Hard-Core Gaming Minus the Hardware – OnLive – Future of the software gaming industry

For as long as I can remember, It’s been a maxim of the gaming world that you need the latest console or the most up-to-date gaming PC in order to play the newest and most graphics-heavy game titles. That’s all getting ready to change, as a new, revolutionary technology enters the gaming arena.
OnLive, the new company to come from longtime serial tech entrepreneur Steve Perlman, promises to deliver here. Phrases like “game changer” are being tossed about to describe OnLive’s technology, which essentially creates the new category of cloud gaming for play on computers and TVs.
A new video compression system developed by OnLive means the company’s servers can host all the gaming technology like rendering and storage. All the gamer would have to do is log on and start playing. The company is promising no lag time on its streams.
OnLive will support PCs and Macs, but consumers will need to buy a paperback book-sized mini-console and accompanying controller if they want to play games in 720p HD on their big-screen TVs. No prices have been announced yet.
That’s right people, nothing but streaming and player responses to deal with, at the console level.
Now to the real question. How do you feel this will effect dev. platforms, the gaming industry, AND game development as we know it?
This technology literally removes all hardware restrictions at the console level, taking development to a ‘no holes barred’ level. It also takes the edge out of pricey consoles and market saturation/capitalizations. Its centralized theme also ensures certain death to piracy, if not immediately , then at least in the long run.
Software/console heavyweights like MSFT, SONY, Nintendo, even publishers like EA will be given a run for their money. Watch out software heavyweights – OnLive going LIVE!
So, who’s in for it? I know i am 🙂
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  • I do a lot of gaming, but I’ll admit I would not use the system you describe, for teh same reason I paled when Bill Gates was talkinmg about “cheap, barebones PCs which access all the real power online” — I prefer my platform to be one under my control.
    Being dependent on an online resource means I am not gauaranteed access (due to the inevitable, periodic problems establishiong a connection from your provider or from the servers providing the service) AND due to the inevitablity of thos eholding a monopoly power charging more.
    My PC may have its drawbacks, but I can play the hell out of games I purchase anytime I want, making my purchase extremely cost effective. I am not about to trade that for a subscription or transaction-based access method.

  • And I was promised flying cars; and a paperless society by now. The promise sounds great, and I am sure it draws lots of attention by VCs and it is sure to grab the attention of many media folks looking for the next new thing to promote. But in reality (the place where I live) I don’t see it happening real soon.
    Since I am by trade a tech guy I hate to be overly pessimistic, but I have really yet to physically SEE ANYTHING in the consumer world that includes the words ‘streaming’ and ‘great performance’ can consistently be used in the same sentence to describe the experience across a wide range of users.
    Heck, even trying to play games in a VM environment here in my office, directly on my hardware is next to impossible, let alone using a streaming system to get me the video and still be able to track my moves. I just don’t see streaming at that level yet. It’s partly going to be a bandwidth issue and party a consumer expectation issue. We are so used to having it all local and there are still people that complain about load times between game scenes let alone streaming responsiveness. You get one hiccup in the stream that causes a person to get killed in a FPS and the service starts to get a bad rep. trust me on that. Gamers, and their wrath are not to be taken lightly. In the days of instant media via blog, a bad reputation can spread fast.
    Now, about the piracy thing… I think most vendors looking to move to product-as-a-service style architectures are looking for the same thing, safety from piracy without having to do any real work. Without having to understand that maybe $50 for a game disk is not a good pricing model. That maybe consumers deserve the right to use one application on any equipment they own, or to create backups at will. Forcing consumers into a new model is not going to help anyone but the vendor in reality. Trying to force consumers may end up being the death of that industry instead. I know that I personally don’t play games simply because the costs are way to high, but I also will not play a subscription game because, while the upfront cost may be lower the long term costs is even higher. I hope these companies don’t think I am stupid and cannot add up monthly costs like that. Maybe in a business model there is a difference between a short term capex cost and a long term opex cost, but in consumer land, the longer I have to pay for a service the more I start to look for alternatives that are cheaper.
    I can’t think that game vendors are going to go for it either. Part of the console business model is the hardware lock in. I don’t think the really big companies like Sony and MS are going to give that up just to become software houses. They gain too much advantage (and cash) by being able to out do each other with hardware advances. In reality that’s why the console market even exists in the first place past the point where computers really became a mostly ubiquitous household appliance.
    Again, I hate to be the kicker of what ‘sounds’ like a really cool technology, but the reality engineer in me has to speak up from time to time. The applications architect in me would love to be part of this, but the business side of me just screams ‘Danger! Risk! Ask the customer what they want first!’

