Sony is getting into cloud-based gaming in a big way. The PlayStation maker just announced that it's buying Gaikai for $380 million. According to the official press release (PDF), Sony will establish its own cloud service as part of the deal. It's unclear whether that service will exist alongside Gaikai's own, however.
Gaikai has an impressive list of games on its website, including reasonably recent titles like Mass Effect 3, The Witcher 2, and Agricultural Simulator 2012. Ok, so the individual titles aren't all impressive. They do run within a web browser, though. All that's required is Flash, Java, and Gaikai's own plug-in. You don't even need a powerful GPU.
I just fired up TrackMania 2 Canyon in a browser window, and the experience was better than expected. The graphics looked passable, and more importantly, the controls were responsive. Latency can be an issue with streaming services, but that simply wasn't a problem in TrackMania. Sampling the game didn't cost me a dime, either.
With no cost of entry, cloud-based services like Gaikai have the potential to lure in folks who might not have taken the plunge otherwise. There certainly seem to be a lot of casual gamers hooked on smartphone titles like Angry Birds. Some of them are surely primed for hard-core gaming, especially if they can get that first taste for free. Seasoned gamers will probably prefer to play titles locally. However, they'll surely appreciate the ability to play decent games on notebooks with anemic graphics.