A new games service and "microconsole" called OnLive could send shockwaves through the games industry if it lives up to its promise. In a nutshell, cloud-based gaming will be here by the end of the year.
Developed by Rearden, a San Francisco tech company, OnLive, enables users to play games by connecting directly with a server farm that does all the processing remotely, meaning that a powerful games console or PC won't be necessary... apparently.
Warner Brothers, Autodesk and Maverick Capital are the three primary investors in OnLive.
The service will be accessible via PC and Mac, as well as by a tiny set-top box that will deliver the game directly to your TV.
You might be a little sceptical at this point - SPOnG doesn't blame you. However, big-name games companies including Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Take-Two Interactive, THQ, Epic Games, Eidos, Atari Interactive and Codemasters have already said that they will support the service.
Onlive's main claim to being taken seriously is data compression. While the amount of processing power required for top-end games has been spiralling ever-upward since since the early days of 8-bit consoles, data compression has not kept pace. OnLive says, however, that it has technology that deals with the issue and that homes only need a broadband connection running at two megabits per second for standard definition play or five megabits a second to get high-definition graphics. That's within the reach of many broadband connections.
Unsurprisingly, specifics of how the tech works have not been revealed.
The system has been demoed using Crysis
, a top-end PC game, which is often used a benchmark for system performance - you need a grunty piece of kit to play it. While reports are favourable, it's yet to be seen how well the service handles mass-usage.
Apparently the compression technology is good enough that users can play a game if they are as much as 1,000 miles away from the servers. That means the US can be covered by five server farms, according to reports.
Without the need for buying games the service will be paid for by monthly subscriptions. If OnLive takes off, that's a major shot across the bows of bricks and mortar retail - not only as an alternative to buying games but also as a factor that could choke trade-ins. It could also threaten publishers, as the barrier for entry to self-publishing by developers will be much lower with this model.
The biggest threat, of course, is to the existing platform holders, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. Mike McGarvey, COO of OnLive, said the new technology, “breaks the console cycle where a gamer has to buy a new machine every few years.”
“This is video gaming on demand, where we deliver the games as a service, not something on a disk or in hardware”, Steve Perlman, founder and CEO of OnLive said. “Hardware is no longer the defining factor of the game experience.”
OnLive could, happily, also hurt pirates. Without the need to buy games in the first place, there would be no need to illegally download them.
So, the sell lines all seem to be in place.
The service's interface is built around a Grid system, through which users can select games and demos. It also includes features such as the ability to view others' games, voice chat and the ability to record clips in a mode similar to games like Halo 3
Specific plans for the service's release have not been announced, making it unclear where and precisely when OnLive will be rolled out and how much it will cost.
The service will be shown off at GDC later today. That was originally planned to be its big coming out party, but an embargo was reportedly broken by Variety
. Still, that's a good enough way to get people to come to your launch.
OnLive isn't the only new platform to emerge at GDC. The Zeebo also turned up
Beyond the ambiguity surrounding price, there are a couple of drawbacks. The service's capacity for HD tops out at 720p - which will offend graphics whores. The set-top box and controller that have been shown off so far are pretty uglyl, although the box will be compatible with standard PC controllers.
Sceptics may also remember the Phantom
, a similar concept from Infinium Labs, which turned out to be vapourware.
Still, you've got to be at least a little bit excited...Sources: