Games Domain International's proprietary 'Awomo' branded technology – which allows gamers to download and play games in a fraction of the time this previously took – has caused something of a stir in the gaming community this month.
But what exactly is it? How does it work? And can the relatively unknown British company take on the likes of current market leaders such as Direct2Download and Valve's mighty Steam PC download service?
"The sheer size of video games continues to outpace the growth in Internet bandwidth," claimed GDI in a press release issued back in January earlier this year.
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"In 2003, typical PC games weighed in at 1.4 Gigabytes (GB), which on a typical 0.5 Megabit per second (Mb/s) broadband connection at the time would take around 6 hours to download. Today, games are typically in excess of 7 GB in size, and on a 2 Mb/s connection take nearly 8 hours to download. Despite the increase in broadband speeds, the situation is getting worse not better as the technology gap widens."
Twenty times faster
GDI's proprietary tech, Awomo is apparently up to 20 times faster than conventional services, because, as Roger Walkden, CEO of GDI explains "[the] gamer does not need to access the entire game data right from the beginning," much as, "in the same way a person watching a movie does not need to see the end first, nor does a gamer need the whole game just to start playing."
"Results vary by game: for some, the initial download can be as little as a twentieth of the data – the core 'engine' plus other essential information. Others may require a larger download to ensure there are no interruptions to game play."
In addition to that basic premise, the Awomo tech, notes Walkden, packs in another "couple of other unique tricks up its sleeve to help minimise the initial download size."
"Many games actually have large amounts of repeated or redundant data," reveals Walkden. "For example, the same visual feature may be reused many times and stored as a separate instance each time.
"AWOMO simply replaces repeated data with a reference to the original. Similarly, information which is never accessed by the game is discarded, much as the audio compression used for music downloads discards data the ear can't hear."
Using AWOMO requires the user to install a tiny Browser plug-in on their system – currently the latest versions of Explorer and Firefox are supported. This plug-in handles the account log-on and game download management from the AWOMO webpages.
When the user clicks the 'Download' button for a particular game, Awomo works out their connection speed and configures an initial download optimised for that connection. This varies in size depending on the game and the connection, but can be as small as one twentieth of the entire game's data. This is downloaded to the user's computer to an Awomo cache folder, and the game can be launched as soon as this download has been delivered. There is no separate 'install' step, the game is ready to play direct from the cache. As the user plays through the game, the rest of the data needed is downloaded seamlessly in the background, with no interruption to gameplay.
Long term plans
So what is GDI's longer term objective with Awomo? And how many games does the service currently have signed up to offer its customers?
"We intend Awomo to be your digital library for games, and you can read into that what you want!" Communications Director Tim Ponting told TechRadar.
Ponting added: "We have hundreds of games signed for the retail phase already, but we won't be making announcements until such time as we have a release schedule of when they will be added into the service as we implement billing and payment."
"The intention is to offer the latest, greatest titles, alongside those hard-to-find classics that retailers just don't have the shelf space to stock. Which titles we'll have access to on day one of course is not in our control - it's entirely up to the videogame publishers themselves, but we're beginning to see increased awareness of the importance of downloads among all the majors."
Vital sales channel
Now that PC and console game downloads are increasingly becoming a more concrete and understandable revenue stream for games publishers, Ponting notes that "inevitably digital download will become a vital sales channel and at that point I'd expect all major launches to be available to download on day one - or even before!"
And what of the plans for increasing Awomo's user-base? Other than the obvious strategy of offering a great library of classic and new games for download quickly and easily at competitive prices!
"We haven't yet kick-started any major recruitment phase for AWOMO users," Ponting tells us.
"We actually launched the Public Beta just before Christmas, and to date we've had tens of thousands of users drop by and try it for themselves as the word has spread.
"We're confident now that the technology is robust and scaleable, so at the point at which we're happy billing and payment is working properly, then we'll start adding in titles for sale through the system. Then we start recruiting in earnest of course.
"The great thing about AWOMO - and crucial for its rapid growth - is the range of partners already on board who have a vested interest in sharing in our success. Unlike the leaders in the music download market, our business model is inclusive, and that's the key."