OnLive – Why I don’t think it is the future

A topical post for my blog today. There are a lot of blogs covering OnLive at the moment however most are doing so with far more enthusiasm than I will.

So what is OnLive? Well from Wikipedia.org:

OnLive is an on-demand video game distribution system announced at GDC 09. The service is a gaming equivalent of cloud computing with the game being computed, rendered and stored online. The service was announced to be compatible with any Intel based Mac or Windows PC running XP or Vista and is also able to stream games to the OnLive MicroConsole connected to a television.

Sounds good does it?
Not to me.

considering the average speed in the country is under 3meg[1] this is not going to work. As for me personally? well I can barely stream videos from youtube, what hope do you think I have of playing Crysis on a remote desktop connection? Any guesses? Did I hear a “none”? Yes, I think you may be right. The internet in this country is simply not up to this, the copper in the networks needs replacing but that isn’t going to happen until BT think it is economically viable. So probably around the same time Hell has a frosty coating of snow then.

Did you notice I called it a remote desktop connection? Well that is because, as far as I can tell, that is exactly what this is. The game is running on a remote computer and is streaming video of the output to your screen, which brings me to the other problem with this. Lag. Anyone who has used rdp to operate another computer over the internet will know just how slow it is, I don’t mean slow in completing tasks, in that respect it is the same as being sat at the computer, it is the response time that is a problem, you click on the start button but it doesn’t know you have clicked until a second later. Anyone who has played Team Fortress 2 or Unreal Tournament will know that online games have compensation for this lag, but remember that these games only transfer positional data not video, all the rendering is done on your local machine and also remember that this correction is far from perfect and still results in people getting shot when they thought they were safely round the corner. In short, I don’t care how good their lag correction is, I don’t want to have to put up with any lag in a single player game.

So lets imagine (and it is purely hypothetical) that the internet is (magically?) improved by BT to a state where this system can flawlessly let me play games at high resolutions[2], what then? They will want everyone to buy the same dumb terminal[3] and subscribes to games. Sounds good. No more upgrading your PC, no more incompatible hardware, no more dodgy Xbox ports that for no good reason need a processor from ten years in the future to run despite still looking like crap.  But this brings me to my second problem. I happen to like upgrading my computer and making it better, I  like tweaking my OS to get my games to run better, it is a hobby, just like tuning cars. Sure it costs money, quite a lot of money[4],  but I wouldn’t have it any other way or I would buy a console. If all computers become dumb terminals all this will go, and there would be no need for innovation by the likes of Intel and NVidia. Nothing would get better, the server farms would just get bigger and it would be the end of the PC as we know it, taking what little control remains in the hands of the individual and putting it in the hands of big faceless corporations.

Note: Following additions are a result of comments by M_the_C
Talking of control brings me on to my (maybe) final point. OnLive is in fact the ultimate DRM [5], their PR is acting like they are doing you a favour but in reality it is more restrictive than any DRM to date. Forget about your limited activations and need to register increasingly long CD keys, at least currently all single player games (that I am aware of) can be played offline once installed. With OnLive you can forget about that. And what happens when your favourite game is removed from their severs to make way for generic shooter 2012? I can (and do) still play Doom, a game that was first released in 1993 but under this system once a game became less popular what is to stop them taking it down? With the game on your computer you could potentially crack it if the servers went down. A possible solution would be to release the games on DVD at a later date in much the same way that TV shows are released, but if TV Box sets are anything to go by this would be very expensive and the game would more than likely disappear forever.

Say no to OnLive, it is trying to kill off my hobby and is expected in Q4 this year.

Update: fez_monkey97 of the PC Gamer Forum found this interesting article by Richard Leadbetter on why OnLive can’t possibly work. Definitely worth a read.


[1] as of last year anyway, if you can find some more recent info I will update this.
[2] I’m not using the term “HD” because it is dumb, PC gamers have had higher resolutions than this HD for years, it isn’t new, it isn’t clever.
[3] They say for Mac and PC, but I think the idea is to get everything on one model, there won’t be a mac and a PC, just a Mac or PC channel on whatever the successor to onLive is.
[4] I have put aside up to £750 for a core i7 upgrade later this month, more on this when I do it.
Update here
[5] Don’t get me wrong I thing DRM is a good thing, when done preoperly, see my last article.


7 Responses to “OnLive – Why I don’t think it is the future”

  1. 1 Daniel Hodge
    March 24, 2009 at 16:34

    You’ve got some good points. My experience with remote desktop is always shaky, at best. I am willing to give this new technology a chance. True, many connections to the Internet across the globe are slow, but maybe this is the kind of thing we need to convince folks to boost that speed.

  2. March 24, 2009 at 16:41

    It’s a clever idea, but I agree with you, it won’t ultimately change the gaming industry.

    Even if it does take over the mainstream, indie games will still be going strong. I don’t like indie games that much, but if this is the alternative I’m perfectly happy to convert.

    It would be nice, being able to play at maximum settings as standard, but the restrictions are too many for that compensation.

    I have enough problems with online connections as it is, I can’t see this magically being any better. As you say, this country (along with many others) just don’t have the infrastructure to handle this level of connection.

  3. March 24, 2009 at 16:50

    @M_the_C: I’m worried that it might change the games industry. One thing I didn’t touch on in my article (I may edit it later to include this) is the fact that OnLive is in fact the ultimate DRM, their PR is acting like they are doing you a favour but in reality it is more restrictive than any DRM to date.

  4. March 24, 2009 at 18:39

    True, but what I meant was that it won’t change things in the long term. There may be a bit of a rush for the new idea, but I don’t think the PC gaming community will stand for losing mods and control.

    You’re right it is a bit scary what could happen. On rare occasions Steam has cut off peoples accounts, imagine what losing your right to use the servers would do…

  5. 5 AJ
    March 25, 2009 at 15:11

    I think this idea could be handy for laptops or computers which cannot run the games in the first place but most internet connections require good computers in order to be able to run the required speeds etc therefore meaning that it defeats the object of not having to upgrade again. Is this a good idea? Well in reality it could be for the reason I mentioned just above but would we attach ourselves to this kind of system which basically dissolves us of any right to owning the game physically as all you will know as to whether it is you who owns it is your account. If you have steam at least you know it is on your hard drive.

    The trouble again with online gaming is you need an internet connection. Now I know that the majority of people now have this however what happens if your on a download limit connection? Will this count towards your download limit? What if you do not have a super fast connection (Mine is only 2 meg) would this mean my game would constantly lag? A lot of questions are unanswered here and if the service requires you to buy a better internet connection/service would we really be saving anything in the long run?

  6. 6 congofx
    December 2, 2009 at 14:58

    isn’t this exactly what Quakelive does?

  7. December 3, 2009 at 20:04

    No, with Quake live the data and program run on your computer, it can only runn on things powerfull enough to run Quake 3. With onlive the program runs on their computer and streams video of it to you hence their claim of crysis on a netbook.

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