OnLive: The Future of Gaming?

OnLive and Controller     Just recently, a seven-year secret development has been placed under the spotlight. A system now known as OnLive will try to compete in the gaming market as a new gaming platform. Based on most media, if OnLive succeeds, the future of gaming could change completely. And I’ll tell you; they’re not kidding. What makes OnLive so special is that it allows gamers to play popular video games via a streaming service. This new kind of distribution suddenly opens up new marketing possibilities, as I will explain further down.

     First, let’s talk about the main hardware, referred to as the OnLive micro console. The word “micro” is no joke. This black box is smaller than the other consoles out in the market, even smaller than the Wii; way smaller. The console can literally fit in your pocket, even though it’s meant to be plugged into a television. The controller resembles that of an Xbox 360 gamepad: it has two analog sticks, a directional pad, and four shoulder buttons, two on each side. What makes it different is the set of media buttons at the bottom of the controller that can be used to play and record clips. The console itself can support four of these proprietary controllers wirelessly, as well as certain plug-in peripherals via two USB 2.0 ports on the front. These peripherals can be virtually any input device, even a mouse and keyboard.

     Aside from the micro console, OnLive also extends this service to PCs and Macs through a browser plug-in. In other words, computers running Windows or OS X (a Linux version in the future perhaps?) can take advantage of this truly astounding streaming service. In my opinion, this method is great because it has no hardware requirements, making virtually any computer right now a “gaming rig”. Below is simple diagram explaining the concept behind OnLive.

OnLive Diagram  

    The concept is pretty simple. The yellow lines represent Game Input. This can be anything from moving the analog stick to clicking the mouse. This input information is then send over the internet into these Server Computers. Note that the Server Computers are the machines running the game. These computers are extremely powerful, computing data at a speed not matched by any commercial gaming rig out right now. The green lines represent Visual and Audial Output, or whatever comes out of your monitor and speakers. These are everything from seeing a car blow up to hearing the in-game announcer state that you just fragged (killed) another noob with the railgun. The server computer renders the game data and send the output data over the internet back into your home computer or micro console. In short, you have your keyboard, mouse or controller, and your home computer/console acts as a monitor, while the actual computer is hundreds or thousands of miles away.

     What’s really amazing is that all of these can be done on virtually any computer. In theory, a PC from ten years ago can play Crysis just as well as $5000 gaming rig. What’s also amazing is that despite huge amount of data going back and forth, there is very little latency between the time you click the mouse and the time your gun fires a rocket on-screen. This is all thanks to a proprietary file compression technology made especially for games that allows these data to travel through the internet at an astonishing speed. All you need is a computer or a tiny black box with an internet connection and you’ve already got a gaming ready system.

     However, there are catches. The first catch is that you need a fast internet connection. You need to at least have a 1.5 Mbps subscription to get playing, while you need at least a 5 Mbps subscription to get the game playing at HD. But with the price of internet subscriptions nowadays, it’s a better trade compared to spending thousands of dollars on hardware. Also, because all data is streamed wirelessly, the internet has to be available every time you go on, otherwise the service will be completely useless. Another catch is that the games available are only those that are available on a PC. Don’t expect Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo to offer first-party console games to a competitor anytime soon. If you want to play Halo 3, Zelda, or Killzone 2, you can surely bet that buying that respective console will be required. The last catch is that you have to accept whatever prices they will offer. Though they have said that the console will be substantially cheaper than the rest, the prices of the games is still unknown. Also, a subscription service seems probable considering that the service is focused on streaming.

     In total, I do think that OnLive is a radical approach to distributing games. It’s very flexible, does not require high-end hardware, and also includes a very intriguing social network service. I like the fact that the service is available to PCs and Macs, allowing more computers to play games, as well as removing OS X’s gaming limitations. If you would ask me if OnLive will make all other platforms obsolete, I will say not quite. As long as console franchises, such as Halo, remain popular, Xbox, Playstation and Wii will always be around. As for hardware vendors, computer upgrades will remain necessary for other applications besides games. For PC Gaming, OnLive is an excellent place to go, though I don’t think all PC games will be made available. Most likely not all developers/publishers, such as say Valve and Stardock, will want to offer their titles to another online service when they already have their own to compete with. Lastly, the internet hasn’t exactly matured enough to make the service 100% reliable. Still, only time will tell where OnLive will go from here on out.

     If you are interested in OnLive, check out there website here.


~ by Ian on March 25, 2009.

One Response to “OnLive: The Future of Gaming?”

  1. I`m building my own gaming pc on a budget of under £400, i think i have the best system for the budget i have, you can follow my progress at the squidoo lens.

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