Game streaming through the cloud has long been thought of as the future of games.
It's a tech that means users wouldn’t need to purchase sophisticated and expensive hardware to play high-end titles.
Instead, they could just pick up a low-end device backed up by a good internet connection and be playing within a few clicks - no excessive storage space or physical media required.
Its promise saw the emergence of major cloud gaming players OnLive and Gaikai. The former had huge ambitions, offering a subscription service for players to play and spectate triple-A games in an instant.
But it never quite took off and closed its services for good on April 30th 2015, with Sony buying up its patents.
Gaikai, on the other hand, was the “success story” after Sony purchased that company in July 2012 for some $380 million.
Despite the big-money deal and rebranding it to PlayStation Now offering PS3 games to PS4 players, the streaming service has still yet to really take off.
It’s all certainly a far cry from the immense popularity of streaming services in other entertainment sectors, such as Netflix for TV and film and Spotify for music.
Up in the cloud
Despite the struggles of cloud gaming, a new company spun out of Angry Birds developer Rovio has decided to take another crack at it.
Hatch Entertainment, based in Espoo and housing around 20 staff, believes it has the answer to game streaming with its new Hatch app for Android mobile devices.
And most interestingly, it’s offering free versions of premium mobile experiences that can be streamed in an instant - such as Monument Valley and Republique.
The way it works is like Spotify’s business model: Users can use the service completely for free, but may get ads from time to time within the Hatch platform.
Then there’s an optional paid subscription service that will be ad-free and will also unlock extra features and content.
When using the app, players can stream the game they want to play without needing to download or update it, and there are no in-app purchases in any of the games.
Developers can monetise through minutes played – though Hatch is not yet elaborating on exactly how the breakdown and revenue sharing scheme from this or ads will work.
Strong developer backing
The project has some big backing already from some 40 developers and publishers, notably from the likes of UsTwo, Camouflaj, Double Fine, Bossa Studios, Frogmind, GungHo, Rovio and more.
We believe that Hatch will make gaming in mobile devices so much more accessible, easy and instant.Vesa Jutila
Speaking to PocketGamer.biz Hatch VP of Content & Commercial Partnerships Vesa Jutila says the service is popular with developers because it offers the potential to attract more players and in a way that can generate a new revenue stream for them.
“We believe that this will make gaming in mobile devices so much more accessible, easy and instant that we can reach audiences that are not A. playing so much at all and B. are actually spending money either directly purchasing premium games or spending money in free-to-play games,” he explains.
“We are addressing a very different part of the market with Hatch.”
He adds: “Everybody we’ve been discussing with doesn’t think there’s any relevant cannibalisation, and that there is such a big upside potential that it’s worth going for it.”
Does streaming work for business?
The free streaming model does raise a few eyebrows however. On the face of it, the service appears to have the potential to cap revenues from IAPs while also underselling premium games and driving the cost of those games down, to the detriment of the developer.
Jutila is adamant that’s not the case, and distances the service from comparisons to the likes of Netflix, a comparison he believes undermines the experience Hatch is bringing to the market.
“We basically extend the reach for these developers to massive new audiences and make that experience totally unique, and with all these social elements it’s kind of creating more excitement around those games from what’s not there necessarily today," he says.
“When it comes to capping out the free-to-play games, yes, we know that free-to-play is a great market. It’s a great business to get right, but it’s also addressing a very specific part of the market from the audience perspective.
“Only a very small share of gamers today are spending money in free-to-play games. So, we believe that there’s a market for free-to-play games, and it’s great for some companies and some people who love it, but we believe there’s a huge underserved market out there for having great games available in easy instant and easily accessible fashion.”
There is not going to be this huge long tail of games that nobody ever plays, nobody ever discovers and never make any money.Vesa Jutila
He adds that from a revenue potential perspective, Hatch is planning to have a “highly curated” library of games to give users the best games while also helping to ensure developers will get a relevant share of the overall revenues for their business.
“…there is not going to be this huge long tail of games that nobody ever plays, nobody ever discovers and never make any money,” explains Jutila.
“We really want to have a fair monetisation for all the participating studios that all the games we bring to have are great experiences, great fun to play games that also monetise well from the developer’s perspective.”
New social ways to play
Perhaps the most appealing and ground-breaking feature of Hatch is not its streaming – but its innovative social features that Jutila has alluded to.
As well as users being able to share gameplay moments, stream their game and spectate others, users can also turn their single-player games into a shared single player experience.
Players can either pass the controls onto someone else, whether that’s because they are stuck or it is an intrinsic part of gameplay, or two players can control the same game together at once – from their own devices.
An example shown was that of one player using the directional buttons to move, whilst the other player could command the same character to jump.
It’s a fascinating bit of tech that Jutila believes helps separate Hatch out from what’s gone on before.
Combined with its new streaming technology that does away with direct video streaming – in part powered by Huawei cloud-based server tech, Jutila is confident Hatch can avoid the failures of others in the past and finally bring cloud gaming to the masses.
“We have a totally new revolutionary technology that makes the experience great,” he says.
We really bring the social, having fun with your friends experience back to mobile games, which was somehow lost for the past few years.Vesa Jutila
“All the existing and previous tries to make streaming service for games have been based on video streaming, which doesn’t work. Especially in mobile devices, it hardly works in PC and console side either, well enough.
“I think what’s been missing is this rich layer of social elements in the experience. We don’t believe it’s enough that you just deliver the very same games over streaming with no difference. Why would I bother using a streaming-based game if I can play the same game running on my phone?
“What we are bringing is this totally new experience, bringing people together over the games they love, where they can start interacting and experiencing things they could never experience anywhere else.
“That’s the deal breaker. We really bring the social, having fun with your friends experience back to mobile games, which was somehow lost for the past few years. That is the thing what we believe will make the difference here.”
Hatch is due to enter soft launch on Android devices in certain parts of Europe during the first half of 2017. The company hopes to come to iOS at a later date.
The start-up also plans on taking small steps to begin with before reaching out to larger audiences, but has ambitions to make its streaming service global.
Hatch will be at PGC London 17 on January 16th and 17th. You can find more details and register for the event here.