Gamefly announces streaming game service powered by Playcast Media

Playing games via streaming them from the cloud seems to be some kind of holy grail in the electronic entertainment business these days. Everyone wants to be the first company to get it right and reap the rewards but so far it seems like a niche business at best. We've seen OnLive come and go. Gaikai was purchased by Sony and deployed as Playstation Now. Nvidia has Nvidia Grid, and I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting. I don't get the sense that any of these are wildly popular.

The idea behind game streaming is that instead of buying a game console or PC, gamers run a client on some kind of inexpensive device. The games run on servers in the cloud somewhere and gameplay is streamed to your client while your inputs are being sent back to the servers where they are acted on. As you can imagine this process introduces some lag, though for casual gaming it can work pretty well if conditions are right.

Now Gamefly is getting in on the streaming trend. Gamefly began life as a "Netflix for Gamers" back when Netflix was all about shipping DVDs to your door. Gamefly did (and still does) the same only with video games. Next they tried opening a digital storefront for PC games, buying Direct2Drive in 2011 and then selling it off to AtGames in 2014. Now they've acquired PlayCast Media to power Gamefly Streaming and you can sign up today to be notified when the service launches (which should be very soon).

Here's the kicker. The service will initially be available only on the Amazon Fire TV. Now I don't mean to be overly negative, but I'm trying to imagine the intersection of a) Amazon Fire TV owners who are b) gamers but c) not serious enough gamers to buy a console and who d) have a fast enough broadband service to stream games and finally e) are willing to spend $7+/month for the privilege of playing a handful of games.

It just doesn't sound like a huge market to me. Now granted I'm sure the service will be available on other platforms eventually, though I wonder which ones. I can't see Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo or even Nvidia welcoming this kind of third party service onto their hardware, but it would have to be something that supported a proper controller. The Ouya maybe?!

I'm also not convinced by the business model. You pay either $6.99 or $9.99/month to get access to a specific 'packet' of thematically similar games. For example $6.99 could get you the Adventure Pack with access to Dark Void, Overlord II, Darksiders, Darksiders II, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City, and Batman: Arkham Origins. Another $6.99 pack, the Speed Pack, offers Ace Combat, Dirt 3, GRID, GRID 2, MotoGP13, Ridge Racer Unbounded, and WRC 4. If you think that in a given month you might want some variety, perhaps play both a racing game and a Batman game, then you'd have to spend $13.98/month to get two packs. There's a $9.99 Gamer's Pack that has 16 titles but they're all shooters and adventure games. You can see the list of intial titles and packs on the GameFly Streaming support page.

Maybe I'm the odd man out, but if I pay a monthly fee for a streaming game service I'm going to want to access a variety of game types, not seven games in the same genre. Of course it's hard to fault Gamefly when no one seems to have figured out a compelling business model for streaming. Sony's Playstation Now is much more expensive ($19.99/month or $44.99/3 months) but it offers about 100 titles to choose from. I feel like Gamefly Streaming's offering is too constricted but Sony's is too expensive (though the 3-month option which works out to about $15/month is more appealing). Playstation Now does also let you rent games a la carte for what works out to be about $1/day for a full week, according to Sony. I've never really felt motivated to try it, but then I have proper game consoles to play on.

If all you have is an Amazon Fire TV then maybe it'll be worth it to you to spend $7 to play one of the games in one of these bundles for a month. I did sign up to be notified when the service is available and I'll take it for a spin when that happens.

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