  • As it stands now, I own (actually it’s the kids’) a box that can to just that, an xbox-360. I refuse to permit any pay-as-you-play games as a means to control costs. As a parent of players, I will not buy it; and would strongly recommend to the kids to not spend their money on it.
    On another topic, they spend more time playing the free flash and java based games, and older playstation 2 games lately… cost and good game design wins out over flashy graphics and slick marketing.

  • After working in the Video Game Industry for a long time and teaching Video Games a local University I’ve had some time to consider this. If you’re somehow involved in Business Development for them, here’s some food for thought:
    The big question is, “Why would a gamer want this product?”
    From experience, the term “hardcore gamer” is a misnomer. The person that you’d call “hardcore” falls into several different specifications:
    First, there is the PC enthusiast who takes incredible amount of pride in his custom-build or modded system. That being the case, they’re literally offended by a company that tells them they don’t need that monster computer anymore. Corollary to this, I’m certain that computer manufacturers who drive the industry with new video cards and other equipment will treat this as laughable. I saw NVIDIA on the list, but they’re probably involved on the back-end.
    A “hardcore gamer” could also be defined as a competitive gamer and such being the case they play tournament brackets online or attend gaming events to compete on LAN. In review of the product offering I don’t see any discussion of multiplayer games and in fact have no idea how latency would work into that equation if it were. Also note that most of these games are modded or otherwise driven in a custom sense. While id Software is breaking new ground with QuakeLive, we’re likely to see serious opposition from them and gamers in the competitive scene. QuakeLive is built for this, but even so is a turn-off for a number of gamers because it’s in its infancy. It still, by the way, runs locally on a machine … albeit within a browser.
    Lastly, a “hardcore gamer” can be defined as a kid with a console and way too much time on their hands, to the point that they play online all the time. The problem here is that you have to emphasize the term “kid” and realize that it’s not them that you would sell such a product to … it’s Mom and Dad. Especially in this economy, the kid is lucky to have and old PS2 and they’re going to be hitting up GameStop for trades. Keep in mind that PS2 is still a sales leader in the market … mainly because it’s just so cheap.
    The real answer:
    The bulk of the video game market lies with the big three … Microsoft’s XBOX/XBOX360, Sony’s PS2/PS3/PSP, and Nintendo’s GameCube, Wii, and DS. Even being optimistic, it’s extremely doubtful that there will be substantial impact on any of these organizations, and at best if the product gains any traction at all they’ll likely just drop prices in response. Now that each of these networks are distributing their own content too, that will further complicate things for OnLive.
    PC games are possibly another matter, however, after discussion of the above definition of “hardcore gamers” it’s most likely that they’re missing the real target demo … people who want to “test” new games and/or hotel chains that lack decent entertainment offerings. Rather than put up with crappy WiFi, it’d be cool to throw down a few bucks to play Crysis on my TV. Of course, hotels would have to upgrade to HD …
    Who knows though … it seems like more hype than reality. The points you’ve made about piracy, etc. really just seem to herald a new age of control that we all know gamers are averse to anyway, which are likely to completely kill the product if they get out of hand.
    In the end, I just keep thinking “Phantom Console” … sorry, but it’s on everybody’s mind. That, and the fact that broadband (in general) stinks in the United States.

  • I’m not a gamer, but if it were my company, I’d test it out at Comicon, Dragoncon, and some of the other major SF conventions. Just google on them. If you want contacts, I can probably provide them.

