OnLive: Gaming's Next Big Thing?

Is the console almost obsolete?

The videogame console cycle of life has typically been about 5 or 6 years. Every 6 years, there’s a significant enough leap in technology that the console manufacturers all come out with new models that can hold more data, process it faster, give better graphics and sound, and include the latest “it” technologies like rumble, motion control, and download services.

PC Gamers have it worse, with constant upgrades to graphic cards, sound cards, ram, and even CPUs necessary in order to stay at the top of their game. The OnLive gaming service wants to take the hardware upgrade cycle out of the equation, and change the face of gaming forever. What’s more, it looks like they just might pull it off.

The OnLive MicroConsole and Controller

First, the basics of OnLive have been laid out this week at the Game Developer’s Conference, and it initially looks like a too-good-to-be-true model. The service works either through your computer or your TV. If you’re on your computer (Mac OSX, Windows XP, Vista), you’ll simply download a very small client browser plugin, use a mouse/keyboard, generic USB controller, or their proprietary wireless controllers (which look suspiciously like Xbox 360 controllers), and access any game from the OnLive library through the client. No advanced graphics card is needed, very little ram and processing speed is used on your own computer. All the heavy lifting is done through cloud computing on OnLive’s server farm.

That means if you have a MacBook, a high end Alienware desktop, or a $200 Dell, you can play the latest games in all their glory. This possibility is especially enticing to oft-plagued Mac gamers, who will be able to play new releases day-and-date with their PC counterparts.

The TV option requires OnLive’s “MicroConsole”, slightly larger than a USB hub, which then plugs into your TV via HDMI. It can also take keyboard, mouse, and generic USB controllers (two wired), or support four wireless controllers and wireless headsets simultaneously. Plug in to your router via the Ethernet port, and the same simple grid interface you access on your computer can be brought up on your TV.

So that’s it, with a downloaded plugin, or a device easy to plug in, you have access to any of the games on OnLive’s service. There’s nothing else to download or install, as the games run entirely on OnLive’s servers, and even in the current internal beta, games like HAWX and Prince of Persia (the December, 2008 release) are taking less than ten seconds to launch.

The price hasn’t been released yet, but the promise of the service is to deliver a current gaming experience at a price lower than any other current option. Tiered pricing will be available, possibly offering unlimited access subscriptions alongside access to individual games, rentals, and free demos. The publishers currently signed on include just about every major cross-platform gaming company out there; EA, Atari, Ubisoft, Warner Brothers, Epic Games, 2K Games, THQ, and more have already signed on and gotten their latest games working with the service. In fact, the only noticeable name missing from the list is Activision/Blizzard, and with a modicum of success from the service, they’ll be sure to follow.

No exclusives are planned for the service as of yet, but with the advantages of cloud computing, super-high end exclusive titles could be developed for OnLive in the future, requiring no upgrade on the user end.

OnLive Game Showcase

Price will of course be the ultimate deciding factor on whether or not this service is a success. All press from OnLive so far has insisted that it will be cheaper to start and use their service than it would be to maintain a console (buying new hardware every few years, buying new games) or a PC. With the private beta launching this summer and the service planning to go live this winter, gamers don’t have long to wait to see the service in action hands on. T

The sense of ownership and collection is much lower in games than in many other forms of media, so they don’t have to overcome that obstacle. With various PC publishers, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all already offering downloadable games, customers are used to the general idea, and when you change the wait time from 10 minutes- 2 hours down to 3-5 seconds, it sounds like an easy choice for a lot of gamers.

Online multiplayer is a part of the service, and community looks to be a focus for the service, with players able to watch each other’s games and share “Brag” clips across the Internet, which are recorded at the touch of a button on the propietary controller.

OnLive certainly has a lot of promise, and gamers should be excited about what could be a major change to the way they take part in their favorite pastime.


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