GDC 2009: OnLive and the Future of Gaming

GDC 2009: OnLive and the Future of Gaming


Over the past few years, developers, publishers, industry experts, financial analysts, and even the gaming mainstream have been talking about a universal gaming device that would cut out a lot of the inefficiencies currently present in gaming.

As we all know, PC gaming has been utterly handicapped by rampant piracy and the cost to the consumer of ever-changing rig specs. Consoles do a nice job of ameliorating these problems, but players then are railroaded into purchasing software that works with their system; while most fanboys won’t admit it, there are a lot of great exclusives being released for the console(s) they don’t have. Moreover, purchasing physical media seems to becoming antiquated. Why do developers need publishers to bring their games to market when we could conceivably get content delivered to us digitally without the middlemen?

Previous attempts to make the mythical gaming panacea have been unsuccessful… until now. Today, at GDC 2009, the OnLive service was introduced to the gaming community at large. OnLive is a subscription-based service that players will sign up for in order to get access to video games on-demand.

How do you get access to the service? Just connect your existing PC or Mac to a high-speed Internet connection.

But I don’t have a gaming PC? Not a problem! OnLive, much like cloud computing, does all the computing, storing, and rendering for you, and then relays the video signal back to your computer at 60 fps.

There must be some serious lag? Not at all; there’s an imperceptible, one millisecond turnaround between the time you enter inputs with your human interface device and what you see on the screen.

Yeah, but the selection of games is going to suck!? Guess again. EA, Take-Two, Ubisoft, Epic, Atari, Codemasters, Warner Bros. Interactive, and Eidos have all signed on for the OnLive launch. In fact, according to IGN, attendees at GDC 2009 have already been playing great games such as Crysis, Burnout: Paradise, and GTA: IV.

This all sounds great, but what kind of connection do I need? Because there is no downloading whatsoever, access to 1.5 MB speed will allow you to play games in SD 480p, while speeds of 5 MB and higher will give you access to HD 720p.

How much is it all going to cost? No pricing structure has yet been outlined, but you can assume it will be competitive with the most expensive subscription packages offered through Netflix, Blockbuster, GameFly, etc.

Look, playing up in my room/office is fine, but I want to play with buddies in my living room? Not a problem. Players can either hook up their computer to their television or hook up an OnLive device known as the MicroConsole directly to their TVs.

What’s this MicroConsole going to set me back? That too is still under wraps. The device houses two USB inputs, is powered through a mini-USB slot, supports Bluetooth devices for chatting and wireless controllers, and hooks up to your current generation television via HDMI. For all this, expect the device to run upwards of $100. The device is likely to remain inexpensive in order to get into as many households as possible – a la the Wii – because the subscription service model has proven to be an amazing moneymaker; see World of Warcraft and Xbox LIVE.

It’s probably going to be difficult to manage, though, isn’t it? Not really. If you can navigate Steam, PSN, Xbox LIVE, the Nintendo Channel, etc. you’ll be able to play games, chat with friends, create gaming clans, play demos, get content, and be part of the community.

Alright, you convinced me. When can I pick one up? 2020? Nope. Beta testing will begin in earnest this summer, and the device is set for a holiday 2009 release.

Below you’ll find a GameTrailers video that demonstrates OnLive:

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