I am happiest when I am working on new projects, especially ones that have the potential to make millions of dollars. The vast majority of these projects never end up making any money, but I never give up hope. “This time it will be different,” I think to myself. So goes the life of an entrepreneur.
My Bitcoin ventures from a few years ago had this type of excitement, but I was really just dipping my toes in the cryptocurrency waters. I have a finance background but am not the crypto or hacker type. I am not even a programmer. The Bitcoin world is filled with young kids doing all sorts of amazing and creative projects, many from countries that don’t have the strict banking and securities regulations that the USA has. It is also filled with fraud, crime, price instability/risk, and security nightmares (hacking/stealing/attacks). So, this world is a fun place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
It is much more exciting to start a business that everybody relates to and has mass market potential, like video games. The problem is that I am not much of a gamer. I was an arcade addict back in the days when you had to go to the mall to play video games, and before arcades existed, I had Pong hooked up to my TV via a rabbit ear antenna and I also had a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer that used a cassette drive to run games. I once even won an actual pinball machine in a video game tournament. Then came the Atari 2600 home console and I loved it, but never got any new game systems after that.
A few years go I got involved in video games again because I was working on setting up a video game review site on my GameReviews.com domain. One topic I stumbled across was about cloud gaming, and I decided to look into it more. Cloud gaming means playing games remotely, so you do not have to download them to your PC or have a console (Xbox, Wii, Playstation, etc.) to play them. This appeals to people for a bunch of reasons:
1. Most computers are not powerful enough to run modern games, which are very graphics intense.
2. Even if your computer can handle it, you don’t want to fill up your hard drive with games.
3. Free download games sometimes come with spyware/adware which can mess up your computer.
4. Some games need certain plugins or drivers, and those can mess up your computer.
5. If you use multiple computers, it is hard to have a library of games just in one place.
6. Some games take a huge amount of time to download or are hard to install.
7. Some games have mods, and those are hard to install unless you are a programmer type.
With cloud gaming, you just click on the game you want to play, and it starts playing. Usually, though, you have to download a small program (called a thin client) when you first join the cloud gaming site, to interface with the server.
Just like how movies used to have to be rented at Blockbuster but now are on Netflix, and books were found in a bookstore but are now on Amazon, many industry experts think video games will eventually move to the cloud. But, the technology is complicated. People don’t want to play video games where there is a noticeable lag (also known as “latency”) in the game play, and that is hard to avoid when playing remotely due to the huge amount of graphics processing needed for a typical video game (like Titanfall or Battlefield 4). The good thing for me about cloud gaming is that many of the technical problems are similar issues I have encountered with hosting media content such as audio or video on my websites, so that is something I am pretty familiar with. It is more about programming and networking, and less about video games.
As a mundane example, I was testing various programs for setting up my own cloud gaming site, and my programmer sent me this email about installing the software:
“I just got an error while compiling GA: “/libtool: fork: Cannot allocate memory.” I think if 1 GB of RAM is added (2 is better) it should work fine.”
So, I added 2 GB of extra ram to the server (at an extra cost of $40/month). He then sent me this email:
“Now there is another problem. GA fails to start because a sound card is missing. I installed ALSA and everything, but probably because it runs inside a virtual machine, they didn’t bother to add a sound card.”
So, I did a live chat with tech support at my web host, and they said:
“I’m checking with one of our level 3 engineers, and they are saying there is no way to add a SoundCard to our cloud servers.”
So, I told my programmer to instead put it on one of my other servers (a non-cloud server) that does have a sound card.
My programmer then emailed me a few minutes later saying:
“I fixed it right after I sent the message. I even started the game, now everything is ready.”
Almost every step of the way with setting up a new site that uses complex technologies, stuff like this happens. Much of the work is in figuring out how to move forward despite the problems, and knowing where to look for answers and help. There are usually many different paths to take, and it is important to be aware of all the options. Because of that, I decided to approach this project a little differently than any other site I had ever built.
Since there are so many hardcore gamers out there that are also expert programmers, I decided to make a job posting on UpWork.com asking for help, even though I was not sure exactly what I was looking for. I outlined my business plan and the various technologies I was working with (C++, video compression/GPUs, X Window System, etc.) and the various programs I was considering using and asked people to take a look at what my programmer had done so far and give their input. I did not make the job posting public, I hand picked 12 candidates I thought were good matches based on their UpWork.com profiles and then invited them to apply for the job. Most said it sounded interesting, but they were not familiar enough with the programs to offer any help. The rest did not respond. I have never had anybody on UpWork.com reject any of my job offers, since most people are eager for work, so I was actually happy about this because it meant that what I was working on is something that was not easy to accomplish, so hopefully it had value at least once I get it all working.
After several more months of problems and tinkering, my original programmer and I finally got a very rough version of the site working, at 247Gamers.com. It only offered 7 games, but at least it was a start. The problem was unless I made licensing deals with video game companies, I was only able to offer open-source games, which were generally games nobody has ever heard of, so they don’t get excited about them. People want to play popular games like Call of Duty and Star Wars Battlefront.
All that was in 2014. At that time there were only a handful of other sites actually offering cloud gaming, and none were free like mine was, so I was hoping I might get some users or at least some publicity, but nothing ever happened so I dropped the project to maybe pick up at a later time. Plus, cloud gaming technology was not really good enough back then for mass adoption by consumers. Now 3 years later, cloud gaming has not caught on yet, but the technology is a lot better at least. There are still only a handful of companies working on it, but Liquid Sky seems to be at least getting some market share (it has over 500,000 users). They let you play all the games you already own from any device by renting you a gaming PC that can connect to remotely.
What most people want though, is a Netflix for video games, where you pay a small monthly fee and can play a big selection of popular video games on a cloud gaming server. My guess is that much like with movies, licensing is probably the biggest obstacle. It is not just a matter of working out the financial details of licensing; it is that the game companies don’t want their games streamed if the quality of the streaming is not going to be perfect. If users are not satisfied, it will reflect badly on the game publisher, not just the cloud gaming site.
In 2015, I received an email that the domain Blaze.com was for sale (by Aron Meystedt at Heritage Auctions), and my first thought was that this would be a great domain for my cloud gaming service. The asking price was $115,000 though, and that was a lot for me to spend on a business that I was not sure I would ever launch, so I passed. Then, 2 months later, I got another email, saying the price was reduced to $70,000. I knew it would sell fast for that price (and it did), and I was very tempted to buy it, because even if I never used it for cloud gaming, it was a great deal. I ended up not making an offer, partially because I worried about possible trademark problems (the phrase “Blaze” has several trademarks). About a year later, I read the new owner of Blaze.com sold it for $253,000.
At this point, this project is still on hold for me, but I am keeping an eye on the cloud gaming industry and at some point may do something with it. I think there is a lot of potential here; I am just not sure yet the best way to profit from it.