Gaikai has debuted an application on Facebook that allows players to stream AAA demos of games on the social network. Titled “Real Games on Facebook,” the service brings the Gaikai streaming SDK into a Facebook application. As of this writing, there are seven games on the service to start: Saints Row: The Third, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, Magicka, Sniper: Ghost Warrior, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Orcs Must Die! and Farming Simulator 2011.
Gaikai runs the games on their own servers and streams a representation of the game’s images to the browser via a Java plugin.
Gaikai’s Brendan Iribe explained to Gaming Bus how it works: The Facebook application is Gaikai’s software development kit (SDK) put into an application. There is no partnership with Facbeook; it’s an application with a plugin. It’s the same SDK that Gaikai offers to publishers, meaning there is the potential for publishers to put streams into their own Facebook pages instead. Everything that Gaikai puts up is solely at the behest of the publishers. The seven aforementioned games were developer approved while others decided to hold off. The length of the demos—usually thirty to forty-five minutes long—are also publisher determined.
As of this writing, only demos are available, though Mr. Iribe indicated that there is potential for publishers to allow purchasable games via their stream in the future. After the demos expire, the player is brought to the publisher’s site, where they can purchase whatever version of the game they desire. Should this be ported to Facebook, the purchases would be made in Facebook Credits.
More publishers have signed up for this service, though Mr. Iribe was unable to tell us who they were at the present time.
Analysis: I was able to play the demo for Saints Row: The Third last night, and I was stunned at how well the game played. No hiccups in gameplay, the graphics looked good on a decidedly middle-of-the-line PC, and everything controlled well. It played shockingly well, and while I haven’t tried it on a lesser PC (I’m tempted to try it at my day job, but I’d rather not test my boss), or tried the main game on my own PC to see how it performs in comparison, I liked what I saw a lot more than I thought I would.
However, this is still nothing more than a demo service, and right now, we can’t save gameplay at all. There’s simply no incentive to take this seriously now except as what it is: a way to demo games, and possibly play video games in a way that can get around content filters.
That doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there for something absolutely amazing, though. The Gaikai app is just middleware; they don’t care who’s using it, just that it’s being used. So now imagine being able to load up Facebook and playing Saints Row, in your browser, with cloud saves, into any browser that supports Java. Holy shit, AAA gaming just blew away the Windows barrier.
In terms of Facebook, one of the things that will stop that is the Facebook Tax, which takes 30% on all purchases. Since Gaikai is just middleware, it’s possible to have people just go to a game’s site, buy the Gaikai stream from there, and play it via Facebook, but I don’t see that lasting long. The worst case scenario for when something like this comes out of beta is that Facebook kills access to the app unless Facebook credits are put into the equation, forcing separate accounts for Facebook and regular access, which would make Facebook access more expensive. However, that’s extrapolating quite a bit. Brendan told me that they checked this out with Facebook before running with the app, though adding money to the equation would change things.
If this gets past beta and becomes a legitimate option, this—not Stardock or Origin—could be the first legitimate competition Steam sees. The potential is amazing, if it’s harnessed properly. But until full purchases with cross-browser gameplay integrated into social networks becomes a reality, this is little more than a curiosity.