Back in 2009 I was reliably informed by a friend of mine that a ‘cloud gaming’ service was going to be launching soon in America which would allow people to play high end PC games without the need for a high end PC, everything would be played on an external server through the internet with very little interaction from the end users PC.
This service was going to be called OnLive.
“It’ll never work”
I laughed at my friend and said that this would be an impossible idea to implement, the technology required would be financially staggering and the lag would be insurmountable on regular internet connections.
This may sound harsh but at the time I wasn’t alone in my dismissive nature, when OnLive first announced it’s cloud gaming service back at the Game Developer Conference in 2009, many gaming and technology journalists alike greeted the whole idea with a large degree of skepticism, Eurogamers own technological expert Richard Leadbetter even published an article entitled “GDC: Why OnLive Can’t Possibly Work” explaining that like many others in the industry, he was extremely excited by the idea of OnLive but “Realistically, there is no way it can work to the extent suggested, and no way it can provide a gaming experience as good as the one you already have without inherent compromises.”
In June 2010, OnLive went public, offering cloud gaming to the masses of the US.
Now, the idea of Cloud Gaming isn’t exactly a new one, services such as G-Cluster had been running since the early 2000’s and GaiKai has been running since 2008 but OnLive really publicised the service when it was launched, making more people aware of the phrase of Cloud Gaming.
“But, what is cloud gaming?”
Many people I have spoken to don’t fully understand what it is so I’ll try to explain the concept.The idea behind cloud gaming is amazingly simple, the hardware running the game you are playing isn’t owned by you, the game is running on a PC in a building sometimes hundreds of miles away in a large facility running thousands of systems playing thousands of games simultaneously, the player simply uses the OnLive Microconsole (or PC/Mac client) to receive the video signal from this location and uses their keyboard and mouse or control pad to send input commands to the server.
The inherent advantages of this system are obvious; you would never need to upgrade your hardware again as all the hardware would be stored and serviced by OnLive, upgrades and patches would happen automatically, piracy would essentially be eliminated as nothing would be stored at the gamers end, also you’d never need to physically purchase a game again, everything would be digitally purchased and streamed instantly, no installing required.
So after some deliberation on the subject of OnLive, I decided that this could well change the face of gaming as we know it. No, I’m serious.
I’m a firm believer in OnLive now and have been for some time and I think that, after the initial ‘feeling out’ process that any service/console has it could genuinely be something phenomenal, OnLive wants to offer you the best games at the best display possible without the need for discs or downloads, instantly, and you can’t help but appreciate that level of resolve, the hardest part for them is behind them, getting the technology together to actually make this service work.
Using the OnLive service there are definite bonuses and drawbacks, one of the key bonuses for myself is the ability to instantly start playing any game I wish, I can demo a game for 30 minutes for free and then, if I so wish, purchase the game and carry on where I left off, no replaying the same section that was in the demo.
The OnLive Arena mode is another big plus point for me as it’s an option that allows you to spectate on other people’s games. Now, maybe this is the geeky and voyeuristic side of me talking, but I really enjoy this mode, it’s like a gamers perfect screensaver. You have literately thousands of games being played in front of you and you can just sit there and watch them, see what the game is like, offer advice through chat, etc.
The games available for OnLive are obviously not as extensive as for consoles or PC yet but that’s just a case of getting publishers to release more content for the platform which, with the release of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and L.A Noir this November, is beginning to happen.
There’s always a ‘but’…
I can’t in all good conscience sit here and say that OnLive is currently a console replacement, it is not. If you are looking for 1080p high def graphics and near flawless gameplay then you are better off buying a home console, but what OnLive is, especially the Microconsole, is a casual gamers replacement for a home console at the moment.
Pricing with OnLive is not too dissimilar than buying retail at the moment apart from the Playback Bundle, this bundle features over 100 games which you have unlimited access to for roughly £7 a month. From looking at the pricing structure and the offers they are able to easily implement into the OnLive infrastructure, it appears as though OnLive has the potential to give services such Steam and Origin a run for their money.
Okay so let’s have a quick reality check here, is OnLive going to instantly replace the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3? – No
Does OnLive have the potential to be a contender against the top consoles of this/next generation? – Definitely!
OnLive is not going to destroy Microsoft and Sony, nor indoctrinate their fans into abandoning their home consoles but what’s the most important thing about OnLive at the moment is that it works! Something that technologically should be impossible to use, actually works!
We are definitely in the infancy of OnLive’s development, if you take for example the Xbox 360, I’m a huge fan of the 360, it’s personally my console of choice but if you compare games such as Perfect Dark Zero and RAGE you can see how developers have adapted to the technology available to them, how it’s changed and evolved over the years. The beauty behind OnLive is that these games are already available, there is no hardware barrier to get through for developers as the OnLive team works with existing PC versions of games and slightly modify them until they’re fit for use.
Who knows, during this ‘feeling out’ process here in the UK, the OnLive technology may improve so there are no latency issues at all, the aspect ratio may improve exponentially so that within a year, OnLive could constantly offer uninterrupted 1080p display. Until that time I have faith in OnLive, it’s already jumped the highest hurdle: making the service work, now they just need to make sure they don’t ruin their landing.