Smartphones and tablets have become popular gaming devices, but the games available for them typically have been fairly simple programs.
Cloud gaming service OnLive aims to change that.
The Palo Alto company Wednesday released apps that will allow users to play games from its service on tablets such as Apple's (AAPL) iPad, Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Amazon's Kindle Fire. The move represents one of the first attempts to bring the same games that consumers can play on the latest consoles and gaming PCs -- including popular titles such as "Batman: Arkham City"
and "Assassin's Creed: Revelations" -- to the new mobile devices.
The release of the new apps marks "a major milestone," OnLive founder and CEO Steve Perlman said in a news release. "Gaming and mobile devices will never be the same."
The apps, which OnLive is offering for free, have been customized for and tested on the iPad, the Kindle Fire and several Android tablets, Perlman said. OnLive also plans to release apps for the iPhone and Android smartphones "soon," the company said.
The company and its partners have added touch-screen controls to some 25 games already on the service, including "Lego Harry Potter: Year 1-4" and "Virtua Tennis 2009." Users will also be able to play the vast majority of the approximately 200
games available on the service with a new wireless controller the company began offering Wednesday through its website for $40. Company officials said they plan to add touch-screen controls to more games -- both new and old -- in the future.
OnLive, which launched its service last year, streams games to users over the Internet. Consumers can buy or rent games from the service or pay a monthly fee to play a collection of older and less well-known games for no extra charge. Until Wednesday, consumers had been able to play its games on PC and Mac computers and on their televisions via a $100 adapter sold by the company. With the new service, they will be able to start playing a game on a mobile device and continue it on a PC or console or vise versa.
Mobile users will be able to play games over Wi-Fi and over high-speed 4G cellular data connections. Users could potentially play games over 3G connections, but OnLive is discouraging that because delays would make for a poor experience, Perlman said.
The service's new mobile capability is likely to prove popular, particularly on tablet devices, analysts said. Consumers are increasingly turning to such devices instead of their televisions to watch videos and consume other digital content, they noted.
"This makes a lot of sense," said Billy Pidgeon, an analyst for M2 Research, which focuses on the video game market. By allowing users to play the service in more places, the mobile apps "will increase the perceived value of OnLive by prospective customers," he added.
When it sells top games, OnLive charges about $50. That's about the same price users pay for PC or console games, but it's considerably more than what users are used to spending for iPad or iPhone games.
But that shouldn't be a problem for OnLive, analysts said. The company has many games that are priced much lower, offers frequent sales, allows users to rent games for three- or five-day periods for $6 or $9 and offers a $10 a month subscription service that gives users access to more than 100 games. Plus, the games on OnLive are much higher quality than those tablet users have had access to before, analysts said.
"The quality of the games will win out and exempt these types of games from a race to the bottom" in terms of pricing," said Pidgeon.
The mobile service is helping position OnLive as a formidable competitor to major game console makers Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, analysts said. Allowing users to play the same games on multiple devices is a feature those device makers can't offer today and may not be able to offer in the future. What's more, the company's micro-console is less expensive than the game consoles those companies are offering today and will likely be an even bigger bargain when those companies release their next generation machines, said Michael Pachter, a financial analyst who covers video game companies for Wedbush Securities.
"They're really well positioned to present a cost-effective alternative to console gaming," Pachter said. "There's going to be a meaningful number of people who say they don't need to buy the next-generation consoles."
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