Two weeks ago the OnLive gaming platform was launched. There were many doubts about this concept, and a few may have been valid, but so far things seem pretty good.
OnLive is a subscription based platform that lets you play games without having a top of the line gaming PC, console, or even physical media. It works by using the internet to stream gameplay video from a high-end machine to the user, while streaming the user’s control inputs to the gaming PC. It sounds ludicrous but it actual works quite well. Obviously, a decent high speed connection is needed to actually enjoy the games, don’t expect to be playing this using that NetZero CD you got from Radio Shack. While touches of lag do occur, for the most part it feels like you’re actually playing a game that’s being loaded from your own harddisk.
The basic subscription is $4.99 a month, with the cost of games not included. To play the games available in OnLive’s marketplace, you need to purchase “PlayPasses.” These come in two flavors, rentals and purchases. Depending on the title, you may purchase a 3 or 5 day rental pass, which go for $3.99-$4.99 and $5.99-$8.99 respectively, based on the titles currently available. The other option is purchase an unlimited pass, which functions as purchasing the game and varies in price depending on the title. One nice feature of the platform is that when new games are released, they will be instantly available. That means no waiting in line at the local game store, no downloading from an online retailer. You just buy your PlayPass and start playing right away.
Now you may be asking yourself, “Wait, what? I have to pay to use the service and pay to play the games?” That’s understandable, I asked myself the same thing. However, when you look at the price of the service, which comes to $60 annually, and compare it to services such as Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus, which both cost $50 annually, it’s not that bad. OnLive may not offer the bells and whistles the others do, such as Facebook, Netflix, and Twitter, but it does offer one perk the others don’t. You don’t have to buy a console. For the price of the new Xbox 360, without even taking Live into consideration, you could afford to use OnLive on your current PC or Mac for 5 years.
The thing that makes OnLive so great though is also its biggest weakness. OnLive is a cloud based system. This means that once you have an OnLive account setup, you can use it anywhere. Just install the small launcher program from their website, and you are good to go wherever you are. I even set it up on my netbook, meaning I could take it out to the local Starbucks and play with very little to carry. However that also leads to the biggest issue. You need to have an internet connection if you want to play at all, and the faster the connection the better. Now, that may not seem that bad in a world where you can find a wifi signal around every corner, but the first time your connection drops and you want to play a game, it will quickly become a big deal.
Another issue is that OnLive is a new service. If it doesn’t take off it could very easily end up walking the same path Gametap did. Many might find it too much of a risk to purchase games on a service that may not survive. If OnLive goes down, it takes all of the games we’ve ‘purchased’ with it. That fear could very easily end up being the very thing that causes OnLive to fail in the long run.
The best aspect of OnLive is none of the features though, it’s the idea. Whether OnLive flourishes or collapses, it has brought the idea of gaming in the cloud to the masses and has shown us that it can work, and can work well at that. With a large enough library of titles, services like OnLive could make things like consoles and gaming PCs a thing of the past. As more and more aspects of our lives move into the cloud, it only makes sense that gaming has too.