Editorial: On OnLive

The internet is taking over the world.

By now you’ve likely heard of OnLive. Ethan briefly mentioned it in his GDC roundup yesterday, and among the news that emerged from the show, OnLive’s announcement has made the biggest media splash. For those of you who aren’t quite familiar with how it works, allow me to break it down for you: OnLive is essentially a videogame on demand service. Y’know, kinda like Comcast on-demand, but with videogames instead of TV episodes. Somewhere far away, hundreds and hundreds of games are stored on an OnLive server. The hardware to run the game is within these servers, and all you need is an internet connection to stream the video output to your screen. A speed of 1.5 mbps (Megabits Per Second) is required for standard-definition (480p) video, and 5mbps for HD (720p) video. Games can be streamed onto your computer through the use of a small (reportedly ~1MB) browser plugin, or they can be streamed onto your television screen through the use of a small device called the OnLive MicroConsole. This “console” will have HDMI, USB, Ethernet, and power inputs/outputs. Mouse/Keyboard controls as well as existing gamepads are supported; your button presses would be transmitted back to the OnLive servers via your internet connection. In theory, this business model could render the current model obsolete – OnLive provides the hardware for you. No longer would gamers be required to spend fortunes on game consoles. No longer would you need a superhuman PC to play something like Crysis. You simply pay for the service and the games you want.

Many big-name publishers have already thrown their support behind the service, including Atari, Eidos, Codemasters, Electronic Arts, Epic, Take-Two, THQ, Ubisoft and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. And in a move that surprises absolutely no one, notorious game developer Dennis Dyack has already publicly gushed about how awesome OnLive is going to be. “This model is attractive because it eliminates piracy 100 percent, since the consumer does not have anything to copy and needs only to log into the Cloud to interact,” writes Dyack on
VentureBeat. “Technology is commoditizing the value of hardware to zero and a unified platform will be the likely result. Following this logic to its end, the implication is that hardware could be removed altogether”

Dyack has always been a supporter of the “universal console” concept, as well as a notorious whiner about piracy and the used game market. You can bet he’s happy, because OnLive essentially eliminates all three of those things. And to be sure, OnLive is far more potent that any ridiculous musings over a singular game platform. This is evidenced by the fact that, uh, OnLive is actually a real thing. Or rather, it will be.

Here’s my bottom line: I want to own games, not stream them. I want nice little boxes with pretty artwork on them and shiny game discs inside. I want sleek, attractive hardware of my own, not a server located miles away. And above all, I don’t want my favorite pastime tied to something as sparse and unstable as the internet. Plain and simple, that’s my gut reaction.


Moving past gut reactions, there are some serious, serious problems with this model. Let’s start with the most obvious: the internet. While the entertainment industry likes to ignore this fact, not everyone has an internet connection, and not everyone has an internet connection fast enough to handle something as robust as OnLive. People living in Podunk TN (as I did for many years) like to play videogames too, after all. OnLive instantly alienates countries with rural, sparsely populated areas… such as the United States. And once you step outside of the States, things become even more grim.

But OnLive not only requires an internet connection, it requires a very fast internet connection in order to view HD content. Further alienation for hardcore gamers who won’t stand to game in anything less than HD, such as myself. Additionally, the highest resolution OnLive can provide is 720p – which, as we all know, is not full HD. Providing 1080 video streams is, quite simply, impossible in this day and age, and likely will be for some time to come.

Technicalities aside, I cannot stress enough how unattractive a business model tied entirely to the internet sounds to me. I don’t know about my fine readers and fellow staff members, but my internet tends to, ah, crash from time to time. Imagine such a tragedy occurring while, say, you’re locked in mortal combat with Persona 4‘s final boss. Or, perhaps if your internet doesn’t fail, OnLive’s servers do. Complete reliance on services and providers outside of my control frightens me to no end. Give me an Xbox 360 any day – if it breaks down, at least it’s within my power to get it repaired, or just go pick up a new one.

Obviously, your selection will be limited to whatever OnLive has on their servers. What happens to games 5 years or so after release? Do they vanish into the netherworld, never to be seen or played again? What about the used game market? Will we all be forced to pay full price for games until publishers are nice enough to knock a few bucks off? Hell, I could probably fill up another editorial next week with nothing but more and more complaints about OnLive, because the more you think about it, the more problems come to mind.

I think I’m safe in saying that the vast majority of the gaming community shares my views here. When OnLive launches (which won’t be for some time, I’m sure) it will merely emerge as a competitor to the current console generation, not a serious threat. And here’s a prediction for ya: it ain’t gonna work.


  1. Agreed, although I don’t mind downloading games, because I still own it. I don’t need the shiny box and artwork to know that I actually own the media. Live Arcade and Virtual Console are all fine, because it’s on my hard drive, not floating around somewhere.

    I don’t want to pay to essentially watch a video of myself playing a game.

    And I actually believe the service is scheduled to released late this year, Oliver.

  2. SCHEDULED to release, but I foresee this as one of those things that is subjected to eternal delays. Not that I have anything to back this up, it’s just a feeling I have.

    And I agree about downloaded games; my point is that I want to own it in some way.

  3. Ominous, Oyashiro. And so damned true. This is the next Phantom.

  4. This just won’t work with modern technology.

    Given that “Broadband” In most areas is no where near the speed that they should be.

    Given that lag is still a problem when you have a game in your console or on your own computer. Think of how it would be if you where just basically remote playing the game.

    And developers won’t be gaining money from DLC with this right? I have doubts that it will ever be released.

  5. Seriously. I remote play a game on my PSP from my PS3 in my freaking house, and there’s lag.

  6. This really is one of the stupidest ideas to come out of the game industry. Even if they could make it work properly I wouldn’t like it, but given there are so few regions in the world where it could even function like it is supposed to reekes of epic fail. I’ll have fun laughing when the entire project dies in the arse.

  7. Even if by some weird voodoo magic, they get the service to work they way they say it will. I’m pretty much in the same boat as everyone else, I want to actually own the game. If there service is ever down… Well that’s it… You can’t so diddlysquat.

    If it does come out, I hope one of my friends get it so I can laugh at him when it fails hard.