Cloud gaming services like Onlive will soon have some foreign competition here in the States. At CES 2013, we spoke with Israeli-based firm Playcast, which is operating its self-titled cloud gaming service in France, Portugal and Korea with plans to launch the service here in the U.S. by the third quarter of this year.
With Playcast, there's no hardware to buy or set up. It's simply software, with the company's servers rendering the graphics. In the demos we were given, hiccups ranged from minor (momentary latency/frame rate spikes) to significant (one game, "F.E.A.R 3," failed to load). Overall, though, Playcast operated smoothly during test runs of "F.E.A.R 2" and "Batman: Arkham City," maintaining an average frame rate of between 30 to 40fps by our estimation. While there were moments where "Arkham City" dipped into the 25fps range, they were brief.
Playcast currently has roughly 60 AAA titles in its library, including "Batman: Arkham City," "Batman: Arkham Asylum," "Metro 2033," "F.E.A.R 3," "F.E.A.R 2" and more. However, Playcast doesn't just cater to the action gamer. It plans to offer multiple packages based on the type of games you're interesting in playing, be they casual, action, sports, etc. They company also plays host to a healthy library of indie games. Multiplayer gaming is supported on a user-to-user basis. Games also get phased into and out of the service, the latter occurring usually with games that are scarcely played.
Pricing details haven't been finalized, but Playcast informed us that the packages will follow a pricing model similar to what's available in other countries where the service is currently up and running. The casual games package should cost roughly $5, while the action games package should cost $10 to $12. Also, you can subscribe to multiple packages, so you're not just married to one set of games.
How does Playcast fill up its library? It negotiates with game publishers large and small, and once an agreement is reached, Playcast selects what titles they wish to port to their service from that publisher. They currently have agreements with top publishers including Atari, Sega, THQ and others.
Playcast will eventually be available for use on virtually every platform out there, including PC, Android tablets/phones, iOS and OSX. Select set-top boxes will also include a Playcast portal, so you can enjoy the library from almost anywhere. Also, Playcast recognizes that certain games are not well suited to be played on touch-screen-enabled devices like tablets. So certain games will have skins programmed into them that add controller buttons over the screen on the sides, giving you a gamepad-like experience on your tablet. To test this feature, we played "Lego Batman" on a slate running via Playcast, and the added buttons definitely made for a smoother game experience than we would've otherwise had. Playcast plans to add skins to additional games over time. Note that the controller skins are added on a case-by-case basis.
Playcast adds up to two AAA games every 1 to 2 months, so it'll be interesting to see what high-profile titles will be available on the service by the time it hits the U.S. later this year. In the interim, stayed tuned for further Playcast news, as well as all things CES 2013.