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EA Bets Big on Creating Netflix of Video Games

Electronic Arts calls it cloud gaming, but the company’s chief technology officer Ken Moss has a different way of describing the emerging tech.

“I truly believe it is going to revolutionize how games are experienced,” he said. “We have watched it, studied it, have been working on it for awhile now and we really believe that strong future is right about now.”

Cloud gaming is technology that essentially takes away the requirements for a high-end computer or gaming console and allows a game to be played on just about anything with an internet connection and display. A computer on a server does the heavy lifting and sends the information to a program running on Smart TV, a low-end laptop or even a tablet or smartphone.

The end result is gaming for the masses, or at least that’s the goal.

“This will allow them to play a huge variety of games any time they want to play it on any screen in their lives,” Moss said. “And it will be a premium gaming experience, AAA games at 1080p streamed from the cloud to the device with no extra hardware needed and all of that with an imprescriptible latency.

“The combination of streaming with a subscription can really transform the entire industry of gaming. We’ve seen this happen in other forms of entertainment: movies, music, with this, gaming has that same opportunity.”

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In a demo Saturday afternoon, Moss showed off an early technical build of EA’s take on cloud gaming. It started with an app loaded on a typical smart TV. The app looked a lot like Netflix, but instead of showing off images of a variety of movies, it showed off a bunch of games. Scrolling through the titles, each offered a chance to watch a trailer, look at screenshots, and see what the controls were like.

Moss went through the menu using a standard Xbox controller plugged into the side of the TV with a USB cable.

“Anyone with a smart TV can experience this full experience I’m going to show you,” he said. “This is the current incarnation of our user experience. It’s a tech trial.”

He said in some future iteration, each screen would also likely show you which friends are playing the games you’re looking at, as you explore the service.

Next, he selected “Titanfall 2,” loading up the game relatively quickly and going into a mission select screen to play the “Beacon” mission from the 2016 game.

“Latency is critical in first-person shooters,” he said, handing off the controller to one of the developers of the game, so he could talk while the developer played. “It has to be great or the game experience doesn’t work. It has to be job number one to get latency right.”

One of the reasons the company is launching a technical trial is so they can understand the hurdles the company and its service might face out in the real world, on real networks.

“We want to see how things can go wrong,” he said. “We have to understand what they have in their living rooms. In order to get this right, our bar is to make sure this feels like the latency is at imperceptible levels.”

On screen, there seems to be no lag, though we weren’t given a chance to try it ourselves. Moss said the servers that were being used for Saturday’s demos were based in Northern California and that the network in the building wasn’t anything special. They hadn’t, for instant, brought in fiber optics to amp up the connection.

A big part of the company’s ongoing work, it seems, is tied to the May purchase of online video gaming rental service Gamefly and the incorporation of that company’s tech team based in Israel.

“We were super happy to bring on board recently our team in Israel,” Moss said.

Next, Moss showed how a low-end laptop, like a Chromebook, could load up the identical experience and play another PC game. Finally, he brought up the menu on an outdated Samsung S7 smartphone and loaded up the latest “FIFA” to show how the games could be played on “any device that can watch video.”

The technology will also support something that EA calls continuous gaming, which would allow a person to start playing on one device, pause the experience and then continue on another. So imagine playing “FIFA” on your smart TV and then pausing the game and coming back to it on a smartphone or laptop at the exact same spot.

Cross platform play would also be supported.

“That’s really interesting for a whole bunch of reasons,” Moss said. “ You don’t have to worry what type of screen or device your friends are playing on. The whole world can be united.”

Moss noted that with Saturday’s announcement of Origin Access Premiere, a new subscription service EA is offering, the two services could be combined to offer something entirely new.

Once the demo wrapped up, Moss said they weren’t sure how long it would be until the company could transition from a technical trial to a demo for the public.

“We’re doing this trial to get the data to answer that question,” he said. “The whole company is rallying behind this, but we don’t have a date.”

A big part of that hold-up could be the requirement for high-end internet to support its use. Currently, with the compression the company is using to stream game data to a home, cloud gaming requires 20 megabits per second speeds. As of last year, that’s higher than the average internet connection speed in the United States. A survey last year put that at 18.7 megabits per second, but it also showed that speeds had increased by 22 percent over the previous year.

And Moss said that new compression will lower that requirement. High internet speeds are an issue everywhere, not just in the U.S., but Moss thinks that won’t be a problem soon.

“I think people are underestimating how soon this will happen,” Moss said. “There are two trends driving this. Number one is cloud capabilities. There is amazing public cloud investment happening. The second trend is 5G. When 5G comes, and it is coming fast, it’s going to make this a no-brainer. We will have very high bandwidth and very low latency.

“If you believe in those two trends it’s not an if, but a when. And we believe it’s not dependent on 5G to get this to work.”

This weekend’s news comes just days after Ubisoft founder Yves Guillemot told Variety that he believes the coming of cloud streaming will one day do away with gaming consoles.

Moss said while he believes that cloud gaming is the future, he doesn’t necessarily believe it will entirely replace game consoles.

“We’re not saying this is the only answer and the only way to play games,” he said. “I believe this will greatly expand gaming, massively expand gaming, so billions will get access to the best games in the world.

“But at EA we always start with the player. EA has a long history of trying to be where the players are. I would be shocked if there are a lot of players playing on gaming devices that we aren’t going to want to be there too. We’re not going to force this. We’re trying to have player choice be the principal.”

Moss also noted that he is aware muliple companies are chasing this same idea, but that excites rather than concerns him.

In the end, he said, the best services will rise to the top and the competition will make everything better.

“The point is that we can bring way more players into this network to allow them access to all of the games they want to play. We think ‘FIFA’ is a really good game, but only a subset of the people in the world can play it. We believe this is an amazing opportunity to inspire the world to play, to get more games in the hands of players. That is a deep mission of ours. Which is why this feels so natural to us.”

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