Gaikai is in Sony’s pockets, waiting to fuel the PlayStation 4 with cloud-based streaming video games. OnLive died, was resurrected, and its former staff of is actively being recruited by Microsoft, a company looking to give its next-generation video game console, the Xbox 720 or Durango, some streaming options of its own. Now is when on-demand video games enter the next stage of their evolution, when streaming may not find popularity, but it at least has the backing of major platform holders that can market it directly to that audience.
Streaming gaming isn’t going to solely be the domain of platform holders though. Publishers are going to try and reach their audience directly as well. Square-Enix announced its own streaming video game service on Wednesday. What’s more, it’s entirely free.
Developed by Denmark’s Hapti.co, Core Online is Square-Enix’s browser-based streaming video game service. Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Microsoft Internet Explorer users can play a selection of Square’s HD games from the past decade free of charge. The initial line up includes Mini Ninjas, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and Hitman: Blood Money. These will be followed by Tomb Raider: Underworld and Gyromancer in the coming weeks.
“Square-Enix is at the forefront of experimentation of new business and service models in the game industry,” said CEO Yoichi Wada, “Through our Core Online technology service, users can access our content easily through the browser.”
How does it make money? Ads! Typical for the free-to-play payment model, Square will let players skip ads on a per level basis. Players can also pay for the whole game to be advertising free.
As a venue for marketing catalog titles, Core Online is an interesting proposition for Square-Enix. The title choices are telling: Both Hitman and Tomb Raider have new games coming in the next six months. Rather than re-release retail editions of the most recent games in those franchises, Square is throwing them up on Core for free. It’s the perfect way to raise awareness of the new games, while also not scaring away customers leery of spending on products they’re unfamiliar with.
Core Online seems to also reinforce Square’s policy of placing premiums on its Japan-developed titles. Only Eidos-branded titles are available on Core Online right now. Where’s Final Fantasy XIII? The Last Remnant? Don’t expect Square’s internally-developed games to show up any time soon.
Will Microsoft and Sony follow Square-Enix’s lead with streaming games? Catalog titles monetized through advertising and small fees seems like the best way to spur adoption. Expect Square to test subscriptions as well.