Angry Birds mobile game publisher Rovio spun out an innovative startup named Hatch in November, and now that company has collected 50 partners with 90 games for a monthly subscription service called Hatch. The service promises to come with a lot of benefits for mobile game players when it debuts later this year.
Hatch will charge a premium subscription price for instant access to all of its games. It provides that instant access by using the cloud, or internet-connected servers in a data center, in combination with the rendering capability of your own smartphone. That cloud technology allows you to log into a game and pick up where you left off or engage in playable ads for games. It also lets you play a single-player game where friends can be spectators. If you get stuck, you can hand the controls off to a friend, who can start playing immediately.
I moderated a session with Hatch CEO Juhani Honkala and business development and partnerships chief Vesa Jutila at the Casual Connect Europe event in Berlin last week. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
Vesa Jutila: What you see here is my phone projected on the screen. Hatch will be a streaming service for mobile games. Just as you have an app on your phone for Netflix or Spotify, you’ll have an app for Hatch. That’s the only thing you need to stream games and play them instantly.
The first thing you see in Hatch is the live feed. That’s a very important aspect of Hatch that isn’t only bringing games on demand over streaming, but also making it a shared social experience with your friends. We allow users to share gameplay videos while they’re playing through this social feed. Like many social networking apps, you can like posts, add comments, and share them to other social media or email them to your friends. From the get-go, Hatch is built around the social elements of games. We want to bring people together around the games they love and let them play in new ways that haven’t been possible in mobile before.
Moving to the right is the “recent” section. It’s all the games I’ve been playing on Hatch. Since all these games are running in the cloud – nothing gets downloaded to your device – there’s no limit to how many games you can play simultaneously on Hatch. You can jump into any game at any time and continue where you left off. You no longer need to be tied to the storage limitations of your phone. You have an unlimited collection of games to access on demand at any time.
For discovering new games we have a couple of sections here. There’s a “trending” section, where we feature the latest additions and best-performing games on the service. We have a couple of genre-based groups, like adventure games and action games. All the games you see here are already signed up for the launch. We announced yesterday that we have more than 50 partners on board, with more than 90 titles lined up for the launch of the service this spring.
When you find a game you want to try – let’s take Badland, from our friends at Frogmind – you go to the game detail screen. You see the description of the game. I see here that 15 of my friends have been playing this game. You can also see what my friends have been posting about this game. There’s an instant social validation of games you might want to try. If I see that 15 my friends think this is a great game, I might want to give it a try.
You just press play. In the free model, we show a video preview, an interstitial. That’s the way we monetize games for the mass market, through advertising. These video interstitials are skippable, so I can skip that and get to the game. It’s as easy as any other streaming service. You don’t need to wait for games to download or install anything or wait for updates. Just press play.
GamesBeat: It seems to have a foundational layer using the cloud. You’re applying the cloud to mobile gaming. What kind of decisions did you make regarding what parts of the cloud you wanted to take advantage of?
Juhani Honkala: We didn’t really start the project from a technology point of view. It’s not as if we came up with a piece of technology and then tried to find a use case for it. We started by looking at where the industry was going. We could see that the mobile gaming industry wasn’t growing as strong as it was a few years ago. We started thinking of ways to expand the market and bring more possibilities for developers. We wanted to find a concept that could leverage current mobile game platforms, but improve them.
We found a few key things that we felt we could fix about mobile gaming. One was that we wanted to make it very easy for people to start a new game, so we came up with this instant play concept. Just like watching a video, it’s possible to start playing any game just by pressing play. That was one of the most important features we wanted to enable, and to do that we needed to innovate on the cloud technology.
We’ve seen that the cloud has become a very important part of many different domains. But this wasn’t a very easy project. We couldn’t just take existing cloud concepts and apply them to the gaming space.
GamesBeat: “Netflix with games” seems like a simple idea, but it’s more complicated than that?
Honkala: Exactly. The devil is in the details. The use case is much more demanding than video or audio streaming, because you need a two-way connection. You have interaction and traffic going back and forth all the time. You need much lower latency. We had to implement our own technology streaming that’s very unique, so that you can play games even over a 4G connection. We had to develop lots of new software, and innovate a great deal in the hardware space as well. Existing cloud solutions wouldn’t necessarily work for our use case.
GamesBeat: And now single-player experiences can become multiplayer.
Honkala: Right. Instant play was one technology we wanted to make happen, but the other key idea was making the service very social. People like to play together with their friends, so we wanted to make it possible for you to enjoy any game that way, even single-player games.
Jutila: To give an example, I think everyone here has played Monument Valley, which is one of the titles for the launch of Hatch. Any puzzle game, like Monument Valley–think about getting stuck in a level. You don’t know what you need to do next. In a situation like that on Hatch, you can invite a friend to join you in the very same game. I can invite you to join my Monument game session, and when that happens, we stream the same game to both your screen and mine. Then I can pass over the controls to you. If you’re a more experienced Monument player than I am, you can show me how to pass the level while I watch and understand what you’re doing. Then you pass the controls back to me and I continue to play.
That’s what we believe games should be about. It’s about having fun with other people together. We want to bring that kind of fun back to mobile games by allowing this kind of shared single-player experience in any game we present. It doesn’t need to be just two people joining the session. We can stream the same game screen to up to 16 players simultaneously from the same game instance. You can become an esports broadcaster, essentially, inviting your friends to join your game in real time and showing them how to master a game.