World of Warcraft players had a bit of excitement this past weekend after David Perry, CEO and co-founder of Gaikai, posted an image of WoW running on an iPad. Gaikai, like OnLive and to a lesser extent, InstantAction, is working on a technology to allow streaming of games to a browser or other thin-client. The idea is that all the processing logic happens on their servers and then graphics and sound are streamed to the client, and input is sent back to the Gaikai or OnLive servers. (InstantAction is different in that it streams the game to your system, where it gets run locally. So you'll need a Windows machine to run a Windows game via InstantAction.)
So back to World of Warcraft. I'll be playing the part of Debbie Downer today and saying the image that Perry shared is interesting from a techie point of view, but nothing that WoW players should get excited about at this point. Here's why. First, we don't know how well it was running. Perry said the game was running via WiFi in the Gaikai offices. He offered only a still shot so there's no way to tell what the experience was like. I don't think Perry meant to imply that this was coming soon. His blog post was more of an off-hand "Hey, check this out, kind of cool huh?" comment rather than any sort of meaningful announcement message. He even says, "We're really interested to see what works well with streaming and will be trying just about every genre of game, on every device possible as we explore server-side computing." That sounds like experimentation to me. It may be that MMOs are easier to port to Gaikai than other multiplayer games just because they're built to be tolerant of lag. On the other hand, the fact that data has to go from player to Gaikai to WoW server and back might make things harder. Until we know more, I wouldn't get too excited about playing WoW on a streaming client. Of course the even bigger issue is, how would you control it? WoW is a mouse & keyboard intensive experience and Gaikai would just be streaming the normal game to you. You'd have to hook up a keyboard and mouse to your device to play effectively. In the case of the iPad in particular, pairing a bluetooth keyboard to it isn't a challenge but I haven't heard of anyone having success pairing a bluetooth mouse to an iPad. (I wonder what'll happen if you attach a USB mouse via the Camera Connection Kit?) But at what point does your portable device stop being portable? The solution here might be for Gaikai to offer some kind of iPad app that simulates a mouse and keyboard interface laid over the WoW (or any other game's) graphics. What's most interesting about this image to me is that the Gaikai client is running on the iPad. So either they do have a native iPad client in the form of an app, their client is browser-based but doesn't use Flash, or they've somehow hacked their iPad to run Flash. Let's hope it's the former and not the latter. A native client would be great. I tried running InstantAction on my iPad and got the too familiar "You need the latest version of Flash" message rather than The Secret of Monkey Island game I was hoping for. Since neither Gaikai or OnLive is launched yet, I can't test either of those yet. If the problem of controls could be solved, the iPad could make a great thin client for these services. That's a big "if" to overcome, though. Short of some kind of hardware attachment, I'm not sure how to satisfactorily deal with the control issue. Streaming games might be one of those activities where a netbook really does beat an iPad.
World of Warcraft being streamed to an iPad