Yahoo is about to launch a new “games on demand” service, allowing users with broadband connections to rent popular games online and play them without needing to acquire a CD or any other kind of physical media.
The system, which starts at prices of about $5 for the rental of a single game for three days and rises to $15 for ten games over thirty days, features titles including Take 2’s Grand Theft Auto 2, Eidos’ Tomb Raider Chronicles and Infogrames’ Backyard Basketball.
Although a large download is needed before the game can be played – in the region of 200mb, which could take over an hour even on a broadband connection – the remainder of the game data is downloaded automatically as it is needed, and the files are cached on the user’s PC so that they don’t need to be downloaded every time the game is played.
Yahoo hopes to supplement its online advertising revenues with cash from this venture, which is broadly similar to a gaming on demand service which BT Openworld operates. However, it’s notable that publishers don’t seem keen to commit their major new releases to the project – with the list of games included at present being decidedly back-catalogue or B-list.
This may be simply because if the system turns out to be popular, it will erode retail sales and hence chart performance – as well, potentially, as profit margins for publishers. However, concerns over security will also continue to linger for publishers involved in the scheme, and until such systems prove themselves, it’s unlikely that new releases and AAA titles will appear on them.
This is a chicken and egg situation – unless major titles are available over gaming on demand networks, the appeal of such services will be massively limited, but until the networks prove themselves, publishers will be unwilling to commit key titles. Whether the significant influence wielded by Yahoo in the online space can change this difficult situation remains to be seen.