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Gaikai cloud-gaming service goes live

Gaikai launches its game-streaming service with free trials.

Gaikai offers streamed game trials, including Electronic Arts' Mass Effect 2.
Gaikai offers streamed game trials, including Electronic Arts' Mass Effect 2.

Gaikai CEO David Perry announced the launch of his company's cloud-gaming service on Friday. Designed as a platform to allow game publishers and others to embed streaming gameplay trials on their Web sites, Gaikai has been in development since 2008. Gaikai investors include Intel and Limelight Networks, and the service counts Electronic Arts among its game publisher partners.

While Perry said in his blog that Gaikai is live, the corporate site still lists the service as being in beta. Perry's blog lists trial versions of five games available to play now, including Dead Space 2, Spore, and The Sims 3.

Unlike OnLive, a cloud-gaming service that sells access via a la carte and subscription models, Gaikai so far bills itself primarily as a technology provider. It does not currently have a consumer subscription model, and its marketing efforts thus far seem focused at game publishers and Web sites.

"Our thinking is somewhat like YouTube, as instead of just building a portal to go and watch videos, they decided to focus on putting videos everywhere on the Web. We are doing the same with games, so when you read a review on a game, you can try playing it right there on the same page as the review," says Perry on his blog.

We tried two different Gaikai game trials on our home Internet connection, Dead Space 2 and the Sims 3. Dead Space 2 is accessible after completing a brief survey (which you can try here), and the Sims 3 trial (available here) seems to be hosted on Electronic Arts' own Sims 3 Web site.

When you launch a game, the service performs a bandwidth test. It found our wireless connection suitably fast enough for Dead Space 2, but we had to switch to our wired connection to play the Sims 3 trial.

Playing a Dead Space 2 trial in Firefox via Gaikai.
Playing a Dead Space 2 trial in Firefox via Gaikai. CNET

Each game launches in a Java window, and, like OnLive, your options to edit the settings, particularly the display settings are limited. You can set the game to play in "full screen," but the aspect ratio is locked at what appears to be 4:3. If you expanded the game window, it will be framed by black bars if you play on a wide-screen display.

Despite the locked visual settings, the image quality was comparable to that of a modern game console. Each game also demonstrated occasional input lag, but both were predominantly playable, at least in our short trial over a Brooklyn, New York-based home Internet connection.

As of this beta launch, Gaikai offers only games from Electronic Arts (a partnership that could explain why EA games have so far been absent from OnLive). Whether the service adds more publishers, or has loftier ambitions than offering game trials, remains to be seen.