Let’s talk about OnLive, the cloud based gaming service that was unveiled at this year’s Game Developers Conference after over 7 years of development. If you’re not aware of what this is I’ll break it down for you very simply. OnLive is a gaming platform that is entirely based upon the idea that instead of going out and buying expensive and super fast computers/graphics cards/memory, all of your game processing is done by a “cloud” of servers at the OnLive Server farm. The video from the games is sent back to you through there service via your high speed internet connection and you enjoy a gameplay experience without the hassle of owning a PC that you’ve built or bought for gaming. Essentially what this means is that you can play all of the newest and most graphically demanding games on any computer, laptop, operating system, or the proprietary OnLive Micro Console no matter what the quality of your hardware is.
This is an awesome idea, I can’t argue that at all. But I have my doubts about this service actually catching on. While the technology and the potential seems interesting for OnLive I think there is a whole slough of complications and questions that come into play.
First and foremost I can see this being a licensing nightmare. Putting top tier video game titles from different developers owned by competing manufacturers together on a third party platform is going to pose major problems.
Secondly, I have my doubts that this will be anywhere near a recession busting service. Giving players access to games they’d normally pay $60 or more for over a streaming service is going to be astronomically expensive. The only way to avoid an astronomical pricing structure for a subscription service like this would be to plaster the user interface and probably the games themselves with dynamic advertising, and in this economy advertising isn’t doing so well. That or it will have to be a pay per play/on demand type service in which the user is simply renting each game.
The third, and maybe biggest problem, I can see is it being hard to bring gamers who already own consoles, gaming PCs, and game collections who also subscribe to their consoles online play services to come to a new one. I think the bulk of people who are going to buy a console for this generation of consoles has bought them already. It’s going to be really hard for a company like OnLive to convince it’s users that the same experience that they get from owning a disc in a green case and playing on a custom built PC is going to be the same as the experience they’ll have with the same game on their service. Traditionally, the pride of ownership has trumped the stigma of a game that only exists when you turn on a machine.
This isn’t to say that I don’t see OnLive succeeding. I hope that one day I’ll be able to play a new AAA game on my macbook, I really do. I long to see the day when I can play the newest games on my PC without having to go out and buy a new graphics card every year or two. And I can’t wait to not have to stick a big oddly shaped plastic case with bright LED lights into my entertainment center so I can play games on my TV. But then again, that’s all part of the experience of gaming. And OnLive will have to really start painting a different and more progressive picture for hardcore and casual gamers alike to really change the landscape of gaming.