By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 27, 2009

Filed under: Video Games 64 comments

Some people have solicited my opinion of OnLive, wondering what I would think of it.

OnLive is the darling of this year’s Game Developer’s Conference. It’s making the rounds and has more or less overshadowed all of the other GDC news this year. Wednesday’s Penny Arcade talked about it. Sort of.

The idea of the service is this: It lets you play console games or PC games without needing to own the console or required PC in question. It runs in a browser window or on a special micro-console, but the actual code is run on the server. You inputs are sent to the server, and the rendering is streamed to you realtime. In effect, the console is thousands of miles away in some warehouse that probably looks like a Borg Cube that just assimilated EB Games. Your game runs on that console, and you’ve got a really long extension cord on your controller and monitor that takes them all the way to your living room. An extension cord which passes through the internet.

If you’ve got a PC or a Mac, OnLive runs in a browser window. As long as your machine is capable of playing streaming movies, it’s capable of playing Crysis through OnLive. You pay a monthly fee for the service, and then you may buy or rent games for your theoretical omni-console. That is, you buy the rights to play those games. You don’t actually buy a disk. I mean, what would you do with it?

Everyone is excited about it. It apparently works well enough to have captured the interest of folks at GDC this year. But as the unofficial Community Pessimist I feel duty-bound to point out my concerns and why I don’t think it will work. This is not because I don’t want it to work. I dream of the day where we can set aside these idiotic console wars and meaningless hardware balkanization and simply focus on the games. I will happily feast on these words if it all works out and leads us to that bright and pure future of platform-agnostic gaming.

The big reason I don’t think it will work is that we’ve seen this technology before, decades ago. We called them dummy terminals. Big Iron died for a reason, and I don’t think the expense of modern consoles is enough to reverse the trend that has taken us to ever more distributed computing. I don’t think the potential market for OnLive is as big as it might seem at first. A customer of OnLive must:

  1. Want to play these games, yet not own the console in question.
  2. Have access to a high bandwidth connection. Streaming video that’s sharp enough for you to read what’s going on is going to have to be at least equivalent to high-definition YouTube movies. How many people can watch high-def YouTube without buffering? I don’t know, but I’ll bet it’s easy for someone living in Silicon Valley to greatly overestimate the size of this group.
  3. Have a low-latency connection. This means that some types of DSL and satellite subscribers will be left out even though they have the bandwidth to handle it.
  4. Be open to the unconventional marketplace that OnLive presents, where you buy the “right” to play a game without getting any physical media. People tend to be cool to these sorts of transactions, and it’s not because of price.
  5. Be willing to forego the benefits of owning the console directly.

Are there enough people who meet these criteria to support the service? Keep in mind, this service is not like World of Warcraft where they can fire up a single server that can support thousands of people. If you’re going to play Crysis, then they need to have the equivalent of a Crysis-ready PC on their end. One for every player currently playing. They need multiple console farms sprinkled around the country to avoid the game-killing lag. They’ll also need enough of each particular machine so that there are enough Xbox seats to go around when Gears of War 3 comes out and half the user base all sits down on a Saturday night to play it at the same time.

Let me address some of these issues in more detail:

1. Potential Market

What happens if I own an Xbox 360 but not a PS3? I have a pile of Xbox 360 games already. Will I be able to play them over OnLive? Or will I need to buy them again? If the latter, then the service is only useful to me as a means of accessing the PS3 library.

The service doesn’t really eliminate the platform divisions we’ve come to hate so much as trade them for different sort of divisions. There will games you own in the sense of having a disc you can take to a friend’s house, and games you own in the sense that you can play them anywhere you have a good connection with nothing more than your OnLive login.

2. Latency

The usability of the service will be directly related to how far you are from the nearest Borg Nexus and how many network hops it takes to get there. This is to say: It will be very variable.

Note that the latency we’re talking about here is the very worst sort. A game like Unreal Tournament or Quake deals with lag with client-side prediction. If you move or shoot, your local copy of the game shows that happening instantly, and then sends that information off to the server where it is processed. The results of your actions are subjected to a delay, but you can at least control your avatar without experiencing temporal anomalies. But client-side prediction isn’t possible on a dummy terminal. If you’re lagging, you will feel it in the controls. If you’ve ever had a telephone connection that echoes your words back at you a second after you say them, then you know how impossible it is to talk with your feedback being subjected to that sort of delay. Input / visual lag is the same way, and it can make walking down a corridor a challenge, much less trying to engage in combat.

