Vjeran Pavic


Comcast’s Internet-connected X1 cable box may soon be a game console, sort of. The cable giant is nearing a deal with game publisher EA to sell and stream videogames to the TV that would be playable with a tablet controller, sources tell Re/code.

Reuters was first to report the approaching deal Friday afternoon.

The Reuters report singled out EA sports franchises FIFA and Madden — longtime cash cows for gaming consoles like the PlayStation and Xbox — as two potential games to be streamed via Comcast’s pipes. One source tells us that due to the limitations of a tablet as a controller it’s more likely the first games on the system will be more casual family-friendly fare.

Last summer, the two companies tested a streaming service on the X1 that used EA’s online game delivery service Origin and a custom iPad app as the controller. Reuters’ report dated initial testing as having started at least two years ago.

Comcast’s X1 box (not to be confused with Microsoft’s Xbox One) is a DVR and media hub aimed at quickly pulling down TV, movies and other types of content from the Web. The company is reportedly installing between 15,000 and 20,000 of the new boxes per day.

The deal comes at a time when the current console leaders, Sony and Microsoft, are trying to embed themselves deeper into the living room. Sony’s own game-streaming service, PlayStation Now, currently in closed beta and scheduled for a wider release later this year, will bring games from its past PlayStation consoles to new devices, including Sony’s own line of Bravia TVs. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Xbox One hooks into existing cable boxes and other media devices, with the company positioning the console as a default hub for all the media in your living room.

Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is an investor in Revere Digital, the parent company of Re/code.


First Netflix capitulates and starts paying carriage fees to Comcast and the like, and next up, they will go to the gaming companies like Blizzard and EA and Activision and  Take-Two and Aeria and the others and demand similar carriage fees, you know, to make sure there are no problems, see.

The problem here is that latency and lag in a movie is annoying.   But latency and lag in an online game can get your character killed, make you lose key battles, cost you inventory, or just make the game completely unplayable.   It's a much more personal kind of miserable experience.   If that happens to games, word will get out and the titles will not sell. 

So the game publishers will have to choose to pay up or give up, and I suspect many of the smaller ones will just give up.  Aeria has already sold their entire PC gaming business (and interestingly some of their games have had horrible lag lately).  They're not small, but not big-big either.    Smaller publishers without the deep pockets of an EA aren't going to be able to pay for carriage, especially not if every ISP starts demanding this money, which IS what will happen when they start seeing what Netflix is paying.  Pay one, you gotta pay 'em all.   This is just a bad situation about to get worse.  


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