Games consoles meet a chainsaw massacre

Marc Sidwell
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WHAT would you rather do: harvest corn, or chainsaw a zombie in the face? That’s the question asked by the Facebook app for Gaikai, the cloud gaming company just bought for $380m (£242m) by Sony, which clearly believes the chainsaw is mightier than the scythe. It’s probably right, too. Just a few minutes of experimenting is enough to demonstrate that this technology is a long way from the low-fi world of Farmville, previous Facebook favourite. Gaikai’s Facebook app promises it will let you “play AAA games on your work computer”, and it’s not wrong. This remarkable streaming technology threatens to take a chainsaw not just to workplace productivity, but to any gaming company that doesn’t keep up.

Sony has triumphed in the battle for Gaikai, which had previously announced deals with rivals Samsung and LG, but attention will now turn to possible buyers of OnLive, the original innovator of streaming video games and brainchild of Steve Perlman, whose accomplishments include Apple’s QuickTime multimedia player, the motion capture technology used in Brad Pitt’s Benjamin Button movie and an innovation incubator named after an Ayn Rand hero: Rearden. Perlman unveiled OnLive in 2009 to a chorus of disbelief. An industry built around rolling out ever-more-powerful consoles to run the latest games simply did not believe that these graphic marvels could be delivered over the internet onto any device. But as yesterday’s deal demonstrates, that disruptive future is rapidly arriving.

When you can stream games to any device, it is more important than ever to make a customer’s devices talk to one another. Sony’s previous chief executive Howard Stringer understood this when he proposed a four screen strategy for the technology giant: interaction across computers, tablets, phones and smart TVs. His successor Kazuo Hirai has laid out his own path, but this acquisition shows their common ground. Streaming technology like Gaikai’s brings games into the mix with streaming music and films.

However, it also suggests that anyone building plans around dedicated games consoles, handheld or otherwise, is standing on a burning platform while a chainsaw hurtles towards them.

Marc Sidwell is City A.M.’s managing editor.