The gaming world got some giddy news to mull over at last week’s Game Developers Conference. OnLive unveiled a new gaming console and platform dedicated to streaming games over the internet. There will be no discs – just a constant internet connection bringing a variety of games to computers and televisions. Most interestingly, all the processing of the games happen on some server, allowing basic PCs to play the most graphically intense games. Displays at GDC showed basic laptops playing Crysis, a game that taxes even the most top-of-the line PCs.
Very little is known about how the system works, especially details like pricing. But in continuing the hype machine, OnLive is an exciting endeavor and even more thrilling experiment into the future of video games and digital distribution. There are many technical hurdles, specifically how fast connections will be. Streaming high-definition games at the demanded 30 frames per second requires a rapid and steady connection. It’s possible OnLive is a few years too early with broadband speeds no up to their challenge.
The experiment itself is in launching a new business opportunity for video games, and even a model for the entertainment industry. OnLive is offering a microconole for gamers who want to play on their televisions, but they are also offering a browser plug-in so people can play right on their computers. No hardware requirement means an instant customer base open to the product. Hardware’s a tough business as movie-streaming services like Blockbuster and Netflix are learning. Screenshots show options to rent or buy games, showing flexible pricing, though I’d prefer a subscription option similar to GameTap. There are no details about downloading content onto hard drives to play offline, but that also would be appreciated.
OnLive boasts impressive support from leading game developers and now the debate begins of will it succeed or lose. Too many details are up in the air (how open is the system, how much value does the service offer the user, how comfortable is the controller). Certainly a slick interface and high-profile (if not out-dated) library makes me think OnLive is on the right path. The case study alone will be worth the price of admission.