InstantAction streams full games to any web browser, gives indie developers a business model (video)

Look out, OnLive -- you've got company. InstantAction is having their coming out party at GDC, and we stopped by for a lengthy chat about the technology, its future and the hopes / dreams of the company. Put simply (or as simply as possible), IA has developed a browser-based plug-in that allows full games to be played on any web browser so long as said browser is on a machine capable of handling the game. In other words, you'll still need a beast of a machine to play games like Crysis, but the fact that you can play them on a web browser opens up a new world of possibilities for casual gamers and independent developers. You'll also be notified before your download starts if your machine and / or OS can handle things, with recommendations given on what it would take to make your system capable.

Oh, and speaking of operating systems -- games will only be played back if they're supported on a given OS, so you won't be able to play a Windows only title within a browser on OS X or Linux. Rather than taking the typical streaming approach, these guys are highlighting "chunking." In essence, a fraction of the game's total file size has to be downloaded locally onto your machine, and once that occurs, you can begin playing. As an example, we were playing The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition -- which is the sole title announced for the platform so far, though Assassin's Creed was demoed -- within minutes, and since you're curious, that's a 2.5GB game, and we were on a connection that wasn't much faster than a typical broadband line.

More after the break...

At least initially, InstantAction will be pushing games via Facebook and its own website, the latter of which is still under construction and will launch in earnest "soon." The goal here is threefold: for starters, it's hoping to nab support from a wide variety of game publishers in order to bring existing and future titles into its distribution method. LucasArts is the first to sign on, but we get the impression that many, many more will be revealed in the coming months. Second, it's hoping to provide independent game developers (read: you) a way to get their games in the faces of the people (read: everyone else). As it stands, game devs are forced to self-publish into the abyss or fight the good fight in a (typically futile) attempt to get the attention of the big publishers. IA will be based around a split revenue model that pays the company between "30 and 50 percent" (a figure that could definitely vary based on a variety of circumstances to be revealed in the future) to host your title in the cloud and possibly even put you in contact with portals or developers that would gain value from featuring your title. In case you're wondering -- yes, this truly is life-changing for struggling game builders, and the third aspect here makes it even more so.

The final kicker in all of this is that these IA games are completely embeddable via HTML, and the embed code is shorter than what you're currently using to embed YouTube videos into your Tumblr. In other words, you could embed a fully playable game (yes, even a major title like The Secret of Monkey Island) into your personal blog, a forum, or any other web property where embedding is allowed. If you were to start a game in a forum, you can pick it up later from Facebook, and the cloud knows exactly where to resume the file download. You can even pick up games from different machines, though obviously the locally stored files from rig A won't be on rig B without the same amount of downloading. Once you're into the game, you can toggle in and out of full-screen mode, and all of the available options that would be in a "conventional game" would be here, including graphics and sound options. For an overview of the gameplay process, have a look at the video below.

In anticipation of your questions, we hit these guys up for more details, and while lots of things are still being formed, here's what we do know: there's no DRM involved yet, because you have to be online to play. We asked if these games could eventually be played offline if they were purchased and downloaded in full, and they said that's totally a publisher's call. That said, they're extremely mindful of the recent damage that DRM has caused in the gaming world, and they're in no way, shape or form eager to dabble in that darkness. In other words, you can bet these guys will be fighting against the implementation of DRM. On the gameplay front, there will be a variety of ways to enjoy -- for starters, devs will be able to set a time limit for users to trial their titles, and aside from enabling users to purchase it outright, they can also purchase bits and pieces as they progress.

When the topic of actually getting a game into "InstantAction form" came about, we were told that IA will provide an SDK to clients that enables them to "chunk" their games for optimal playback. That's a responsibility that lies on the developer, not InstantAction, but we don't suspect it'll be a huge burden; far less than porting a title to another console platform or OS, as an example.

General overview of the game embedding process
All in all, we're confident in saying that this has the possibility to completely shift the way casual gaming is viewed, and it could seriously open up worlds of possibilities for indie developers that weren't open yesterday. We've still got loads of questions (mostly surrounding the possibility for DRM-free offline playback and if a dedicated, non-browser client will eventually be released), but we were assured that many of those inquiries would be answered in the months to come. You can bet we'll be keeping an ear to ground, and we'll be passing along every last morsel that we get.

What is the InstantAction platform? from InstantAction on Vimeo.

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The following link features InstantAction CEO Louis Castle discussing the benefits and features of the InstantAction platform.

Browser-based gaming innovator InstantAction today announced the immediate availability of a new direct-to-consumer online video game distribution platform that enables game creators to embed any video game anywhere on the web, including blogs, email, and social media sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

Using a hybrid combination of in-browser, thin-client, and progressive downloading technologies, InstantAction makes embedding premium video games as easy as uploading a standard video or photo, and at equivalent speeds. As a result, game creators can dramatically expand distribution by putting games where consumers are online and in settings where friends' recommendations and invitations are most powerful.

LucasArts announced last night at GDC they are using the InstantAction platform for online distribution of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, which is launching soon.

Benefits of InstantAction for consumers:

1. Browse and sample the actual game for free, or consume content in a pay-as-you-go method. No more paying large sums up front, sight unseen.

2. Instant access. You don't have to wait hours to have access to the game... you're literally playing in just a couple of minutes.

3. Better than ownership of a game... InstantAction is an entitlement-based platform. Once you've paid for the game, whether it was incrementally or in one chunk, you own it. You can play it on your computer, on your friend's computer, on a hundred computers. As long as you're logged in as yourself, you can play it. Additionally, all saved games are stored on InstantAction servers and backed up regularly.

Benefits of InstantAction for game creators:

1. Free trials & rent-to-own capabilities put games instantly in front of more potential consumers.

2. "Sample as you go" models produce more revenue and more loyal customers.

3. The ability to embed a game anywhere means consumers can play a game inside the review site, on a fan site, and inside their Facebook or MySpace pages. Embed a game in the same way you'd embed a YouTube video... send an html email with a game just like you would a picture. Invite friends in your social network to play in same way you'd share pictures or movies. InstantAction is the only platform that offers this capability.