Core Online: cloud gaming surrounded by ads

Square Enix unveiled their new cloud-based streaming gaming platform today called Core Online. Much like what OnLive and Gaikai were offering with streaming video games through a browser to your computer with a broadband connection. What Core Online does differently is offer two ways to play the two games currently available, which are Mini Ninjas and Hitman: Blood Money.

Players can either watch ads to earn play time, spend money to unlock individual levels, or pay a premium to purchase the entire game. It’s a change from the normal subscription or full purchase option that had existed before and takes cues from what many mobile developers are doing with their apps.

Some mobile apps have options to earn more in-game currency by viewing an ad, downloading another app, or signing up for a service. Square Enix is translating this type of system for browser games.

The two available games also shows the infancy of Core Online as Mini Ninjas was released in 2009 and Hitman: Blood Money launched in 2006. These games don’t require the computing power of recent games like Sleeping Dogs or Dead Island.

Welcome to Ad City

The idea behind watching ads to gain play time is interesting because it does two things: ensures the ad is entirely played and maximizes possible clicks. For the player, it makes sure that you’re watching the entire ad to gain more time to play.

You can’t skip to the end of the video and have to wait until you see the “Finish” button to click and earn your time. Ads vary from Square Enix properties to more localized ads like one I saw about Tony Hawk’s clothing line.

Ads offer a different amount of time depending on the length of the ad, but you can’t earn more than 60 minutes of game time, effectively requiring the view of ads every hour. This way, Square Enix can promote their own titles with more game time while leveraging other companies who may want to advertise as well.

The ad wall appears when you’re installing a game and the moment you run out of game time offering a chance to earn more game time by watching another ad or paying for a single level or entire game.

If you want to play any games that Square Enix decides to add to Core Online, you’re going to have to watch ads or pay the premium.

Still in Beta

If you go to Core Online, in the address bar it states http://beta.coreonline.com showing that the service is still in development. This is probably why the two games offered are old titles that scale differently. Hitman: Blood Money features a graphics engine that uses realistic polygons and Mini Ninjas uses cartoon style graphics.

Depending on how Square Enix is testing the servers, they could eventually release newer games and even launch the free-to-play style ad system for games when they launch on consoles and PC. Streaming games through a browser could add another whole segment of the gaming audience who want to play games, but don’t have the money to invest in consoles.

After trying the two games, it’s obvious one thing is missing from Core Online: controller support. The keyboard and mouse combination works alright with Hitman: Blood Money, but is lost with Mini Ninjas gameplay. Quality of the streaming content is playable in a windowed browser screen, but full-screen the game and you will start to experience lag and skips in framerate.

Core Online is supported on Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Mozilla Firefox for PC. There is limited Mac support right now. Signing up for an account on Core Online allows for cloud saving and sync so you can play games on multiple computers with no problem.

A grand experiment

Whether Square Enix’s Core Online is an experiment in how to distribute PC games while optimizing ad sales, or an expansion into establishing a social community with Square Enix properties is unknown. With the decline of OnLive and the purchase of Gaikai by Sony, Square Enix is taking an large risk by launching their own cloud gaming portal. The use of the mobile ad/bait system is an interesting translation, but the viability of the service is really unknown.

It’s nice to play games for free, but with so many games using the free-to-play model on desktop and mobile, the use of 60 minute game time limits before watching ads seems like a strange idea. If Square Enix can improve their library in Core Online, they could start an upset in the gaming industry with how the free-to-play model can be used.

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