OnLive: Dead in the Water?

“…this service has the potential to completely change the way games are played.” (IGN UK)

“Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, look out. Your traditional video game console business model may be in danger.” (CNET)

Honestly? I don’t know what to think.

OnLive, recently revealed at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, California, is a big deal. Maybe. It’s a little hard to tell what’s going on amidst the internet firestorm surrounding its unveiling, though I’m sure the angry skeptics and fervent believers alike can agree on one thing: if it works as described, OnLive could turn the gaming world on its head.

Think about it! For every great game available to a modern PC gamer, there are at least three times as many stumbling blocks preventing you from diving right into the action. Want sweet graphics? Throw down at least a couple hundred for the latest graphic card. Want to try before you buy? Spend a day or so downloading a massive demo and cross your fingers it’s worth the space on your hard drive. Want to play the game at all? Hope you’re not on a Mac, as game developers have a tendency to focus on Windows operating systems.

OnLive claims to change that, however, through the magic of the internet. Want to play that latest blockbuster title? Sign into the OnLive service, rent/buy the game of your choosing, and clap your hands delightedly when it’s instantly available to play. No long download, no long installation — just sweet, sweet gaming without the wait.

Am I the only one who finds Lady Gaga's music videos freaking hilarious? They've managed -- against all odds -- to drown an entire video in sexual imagery but still end up one of the least sexiest things I've seen in a long time.

Sound too good to be true? It might be. OnLive works by loading the game of your choosing on its home server and the streaming it directly to your computer. The truly exciting thing is that this would make even the latest big-budget titles available to anyone with a fairly modern computer, negating the need for a specific operating system or even a high-end graphics card. It’s a fascinating concept, to say the least, and one not very far off, if the projected debut in Winter 2009 is any indication.

Still, there’s a pretty sizable amount of skepticism surrounding the service, most of which is probably warranted. Comment threads all across the ‘net are filled with pages upon pages of readers explaining exactly why this could never work, raising some pretty valid points about why OnLive may not be the dream technology we’ve been looking for.

A big concern is the issue of lag. Anyone who has played an online multiplayer game in the recent generation of consoles should know pretty well what it can do, especially if you favor shooters that often require split-second timing. Even a few seconds of delay there can be disastrous, hence a lot of the doubt about whether the current internet infrastructure in the States is up to the task of streaming high-definition gaming.

It’s also a little difficult to believe that OnLive can do exactly what it claims to do. Consider that it needs to read in the input from your keyboard and mouse and send it back to the home server, interacting with the game there and then sending the updated state of the game back to your computer. Technically, it’s possible, but the issue comes again when you consider lag, especially if there were a second or two delay between your motions and what you saw on screen. Lag is inevitable with the constant sending of signals between your computer and home server, so it then comes to whether or not OnLive’s technology can reduce the delay to an amount indistinguishable to the human eye.

Seriously, it's hysterical. Go watch "Poker Face" and tell me watching her convulze by the pool in that horrendous blue suit isn't the funniest thing you've ever seen.

OnLive claims to have invented some pretty revolutionary tech to do it. Major gaming sites that have tried the service out for themselves at the Conference say it does what it advertises, though Joystiq’s report notes a seeming delay of a second or two while playing a particular PC game. That’s the only case I’ve seen so far where a game has been described with a specific delay, but it’s still worth noting, particularly when the journalists seem pretty positive about the service while their readers are overwhelmingly gloomy.

Still, I’ll be keeping an eye on this throughout the rest of the year, mainly to see if it can deliver on its claims. OnLive has already garnered support from many major video game publishers, so I’ll be curious to see if a transition to digital delivery of games will translate to savings for gamers. You’d think that the lack of physical media (the disc itself and the packaging it comes in) would result in cheaper titles for the consumer, but other digital distribution services like Steam consistently charge full-price for the latest games, so who knows what’ll happen?

If you’re interested in possibly getting early access to OnLive as a beta tester, sign up on the main website. It’s looking a little shaky right now, sometimes not loading correctly, but keep trying if it gives you any issues. What do you think, guys? Any chance this could take off? And, if it does, what are the odds we’ll see OnLive extend to cover games from the modern generation of consoles?

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No Comments on "OnLive: Dead in the Water?"

  1. pantone175c
    26/03/2009 at 2:09 pm Permalink

    I think it is a natural progression for PC games to move to this format. I think the better our infrastructure gets (fatter pipes from the ISP’s) and the more bandwidth we get, lag will not be an issue.

    This looks pretty sweet. im signing up for beta!

  2. Brian
    31/03/2009 at 6:24 am Permalink

    I’m going to remain skeptical for the time being. Unless trends change, graphics hardware will always be able to deliver visuals that take up more bandwidth than the average consumer has available to them. Is it an interesting concept? Yeah, sure, but this sort of server-side gaming has been promised before (anyone remember the phantom console? it claimed on-demand gaming, and promptly disappeared).

    If it actually comes to pass, more power to them. As long as most mainstream gamers don’t mind being limited to 640×480 resolution because their internet connection isn’t fast enough to accommodate higher, they’ll be fine. The hardcore crowd will scoff and stick to their/our expensive hardware, crazy-high resolutions, and pretty, pretty eyecandy.

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