Square Enix's Core Online seeks to remove the friction in purchasing and playing games.
Last month Square Enix launched its browser-based cloud gaming service, Core Online. Players can stream entire games on their computer for free by agreeing to watch a series of video advertisements, or choose to purchase games in parts if they want to avoid the ads.
Hapti.co, a Denmark-based company and Square Enix subsidary, aims to bring high-quality console experiences to browser gaming through its work with Core Online. The company was started around two years ago by a group of industry professionals and has since developed its own unique browser streaming plugin, the Square Enix Secure Launcher. The small piece of code allows a game's original code to run directly in browsers through Core Online without requiring any installation.
When Square Enix saw Hapti.co's technology, the company decided to move forward with supporting the studio's vision and aiding development, Square Enix director of business development Jacob Navok told Polygon.
"The primary benefit [of cloud gaming or streaming games] is removing friction," Navok said. "Every step in the process toward playing a game offers friction that reduces the potential player pool. By making play as simple as clicking one button in a browser, you maximize the number of people who are willing to play a game."
Core Online has been structured to ensure that players have options in how they pay for content. The company has paid close attention to player feedback and tweaked their business models accordingly.
"The primary benefit [of cloud gaming or streaming games] is removing friction."
"Mini Ninjas is a great example," Navok said. "When we launched the first beta in March, we only offered the ability to pay on a per-level basis. We combed through the user comments to understand their reactions. Gamers who had grown up with packaged games were torn. Some enjoyed the ability to pay per level, like the option to get just their favorite track on iTunes. Others wanted to get the whole game at once like they were used to – so we made that option available to them.
"We also saw comments from gamers who'd grown up with browser products rather than discs where the expectation was content was free," he added. "These players thought the game was a huge step up visually from the content they were used to, but they didn't like the paid business model. So that left us with an open question: how could we turn packaged games free-to-play?"
Navok cited Hulu's marketing model as inspiration for Core Online's own models.
"It occurred to me that the content we were offering on Core Online was quite different from usual browser content where the objectives tend to be driven by a need for repetition rather than the narrative," he explained. "Narrative is the soul of much of our high definition content, and the games we'd been planning for Core Online had a start and end to their stories. These games could also be split into levels, similar to episodes of a television series. The idea for the advertising model started with those building blocks."
"Narrative is the soul of much of our high definition content."
Square Enix is examining titles from its global lineup across publishers within the company's group. Core Online launched with several of its major IPs, including Hitman and Tomb Raider, and there are plans to bring more in over time. The company plans focus first on games with existing PC builds in order to get them up and running quickly.
Navok says that the company remains unphased in light of the events at streaming gaming company OnLive, as their streaming methods differ. In mid-August OnLive laid off its entire staff after being purchased by Lauder Partners, a company with a history of investments in technology companies. Shortly after the announcement, founder Steve Perlman stepped down to allow Gary Lauder to take over at CEO.
"It didn't really affect our thinking," he said. "Onlive utilizes a proprietary client to play streamed games with limitations on latency and video streaming quality. Rather than being server-side processed games, our products are closer to digitally distributed titles with the need to download and install the games removed, and added benefits such as cloud save support, the option to start from any stage in the game, and the ability to play the games for free."
"We believe that one of the greatest future expansions will be cloud gaming."
Although the games featured in Core Online weren't initially built to be on browsers, they now have the added benefits of browser gaming in that players can start and stop from multiple PCs and play instantly.
"Lowering the investment required to play games on the part of the player has expanded the market throughout the decades," Navok said. "The technological disruptions- from arcades to home consoles, from consoles to mobile, and in the future, to the cloud, have been expansions that increase the market size.
"We believe that one of the greatest future expansions will be cloud gaming. Here, the barrier to entry for playing games becomes zero, and we reach the maximum potential for the gaming audience,' he said.
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