When I first heard rumblings of a streaming service for video games, I thought that it was one of the dumbest ideas that the industry has ever produced (given all of the industry’s blunders over the past few decades, that is saying a lot). After all, streaming video isn’t the same thing as streaming gameplay. If the movie that you are watching on Netflix takes a half second to respond to the push of a button on your remote, it does nothing to diminish your experience. If on the other hand, a video game takes a half second to respond to every button push, mouse click, or keystroke, then something like an action game is unplayable. The bandwidth that would be required to stream 1080p video with absolutely no perceptible lag makes this idea impractical without massive upgrades to the country’s infrastructure (who knows how far off in the future that will be). Furthermore, a service that functions by streaming video to the user does not eliminate the stiff system requirements for cutting-edge games. Instead, it just centralizes those requirements with the service provider, so that instead of paying a few hundred bucks to upgrade your video card every few years, you pay a few hundred bucks to a service like OnLive to make that upgrade for you. With graphical quality hitting a plateau over the past decade, those upgrades are increasingly unnecessary. Unsurprisingly, OnLive crashed and burned soon after it launched.
Thus, when I first heard about the game streaming service called Jump, I was very skeptical. Jump, however, takes a decidedly different approach from a service like OnLive. Rather than offering itself as an alternative to costly computer upgrades, it touts itself as a “Netflix of gaming” – a service that will, presumably, offer a constantly rotating selection of indie games that you can experience at your leisure for a monthly fee. Rather than stream these games to you via video, the service uses a technology called Hyperjump, which streams the actual game content to your PC. You don’t actually have the game installed on your PC, but your machine still performs all of the computations locally. This approach is an interesting one that shows a lot more promise to me than a service that works by streaming video. And, after playing a handful of games on the service over a few weeks I am glad to report that the service works as intended – well, mostly.
There are a lot of reasons to believe that Jump will be a service worth subscribing to. If you, like me, find yourself constantly piling up indie games on Steam sales that you either play just once or never touch, then this service seems like a viable alternative. The service provides the opportunity to play some critically acclaimed games that you may have missed at any time that you want without having to wait for them to go on sale. The downside, of course, is that you pay for this privilege on a monthly basis and you do not actually own the games that you play. Thus, this service is not objectively better than the model offered by Steam, but it may be attractive for the right customer.
Of course, the first order of business when discussing this type of service is to see whether it works on technical level. In order to test out this technology, I tried out a few games of varying graphical quality. The first game that I tried was on the graphical low end – Pony Island. After the quick install of Jump (which installs about as quickly as Steam), I opened up the application, found Pony Island, and launched the game. After a (slightly disappointing) ninety seconds or so of loading, I got into the game and played it with no performance problems whatsoever. The initial loading time, however, repeated itself each time that I got into the game. Apparently, the service re-streams the content to your PC at the start of every session, resulting in a delay each time. This issue is arguably the biggest technical hurdle for this service, and I can easily see it becoming its users’ biggest complaint.
After playing a few hours of Pony Island, I decided to try something that looked more graphically intensive. The best looking game that I could find (from screenshots) was the puzzle platformer “Life Goes On: Done to Death”. I expected that the game would load much slower, but to my surprise, the game loaded almost instantly. I played the game for a few short sessions and each time, it loaded up in less than fifteen seconds. Apparently, there isn’t much of a relationship between how a game looks in its screenshots and how quickly it loads. However, the performance in-game was quite poor. On medium settings, Life Goes On: Done to Death cratered frequently, often reaching “slide show” levels of performance. Since I do not own this game on any other platform, I don’t know whether this performance issue is a consequence of the Hyperjump technology, or whether it is a problem with the game itself. “What is the best-looking game that Jump can run?” is an interesting question. There are few games on Jump that use 3D rendering, so it is hard to get a good feel for how well this service will provide them. For what it’s worth, the quicker loading time was more representative of a few other games that I tried out than the slow loading time for Pony Island.
Jump promises a selection of tightly-curated games, and, for the most part, it delivers on that promise. If you have any worries that the service will be populated by cheap shovelware, then a week or so using it should put those worries to rest. It is true that there is no Assassins Creed here, nor is there a Pillars of Eternity or a Gears of War. There is, however, a wide variety of action, adventure, and role playing games available on the service. Some of these games are well-known, well-reviewed games like Teslagrad. Others are obscure titles like This Book is a Dungeon that you may have never heard of. Jump will not be able to compete directly with Steam, but it should have strong niche appeal for gamers who are always on the lookout for something fresh from the Indie scene.
Being brand new, Jump does appear to suffer from some growing pains, and there are a few annoyances with the service. One of those annoyances is that all of your saves are cloud saves. This problem may not sound like a bad one, but if the service somehow loses or corrupts a save, you will have no way to recover it. This problem happened to me for Pony Island – after playing the game for a couple of hours, my save game got lost and I lost all of my progress. I don’t expect this problem to happen frequently, but it will be very annoying if it does. The Jump interface and its service are also very barebones at this point. The service has yet to build up a strong community, for instance, and it doesn’t yet offer achievements or metrics like how many hours you have played in each game. There isn’t much to the Jump application besides the ability to browse games, your favorites, and a list of the games that you have recently played.
None of the problems that I experienced would keep me from recommending this service’s free two-week trial, however. Jump could be the first legitimately useful on-demand video gaming service. You can quickly get into a wide variety of games with little more than a short wait upon the startup of each gaming session. It will not be an all-encompassing service on which you can play Destiny 2, but it doesn’t advertise itself as such. It appears to be a smartly-designed product that is aimed at a certain audience. There are a few obstacles for the service to overcome, but it should improve over time if it can build up a strong customer base. If this service sounds at all intriguing to you, then I strongly encourage you to give it a try.