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I saw a live demo of EA's new cloud gaming service, and it totally works

EA isn't ready to say how much it costs, but it's testing a new cloud-streaming games initiative with an eye toward releasing it soon.

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Soon you'll be able to play top-tier games like Titanfall 2 on any device.

Electronic Arts

Kyle Fujita is sitting across the room from me playing Titanfall 2. He's running around the popular game's futuristic world and readying himself to gun down enemies. 

But I'm less interested in the action than the way he's playing the 2016 hit.

Fujita, a quality assurance tester for Electronic Arts, is in a nondescript room across the street from the company's Hollywood kickoff for the Electronic Entertainment Expo. His gear is just as everyday as the setting. Fujita isn't playing this high-end game on an Xbox, PlayStation or fancy gaming rig. All he's got is a TV connected to a $20 controller and a high-speed internet connection.

And that's the point.

EA thinks this stripped-down approach could be the future of gaming. The promise, the company says, is for you to play games anywhere you can watch Netflix. In fact, the EA system uses practically the same technology as the movie-streaming service. Which is why the company starts showing me how people can play high-end games on low-end laptops, and even phones. 

The company calls it "cloud gaming."

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Ken Moss, EA's CTO, demonstrated the company's new cloud gaming initiative.

Josh Miller/CNET

"It's early days," said Ken Moss, EA's technology chief. "But not that early."

Moss ought to know. He helped found Microsoft's search team, which later became Bing, and has been involved in large-scale sites and services for more than two decades. All that experience comes to bear at EA, where the cloud-gaming project is in its testing phase.

EA thinks the technological and economic shifts that changed the music and movie industries are coming to games. Moss says the end result will be the same: You'll be able to play games on any device at any time as long as it's connected to the internet.

"The combination of streaming and subscriptions is really going to change the way games are consumed," Moss said. He declined to say how much EA's service would cost or when it would launch. But it could be in the next couple years. 

This isn't the first time someone gamers have been promised this type of service. The idea of streaming games has been around for about a decade.

And who wouldn't want it to happen? A world where all you need is an internet connection, a controller and a device -- any device, not only the fastest or most powerful -- is an easy sell to pretty much any gamer or parent who's winced at shelling out $499 for an Xbox One X or $399 for a PlayStation 4 Pro.

The CEOs of major game companies have started to indicate they're on board too. Yves Guillemot, head of French game maker Ubisoft, recently told Variety that he sees the era of the dedicated video game console coming to an end.

"There will be one more console generation and then after that, we will be streaming, all of us," he said. 

A rocky history

Early companies like OnLive and Gaikai demonstrated cloud gaming was possible when they launched in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Sony made a big bet on the technology in 2012 by acquiring Gaikai and using it to help power its PlayStation Now streaming service, which launched two years later. Microsoft, meanwhile, said it's building a streaming service in addition to working on a new Xbox.

So far, these services haven't yet reshaped the game industry though. In fact, OnLive became a warning to other companies willing to try. Within two years of launching its service, the company found itself sold to financiers in an alternative to bankruptcy. Three years after that, in 2015, it was sold again and shut down.

Part of the reason OnLive struggled was financial: OnLive simply couldn't make enough money off its customers to fund its service. Another was technical: Internet and server speeds just hadn't gotten good enough to truly make these services widely available without annoying lags that can make or break someone's gaming session.

EA said each of these issues has changed in the past few years since OnLive was shut down. Technology is cheaper, internet connections are better, and people are more receptive to subscriptions, like EA's new Origin Access Premier subscription service. (It's coming this summer.)

"Convenience will prevail," said Patrick Söderlund, EA's head of design. "Our job is to make sure that it technically functions and that it has a substantially better value."

First published June 9 at 6:32 p.m. PT.
Update June 10 at 5:00 a.m. PT: Adds details about Microsoft's rumored Xbox streaming service; 11:59 p.m.: Adds details about Microsoft's announced streaming service.

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