Comcast customers may soon be able to play games like Madden and Plants vs. Zombies on their TV sets without a game console in sight. Reuters reports that Comcast and Electronic Arts are nearing a deal to stream games much like on-demand movies, after testing for two years in secret.
According to the report, the service might be limited to Comcast customers using the company's premium X1 cable box interface, which already offers a selection of apps and on-demand movie titles. Following a deal, that service would start with casual and family games, with the possibility of adding action games and first-person shooters, according to the publication's five anonymous sources. Specific games haven't been decided. Customers will use tablets as their game controllers, according to Reuters.
While the service could compete for the likes of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo video game consoles — in addition to other game-capable set-top-boxes like Amazon's Fire TV — it might also be a bet on the future of video game delivery.
Could the OnLive and Gaikai dream materalize under Comcast's watch?
In 2009, two companies named OnLive and Gaikai successfully demonstrated that you could stream games to televisions, tablets, and tiny set-top boxes by treating them much like a YouTube video. Though those services initially had trouble taking off, they could enjoy a renaissance soon. Sony bought Gaikai in 2012, and announced the PlayStation Now service to stream games to Sony televisions and smartphones. That service, which requires a full game controller, went into beta this year. If that becomes a financially viable business, some day soon even companies like Sony may not need to sell a dedicated video game console, some speculate. For game publishers, one obvious upside is a lack of piracy. You can't easily steal a game if the only parts of it you receive are YouTube-like compressed video frames.
Traditionally, the primary difficulties with cloud gaming have been infrastucture ones. Someone still has to pay for those servers on a regular basis, those servers need to be located relatively close to customers, and those customers need solid, trouble-free internet connections. If the connection is slow or interrupted for even a moment, streaming games can become impossible to play. But no streaming game company has yet managed a direct partnership with a US internet service provider. With a partner like Comcast, which is directly responsible for that infrastructure, the pressure will be high to make it succeed.
There's an awful lot we still don't know about the proposed partnership, though, assuming it does go through. Will these games simply be ports of Electronic Arts' mobile titles, or fully-fledged versions of its top-tier work, for instance? Would they require an additional subscription fee? We're hoping to hear more in the near future.
Update, May 5th 6:30PM: Re/code is also confirming that Comcast and EA are near a deal.