At PAX South 2020, OnlySP had the opportunity to speak with Rainway CEO Andrew Sampson to discuss the future of game streaming, the launch of Rainway’s iOS app, and reflecting on Google Stadia’s launch.
OnlySP: First I want to say congrats on the iOS launch of Rainway! When it came to developing Rainway for iOS, were there any unique challenges that you came across?
Sampson: Getting the input right for mobile was incredibly difficult. We had to put a lot of time into testing and what felt best for the end user when it came to playing with touch controls or a gamepad. Getting it performing great was actually the simplest job to do. The tech we started building a year ago was built to be this modular, fast, cross platform piece that we can drop into any app or platform to build a video or gaming streaming app. That was actually easy in comparison to making it feel good for the end user when they’re picking up the device and playing. But I’m pretty proud of how well we got it. The reviews are mirroring the hard work.
OnlySP: When it comes to game streaming and cloud streaming, what is your opinion on some of the roadblocks, including things like data caps, infrastructure, etc?
Sampson: For services like ours, our focus is on you having a gaming PC, home network, and your PC games. For us, our user might be streaming inside home. Data cap and latency isn’t an issue. If you want to play outside of the home, Rainway is able to optimize for your network. So you can always get the best performance. If you’re playing over wifi, data caps don’t matter that much because Rainway compression is some of the best in the game.
Now when you look at other services like Stadia, you have to ask yourself, “Who is the customer”, right? First, everyone has a console or a PC. So are you going to move entirely to buying game from Stadia as your primary gaming platform? Well, if Stadia isn’t an optimal location for you, the data center isn’t even within your state, in a specific corner, you have to worry about latency, game availability, or what happens if the infrastructure that powers Stadia, which is Google Cloud, was to go down. And it goes down kind of often. You’ll be without the ability to play your games.
These are a lot of things you have to worry about that. The core business of cloud gaming, whether you’re Stadia, Amazon, or Microsoft, is can you build a business model around your cloud gaming service that will actually make money or will it be something that burns money for two years and then you shut it down?
OnlySP: In regards to the future of streaming, obviously there are more competitors in the market now than you did in 2018 when Rainway started. The most notable ones are Google Stadia, PlayStation Now, as well as Microsoft’s upcoming xCloud service. Can you tell me about how Rainway fits into the market in a way these other services can’t?
Sampson: I’m incredibly humbled by the fact that when we started building in 2018, nobody cared about cloud gaming or game streaming. But within a year, we started seeing all of these big companies pop up and validate our idea because a lot of people thought we were insane. All of these big companies were like “that’s a good idea! We should try to do that!” So when we look at services like xCloud and Stadia, they’re serving a market of users who want to move to a more casual experience of not needing to worry about buying the next console or upgrading their PC and just want content available, and they’re okay with latency because they want to be able to play their games in an accessible way.
Rainway fits in by offering that same sort of convenience, the ability to play across all your different devices but without another buy in to yet another service. You use your existing games, hardware, home internet connection, and you can play inside your home and outside your home. Rainway is kind of like a personal Netflix for games and there’s no paywall to actually getting started.
OnlySP: So I want to get your opinion on something. Back in November when Google Stadia launched, there were issues with connections and everything. Rainway’s Twitter actually posted gif of running Destiny 2 on its platform in response to the Washington Post’s Gene Park, who posted a gif of him playing Destiny 2 on Stadia, with extreme lag in response time.
And then over at Kotaku, Jason Schreier mentioned how Microsoft and Sony were terrified about Google’s entry into the space. Now, after some time has passed and it seemed like Stadia’s launch was less than stellar, is there anything that you learned through how Stadia’s launch played out?
Sampson: To talk about Stadia’s original announcement, I actually saw Phil Spencer walking by [at GDC 2019] after Stadia’s reveal. Their team were all talking, and I know exactly what they were talking about. It was funny because with Stadia announced, I was pumped! I was excited because I was on my way to an investor meeting and I was watching their launch and was just like, “This is awful! Wow we’re going to get so many new users from this!” At GDC, I was sitting at a hotel bar and I tweeted, “hey if you want to see a demo of Rainway, come find me!” I got swarmed with people, almost 100 people showed up. We were demoing Rainway on a Macbook streaming from a server from northern California on that bar’s wifi and people couldn’t believe that it felt native. I had some people that showed up on Stadia’s booth and said “it felt awful” and then they came to use our product and they were like, “how did you do this?” It was almost like black magic. So that was motivating to me.
