Last week it was announced that cloud gaming start-up OnLive is undergoing some financial difficulties and a restructure is on the cards. From GamePolitics, it appears that an alternative to bankruptcy has been pursued which involves the company being bought out and that redundancies are likely. I wish everyone who works for OnLive the best.
For the uninitiated, OnLive is a subscriber service which allows you to play a range of a video games over the internet – either on a PC or through their dedicated console. Live games can be watched via a tablet PC in a unique ‘spectator mode’. Everything is rendered in a data centre and streamed live, so a fast internet connection is mandatory, an aspect that attracted investment from AT&T, BT and Belgacom.
OnLive was successful in attracting a lot of publicity and the latest news of poor customer uptake of the service has caused some commenters to question the viability of Cloud Gaming as the predicted future of video games.
I think it would be premature to speak against cloud gaming, for the following reasons:
-Fiber to the cabinet/fiber to the home, whilst not ubiquitous yet, are on the roadmap of most western countries for the next few years. It may take time, but faster internet will be gradually making its way to where you live.
-Online gaming is no longer an alien concept. Whether you raid with your WoW guild 3 times a week, headshot noobs in Call of Duty on your Xbox or play Tetris on Facebook, the experience of needing the internet to play a game is not a new one, however frustrating it might be. Indeed there is evidence to suggest that bricks and mortar stores are seeing a decline in the face of advances from Steam, Xbox Live, App Store and others.
-PC gaming still requires a recent graphics card to play the latest games. I know that this has been true since the Voodoo and we all have just got by, but consider the following scenario: You want to play Crysis9 but your machine is too old. Would you prefer to pay $200 for a new GPU or $10/month to play the game via the internet, with other titles available through the same service?
So why didn’t OnLive find traction?
In my view the service faced an uphill struggle. Initial trials suggested that latency had a large impact on the service and most of the reviews I read suggested that, whilst the performance was mostly good, it wasn’t good enough to consider it as a superior alternative to using a console or playing on the PC. Several of the launch titles (Need For Speed) suffered particularly from jitter. Perhaps a complete portfolio of turn-based strategy titles might have been a better choice.
Cloud gaming needs to be reliable, cheaper and easier than the alternatives. There is a big opportunity for any service provider who understands that customers WILL pay a subscription in order to have unparalleled access to the ‘long tail’ of video games.
Sadly it appears that OnLive has borne the cost of being an innovator. The Netflix of video games is still to come…