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Thoughts About OnLive

October 2, 2011

OnLive is a new cloud service for playing games.  Basically rather than having a console or PC in your room, OnLive has them in a big cloud-computing centre.  You play the game via your TV and OnLive sent the images for the game direct to your TV.  It is a powerful proposition.  Here’s what they say:

For the first time ever, UK gamers can take advantage of OnLive’s powerful cloud gaming technology to play the latest top-tier games on demand, with gameplay delivered instantly over the Internet wherever and whenever they want. For the cost of a single-platform game purchase, UK gamers can play on their HDTV, PC, Mac or any combination of the above, regardless of performance capabilities, and soon they will even be able to play on iPad® and Android® tablets. No console, no high-end computer, no discs and no huge downloads. Gaming with OnLive is as simple as streaming video: just click and play.

From a gamer point of view it is interesting because I can have access to a huge library of games without having to buy them all or the machines to run them on. Essentially I’m renting the game over a network. At the recent EuroGamer Expo the queue for the free OnLive microconsole that processes the player end of the system was pretty big. Bigger then the queue to see the PSVita. That alone does not mean much, as it could be the OnLive give-away only just opened, but also they are giving a freebie away. But it could be emblematic of the shifting power structures within gaming that this represents.

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo sell hardware and software to make money. As players, we buy the console and we buy the games to run on it. All three companies have also been pushing networked services to lock in the player even more, and so far in Sony and Microsoft’s case, doing very well at it. But really high-spec PC gaming is a much better proposition than a console (better graphics for example), but it has little mass-market traction compared to console because maintaining a really good gaming PC is an ongoing expense and requires a fair amount of tech knowledge. Consoles deliver great gaming with almost zero hassle (except updates) and are reasonably priced in comparison (plus you only pay once for the hardware). As such the 3 main console makers are portals to the gaming world for many gamers (me included) and do very well out of that position.

OnLive may change all that. By offering high-spec PC gaming without the hassle, it can provide something better a console in gaming terms and comparable in hassle terms. Assuming the service offered lives up to expectations and the pricing model makes it attractive, not to mention they get the titles that people want to play…the move of gaming into the cloud is going to be an interesting ride.

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