. How do they solve that? With server or site authentication on 100 per cent of their titles. So that gives us hope that the digital distribution side is going and grow.
And how does this affect the sale of physical products?
The idea that we’re using digital technology to drive retail sales is actually compatible with the retailers and publishers, as they both want it to happen. So it does logically make sense that, if Gaikai became a popular technique of ‘try before you buy’, that we would actually drive people into stores and discs arriving by mail. It’s a very good point, as we’ve not yet made it clear that we’re not just about digital and therefore you know, ‘this is the end of retail’. I totally would never say that, that isn’t what this is about, but it could actually impact that space. It’s very interesting.
We hear a lot from analysts saying that retail will suffer at the hands of digital distribution, but you’ve said the complete opposite. How competitive do you see this space becoming?
Well digital distribution is actually based upon the concept of convenience in my opinion. It’s not that we don’t want to own physical goods it’s just more convenient. So if I offer you a CD or an MP3 in the old days there would be no question, you’d take the CD. But nowadays you’re like ‘Hmm’. As you start to get into that world of convenience you start to realise that, ‘Hold on, CD quality is actually higher than MP3’, so that decision I just made was not based on quality, it’s based on convenience. It’s like a weird thing that’s happened.
And in terms of streaming media?
It’s like YouTube coming along and making it convenient to watch a whole bunch of videos. They didn’t just make it convenient, they made it super convenient because they didn’t force you to go to their website to watch the stuff, which I think would have failed by the way. By letting them put the videos everywhere on the internet, they massively increased the convenience. Wherever I am there’s a video ready to play with one click. The video quality wasn’t great by the way, but at least it was convenient and that made them very successful.
When you get companies like the big three, say Nintendo. I don’t see them letting their games be made available through GaiKai. Do you see them launching services similar to GaiKai if they see it do well?
Yeah, I’m expecting that, as time goes on the console manufacturers will all get into streaming. They kind of need to, there’s no other solution because game files keep getting larger. As file size continues to rise, this will be too much for someone to ask when checking out a game demo. They will then have to crunch that size down to make demos. Gamers would have to download it, install it, play it then uninstall it. That’s a lot just to have a ten-minute experience of level one of a game. There’s no one out there that believes this is the way forward.
Let’s put it this way, if any of them has streaming, all of them will want to have streaming. I’m happy to go on record and say that I don’t see any future where the console manufacturers don’t add streaming capabilities. It’s an add by the way, I don’t think digital distribution is a replacement for consoles. But I do think that it’s a critical part of what the service of a console is going for.
Big name developers and publishers aside, will there be indie dev support?
Oh god yeah, I’m a big indie fan.
In what sort of capacity will you get involved with indies?
We’re going to create an SDK and let them go wild with it. Effectively it becomes a way for them to draw attention to their games without the need of a policy agreement. It’s a longer term thing, but not something we’re working on yet. I would do that for free for indies as I’ve always been a big fan.
Have you spoken to Apple about the possibility of a Gaikai app?
You know, let’s just say there’s no company I’m not talking to. But the reality with us is…are we trying to come in and mess up the way things work for people today? The answer is no, because we’re business-to-business so we’re trying to make it possible for games like World of Warcraft to work on iPad without disrupting the way Apple does its business model in any way. So think of us as an enabler.
So if a publisher wants to put a title on the iPad that couldn’t possibly run on the iPad then that’s where we come in, but they would be expected to use the standard Apple store and they would be expected to follow Apple’s rules. All we’re doing is selling the server time to make this possible.
So theoretically then the iTunes App store could become more than just apps? It could be blown wide open?
There’s no software the iPad can’t run basically.
What are your plans for rolling out Gaikai going forward?
We’re now doing what I consider to be full QA testing. Then we will go live. We had planned to launch in California first, but the server teams here have gotten ahead of themselves so we’re actually going to have a major chunk of the US covered for launch and we’re also going to have Europe up before launch too.
Once Gaikai is out the door can you ever see yourself working on a game project again?
Oh god yes…No question about it. It’s kind of funny making games because it just depends on what kind of role you play in the process. What I would like to do is make a game where I physically program it myself. I get more of kick out of making a game than actually managing a game. It’s not surprising; spreadsheets versus programming? I’ll take the programming. I look forward to the day. The last game I personally programmed was Earthworm Jim and that’s a while ago now.
Will you ever do a new Earthworm Jim game?
Well it’s actually something that…just so you know, the team has remained good friends and I actually brought them together again and reformed the Earthworm Jim team to make a new game that was to be funded by Atari. We literally had meetings and started discussing what the game was going to be, but then Atari took a nosedive and the whole project got put on ice.
It was a shame because we had managed to achieve the goal of getting those core people back together. What I’m saying is they were willing to do it then, I think they would still be willing to do it at some point in the future. I think the point of Earthworm Jim was that it was making something humourous and there was no need to get super-serious. It was all about fun and there’s a lot of room for projects like that in the industry.