Now, since then, Stadia’s launch showed us that people want our product more. I was nervous at first, maybe I missed the mark, or maybe the market is shifting towards people not wanting to own hardware. But then I snapped back to reality when Stadia launched and everyone just screaming at us, “Rainway already exists, Rainway does this better, Rainway Rainway Rainway!” And that made everyone on the team thrilled and it gave us conviction that the path we were going down was the right one. It also meant that we need to go aggressive with our platform releases. In the first half of the year, we’re coming to 6 new platforms in the next 3 months.
We realized that Stadia showed us that people want to play on other devices, but they just needed more places to play. Stadia is only available on Pixel, and a couple of Chromebooks and Chromecast. We’re going to outmaneuver them and be on as many places at once without those sort of limitations and that’s kind of the key to owning this market. You have to show users, “No, you don’t need to give up your box and assimilate into the borg that is Stadia”. Use what you have and get that same experience. And for free!
OnlySP: Rainway uses peer to peer rather than cloud streaming. From what I understand, the first thing that comes to my mind that works similarly is PlayStation 4’s Remote Play ability with the PlayStation Vita. I turn on my PS4, and then I can walk into the next room, use my Vita’s Remote Play app, and then play my PS4 games on my Vita. So does Rainway do essentially the same thing but with PC games? Can you go more into detail about how that works?
Sampson: You can take the games that are on your PC and it streams over your own network to your other devices on that network. Where the magic happens is that you can actually go outside your home. You can be at school and play on a Chromebook in the middle of class, play at work, or play at your friend’s house. You can now choose to say “I’ve been playing Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order for 6 hours, like me last week. And now I want to finish playing this on the big screen.” I went into the living room and turned on my Xbox and streamed Rainway to it. I can take my game progress and play however I want to be most comfortable. That’s the freedom to choose how you want to play whenever and wherever.
OnlySP: I want to talk about your pricing model. It’s currently free. You have other competitors like Shadow, who charge a monthly subscription, Stadia, who charges a subscription AND you have to buy games, and we’ve yet to see how Microsoft will charge for xCloud, if at all. You’ve also mentioned that there might be a premium tier for additional features. Can you describe why you decided to go with this pricing model?
OnlySP: You already bought the games. Why would we charge you twice? You paid $59.99 times how many AAA games are in your library. That’s thousands of dollars worth of games. Who are we to put a $5.99 subscription in front of you playing your games on other devices? We are all about freedom and access, so we have to be free to play. Then everyone else asks, “How do you make a service maintainable if you’re not generating revenue?” The answer to users is that first, our investors love our approach as well, but other than that, we are focusing on the enterprise for our revenue generation. We’re building out a lot of great technology that powers our core services and those same technologies can be turned other services for enterprise customers that can pay us for that. We focus on building a great consumer service and enterprise customers pay for the pieces and then that continues to operate. It’s the best way to connect both sides: B2B and B2C.
OnlySP: In a way, streaming reminds me of virtual reality. They’re exciting concepts, and many people see them as the future of gaming, sort of a natural evolution, people are waiting for the day Ready Player One is actually feasible. However, as we’ve tried these technologies, there have been roadblocks. Virtual reality and motion sickness, headsets are cumbersome. With streaming, you have infrastructure, datacaps, etc. Do you think the video industry will eventually just be ALL streaming?
Sampson: I think there’s a place for SIM clients where you have some sort of graphical intense operation running on a server on the cloud. However, I feel like the native experience that will have some place in day to day operations. For gamers at least, if you look at other spaces, you will start to see more of a shift to the cloud. There’s a demand for the ability to run CAD software on GTs in the cloud to have them streamed to SIM clients because it doesn’t scale to fit supercomputers for a construction company.
But for gamers, they always want to own those games, own those physical disc or digital software that’s on their Xbox. That’s important for the traditional gamer. I don’t think that’s going anywhere any time soon. I don’t think cloud gaming shouldn’t replace traditional gaming. There’s a place to play on the couch to play with your friends. There’s a place for sitting down in front of your TV and turning on your Xbox or PlayStation. Game streaming should be a supplement, an extension of your normal play. For us, that’s how we view ourselves. You’re a PC gamer and you play on your PC, so we want to be an extension of that. If you want to play on the couch or your friend’s house, or on the toilet, we are that solution for you. There’s also not enough bandwidth for servers in the world for it all to be streaming. Netflix already contributes a lot to global warming, so we shouldn’t make it worse by moving it to all gaming [laughs].
OnlySP: So what’s next for Rainway? I believe that you already have it out on Android in beta, and then eventually Xbox?
Sampson: Android will launch at the end of the month. The Xbox One build right here is a private demo build that we’re demoing at PAX, but we’re hoping to announce the Xbox beta soon. We’re hoping to get it out by the end of February as well. During this quarter, expect Rainway to come to Android, iOS and Xbox. We have two other special platforms that will be announced soon.
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