Cloud gaming service Gaikai and Wikipad are two of a growing number of companies trying to bridge the gap between mobile and console/PC gaming. Their solution is what they’re calling “the world’s first gaming tablet.”
There is still a line drawn between video games played on simple boxes with controllers or PCs and those played on smartphones or tablets. What makes a tablet game more or less a proper game than something on an Xbox 360? Is it the absence of buttons? The price of entry? Do you really feel like you’re playing a game more when pressing buttons and paying more than $10 than you do lightly tapping or swiping a smooth touch screen? The distinction between the two is fading quickly but it’s impossible to deny that one is still proper gaming and the other is mobile gaming.
Depth of control may be at the heart of it. Given their roots as skill-based challenges in arcades, video games have a vestigial obsession with precision. The lack of directional pads, analog sticks and buttons leaves the imprecision of taps and swipes for mobile devices. More and more companies are trying to find ways to bridge the gap between the two.
The Wikipad was first announced at CES in January. It’s got a lot in common with the average Android tablet: Optional 3G functionality, a 10.1-inch screen, etc. The tablet can be housed though in what is essentially a stretched out Xbox 360 controller, with two analog sticks, a directional pad, four face buttons, and triggers on the rear.
As a proof of concept, the Wikipad was promising but it needed the support of actual video games. The partnership with Gaikai is a good start. Gaikai, like OnLive and GameStop’s impending service, streams games over the Web so rather than paying for individual games, you have a subscription granting access to a library of games. The company’s library isn’t as robust as OnLive’s. Its bread and butter are EA, Ubisoft, and Capcom games, but even then, not all titles from those publishers are supported. Critics have lambasted Gaikai for the same problems that hurt all cloud gaming services at this point, namely low visual fidelity and noticeable lag between inputs, which is to say pulling a trigger doesn’t immediately make Commander Shepard shoot.
Provided the Wikipad is affordable and Gaikai bulks up its library and irons out the kinks in its streaming games, the two could be a formidable force. Many have tried to do what these companies are though, and failed in the process. Sony is still trying to find an audience for the Xperia Play, a smartphone with traditional controls.
There’s no official release date for the Wikipad so all of the companies’ plans could change dramatically or never come to fruition. We’ll see.