A cloud service for mobile gaming isn't as dumb as it sounds

A cloud service for mobile gaming isn't as dumb as it sounds
From Engadget - March 14, 2018

Hatch is a cloud gaming service for your phone, very much in beta at this point and currently available on Android in 16 European countries including the UK. Your first reaction to this idea, if you think like me, might be: But... why? Is it not just an over-engineered solution to a problem that does not really exist? Is storage space so precious we need to host mobile apps in the ether? These were the questions bouncing around my head when I first came across Hatch, but the method of delivery is just part of the picture. What Hatch really wants to be is a champion of premium mobile games and creator of new social ways to play them.

Free-to-play games are more prevalent on mobile than any other platform, but Hatch more or less ignores this vast catalog. Instead, the games it's adopted to date either have an upfront price attached or offer a basic, demo-esque experience ahead of in-app purchases to unlock the full game. No money changes hands on Hatch, though. You can stream the complete version of every game for free, though Hatch does not like the word "free" since you are paying, to some extent, by putting up with ads dotted around the UI. They are hardly intrusive (at this stage, anyway), but eventually Hatch will offer a subscription tier that strips the ads away.

Some special features will also be reserved for paying users, such as a kids mode with parental controls. Hatch is still figuring out exactly what its subscription option will look like because it wo not come into play until the app is fully developed.

I am not an avid mobile gamer, but there are several titles even I recognize on Hatch's books, such as Monument Valley, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Rocket Riot and Mini Metro. A new partnership with Square Enix Montreal means Hitman GO, Lara Croft GO, Deus Ex GO and Hitman Sniper will arrive on Hatch later this year, too.

There are only around 50 games playable in the UK currently, but users in other regions have access to more than 100. You'd think big developers might shy away from a service like Hatch: Every player is someone that may have otherwise bought these games from the Play Store. But that has not stopped studios like Ubisoft, Bandai Namco and Ustwo from pledging their support (another big name will be added to that list in a week or so, I am told). The cloud service itself was spun out of and is still majority owned by Rovio, which knows a thing or two about mobile gaming. Naturally then, Angry Birds and Bad Piggies have a home on Hatch.

Developers showing faith in Hatch, not to mention wanting a cut of ad/subscription revenue, is one thing. Execution is the other part of the puzzle. And if you are still struggling to see the value in a cloud streaming service for mobile games, actually playing around with Hatch is where it all seems to come together. For lack of a more eloquent phrase, it's slick AF.

For starters, the main UI is colorful and inviting. You swipe left and right between genre pages, with animated banners up top and visual cards for the different games beneath. There's also a page that lists your recently played games and one for your social feed (more on that later). Tap a game card and you will see a trailer of sorts above a short description of what it's all about. Hit that play button and after a short loading time you are playing the game as if you'd downloaded it to your device. That's how a cloud gaming service is supposed to operate, of course, but the journey there is worth a mention.

The real light bulb moment, though, is when you start exploring Hatch's social features. At any point during your play session, you can jump into the Hatch menu and invite a friend to join your game. Up to four friends, in fact. Not only is there built-in voice chat, but both of you can actually play the game together -- multiplayer for games that do not have multiplayer.

During a quick session of OK Golf, for example, a colleague and I were chatting away and taking alternate shots, as if we were sitting on a couch passing one phone between us. According to Hatch, this is not even hard to do, technically speaking. Since the game is running in the cloud, the servers just push the same instance to both devices. In other words, the game has no idea you are playing it on two different phones. Also, as the host, I have the option of locking my friends' controls if I start seeing too many wayward shots. Multiplayer does not have to mean taking turns, though. You could invite a friend in to advise you on how to beat a Bridge Constructor Medieval level, or just have them watch you speedrun Badland while you shoot thes**t.


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