Infinium to bring game rental downloads to Europe
New broom, but same old story?
Interview Infinium Labs' plan to target "yesterday's gamers" with its long-promised console/online game rental service will involve a European roll-out the company revealed this week.
Speaking to The Register yesterday, CEO Kevin Bacchus and European MD Greg Koler remained tight-lipped on the service's launch window here - and, for that matter, when it will appear in the US. However, both indicated the European roll-out will come hot on the heels of the US debut.
Bacchus, who assumed Infinium's CEO position a couple of weeks ago after company founder Tim Roberts stepped down to focus on his role as chairman, said the updated Phantom console - tweaked in the months since last November's aborted launch to incorporate the latest developments in PC technology - and the Phantom Game Service that powers it, are almost ready for launch.
It's going to arrive "sooner rather than later", Bacchus pledged.
Infinium watchers will say they've heard that before, most notably in the run-up to the planned November 2004 debut. Come the day, and neither Phantom component shipped. Bacchus insists the hardware and the online service it connects to were ready to go. The decision to delay, he said, was the result of a number of factors: funding limitations, the lack of a direct competitive threat and the room the delay provided to take some time to update the hardware.
Certainly, no-one else appears to be pursuing the same goal: to make it easy for ex-gamers and casual players to play and, crucially, spend money on titles they would not otherwise buy, either through insufficient interest or insufficient time. Hardcore PC gamers may be shocked at the hardware's relatively low spec., console buffs by a games catalogue that may sound behind the times, though Bacchus insists he's going to have up-to-the-minute A-class titles too. But they're not the target audience.
Bacchus' goal is to bring people back to the games market, not serve those who already invest significant amounts of time and money upon on gaming. He maintains the company's survey-led research shows there's a business here, maybe not one on the level of Xbox, PlayStation of PC, but a money maker nonetheless. That, at least, is the idea.
This time round, the Phantom is still based on the PC, and probably with components from the same names - Nvidia and AMD, primarily - as last time, though Bacchus did not confirm this. However, he said the 'new' device is based on the early incarnations of the next-generation of his suppliers' technologies rather than the last of the previous generation. His proposed system is sufficiently standards-based to be cheap, yet custom enough to operate efficiently and securely - there's an anti-piracy Trusted Platform Module in there, for example.
But first, Bacchus has to put his company's corporate house in order, he said. There's a sense that the shift from Sarasota, Florida to Seattle, albeit initially made for programmatic reasons - it's where Bacchus himself is based, and there are more engineers in the area than in Florida - will help position Infinium as a more 'serious' company than it has appeared to be to date. Bacchus' comments suggest he wants to put a more formal corporate structure in place, something potential funding sources will hopefully feel they can do business with.
That's not to say the entrepreneurial spirit is out, merely that its maverick side, as embodied by Roberts, has been tamed somewhat.
Funding, of course, remains crucial. There's a market, a unique proposition with which to tap it, plenty of content to exploit and a business model geared to make it easy for retailers to offer the product. But those factors count for nothing if there's no money to maintain the momentum.
Bacchus needs it to resolve past disputes with suppliers and creditors, and to put in place the manufacturing and content licensing deals that will be necessary to get the Phantom hardware out of the door and onto retailers' shelves in the US and ultimately in Europe too. And that takes cash. Where's it going to come from? Bacchus couldn't say, but we look forward to the company's public statements when it's able to make them. And if it can't, there'll be plenty of folk queuing up to say 'told you so'. ®