  • It is exciting but you are leaving out a crucial factor in your analysis and that is retail shelf space. If it never is placed in front of the consumer, it will go nowhere. Products may be driven by technology but they have to have a good commercial road surface.
    Adding to this concern is that many of the electronic retailers in the US have failed and closed their doors. Now products are competing for shelf space with a lot less shelf space. Without the retail show rooms, consumers are less inclined to purchase online.

  • Well, I don’t see how such a service could be delivering state of the art graphics, so..
    – Either this is not the point, the target is simple games. In that case, what exactly is the bonus over browser based games in existence today?
    – Either they squize the lemon as hard as they can and come up with more or less decent graphics. In that case: the bonus against a dirt-cheap PS2 seems minimal at best.
    Furthermore, I don’t see any talk about games. Perhaps I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I figured this is what it is all about? Getting the hardware side done and forgetting the actual games has been the death or demise of so many initiatives one would think folks know by now.
    So, no games and no decent graphics. What remains? A video streaming protocol? I don’t see the novelty value..

  • I would actually suggest that the gaming industry is going through a big change – even if it’s only the first steps. With phones like the iPhone and the Android based phones we are seeing gaming in a new light. With the online aspects of the XBox 360 (I’ve no experience with the PS3 – so I can’t speak to that), the collaboration in games is also changing. It’s a lot of fun to play Guitar Hero with some friends over the internet – as a band! This kind of mash-up will strain the network more than the graphics/cpu!
    Note that your target audience is key. Folks are not likely to wait to download an app all the time. By the same token, if I can download it and start to play it fairly quickly while it completes the download…I’m more likely to think positively. As for the graphics….those are important obviously….but as the Wii has proven – it’s not critical if the game and concept behind it is compelling.
    I’m not sure this answered all of your question – but you get the idea of where I’m going with this. If you’d like to talk further – let me know.

  • I think its incremental, but not a game changer. From what I’ve read about it, consumers still need to purchase some hardware. Will they see this as fundamentaly different from buying a console?
    Andy Rappaport

  • You may want to take a look of this page:
    It covers Computer and Video Game Development and Programming
    * http://freecomputerbooks.com/

  • They need to render every posible frame in the game.
    Every posible AI movement.
    For some simple game YES.
    For more interesting games NO.
    You are playing a high end racing simulation game and you are geting into a corner.
    You press left then the command travels through your computer, network, internet to the host server, gets all the information and transmits it back.
    2 seconds later its displayed on your screen.
    Think about it.
    I dont even thing that is posible on your home network not to talk about doing it over your internet connection.
    Packman maybe but i have that already online and my cell phone can handle the load.
    Or you are in a multiplayer game and your friend is about to win and your screen is saying ” BUFFERING” 🙂

  • i’m in MAN! Not that tech savvy, but i guess its like Java applications that run independent of the hardware of a cell phone. hm?

  • Michael Green

    So basically everything is rendered on a server farm, and the video output is streamed to the user — Can I hook up a WISE terminal?
    It’s all good and well with uncapped broadband such as in the US, but what about other countries like the UK, where broadband usage is usually capped at, say, 20 GBytes a month?
    Also, one of the most annoying things about online gaming is lag – the excessive latencies that reduces game responsiveness. This lag is tolerable when the bandwidth consumption is fairly low. But streaming video is certainly not considered “low bandwidth” and I don’t see how they can live up to the “no lag” promise? That’d be very interesting to see how it plays out in real world conditions.
    And I’m not so sure if manufacturers of peripherals, etc., are going to be quiet onlookers. I have a feeling that OnLive will need to invest heavily in its legal defence department.
    Nevertheless, if this does work out as promised, then they’ll be able to have an iron grip on the game market… for a while.

  • Charles Knight

    It’s complete fantasy unless they are hiding a star trek like computer somewhere.
    To give the sorts of performance they are claiming, realistically its datacenters are going to require the processing equivalent of a high-end dual core PC for every single connection. The numbers just don’t add up.
    That’s not to say we will not one day have games on demands, it just that this is not it – or at least not it as promised.

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