You press forward, and nothing happens. Surprised, you let go of the key and begin moving forward. This disconnect makes you want to step back to where you were, so you hit the back button and stop. You let go of the button and find yourself backing up.

But even if your latency is tolerable enough that it doesn’t interfere with gameplay – say 100ms or so – it’s still a constant overhead. Assuming the service supports multiplayer gaming (and I’m not clear how that would work since the console isn’t bound to an Xbox live or PSN account) then your OnLive latency will be added to any additional latency you experience within the game itself.

3. Community and Account Features

It’s not so true for the PC or the PS3, but the community features of the Xbox are fairly rich, and I’m pretty sure you won’t have access to them through OnLive. The descriptions I’ve read suggest that you never see the out-of-game interface. No gamertag. No avatars. No achievements. No trophies. No friends list. No making saves and taking them to a friend’s house.

Perversely, you’re going to need a high-speed, low-latency connection to play a strictly single-player game.

4. Buying & Renting

I’m very skeptical of how many people will want to buy games for OnLive. If I buy Little Big Planet for my OnLive account, and then I later buy my own PS3 because I want access to trophies and friend’s lists and such, will I have to buy an additional physical copy of the game? I think the market will reject buying games for OnLive for the same reasons it rejected DIVX players. When people buy things, they expect to own them. I can’t imagine buying a copy of a game which is locked to a subscription-based service. That’s like buying carpeting for the apartment you’re renting.

(At the same time, renting could be very attractive. It’s nice to be able to rent a game and not have to return it later.)

5. Publishers, Microsoft, and Sony

I can’t help but wonder how much they will oppose this system. OnLive is letting people play on a console without owning it and play games without buying them. They have already expressed frustration with the second-hand and rental market, and the more successful OnLive is the worse it will be for them.

Something which obliterates the walls of exclusive content they’ve built around their platforms is not going to sit well with Microsoft and Sony. I’m sure Microsoft would much rather you buy a console, pay for Xbox Live, and then buy your games. OnLive users will be parasitical to the existing revenue model they have set up, and it’s within their power to make life very difficult for OnLive.

Again, I’d be happy to see OnLive to take off. As someone who has been evangelizing videogames for years (my column at the Escapist later today is on that very subject) I’d love to see holdouts join us in the hobby. But I’m skeptical of the plan as presented.

Still, once it goes live I’ll be in line to check it out just like everyone else.


From The Archives:

64 thoughts on “OnLive

  1. Scott says:

    I might try it. But I don’t think my connection can take it.

  2. CoarseSand says:

    I probably won’t ever actually do anything with the OnLive service, probably won’t even subscribe since I have a pretty beefy computer at the moment, but the technology behind it is just so cool to me I can’t help but have some interest in how this turns out.

  3. MintSkittle says:

    I’m pretty sure my connection wouldn’t be able to handle OnLive, and I think there are too many people like me who like to own the physical media. Also, I already own all three of the current gen consoles and a gaming PC, so I really have no need for it anyways.

  4. Scott says:

    Blast you, Mint. I need to go over there and play games more often.

    Maybe I can figure out a way to just play your consoles from my house… OH, WAIT…

  5. Tesh says:

    *hugs his hard copies*

    I’m not happy paying a subscription fee for WoW. Why in the world would I play along with this sort of monopolistic control over whether or not I can even play with what I paid good money for?

    It’ll be fine for some people, but they won’t see a dime of my money. It’s cool technology, but the marketing behind it just doesn’t work for me.

    Now, use the thing to crunch up a cure for cancer, and I might give a golf clap or something…

  6. MintSkittle says:

    Scott, I’m free this weekend, so whenever you’ve got free time, call me up, and I’ll come get you.

  7. Nick says:

    I always hated the idea of multiple consoles. That’s like different OS’s for the PC market. Any designer can’t just make one game, he has to make it with limitations of the particular hardware in mind.

    If developers could make a game, and release it as-is for both the windows and Mac audiences (not to mention discing it for consoles), life would be much less difficult. Then we could focus more on getting games that are fun to play, and can enjoy it with anyone else that also has it.

    I bought GTA for the xbox, my friend bought it for his playstation. When I found out the multiplayer was not too bad of a thing (I’m NOT paying for gold, thank you), and in order to play with my friend I had to get a copy of it for the Playstation (I bought one third party, cheap).

    This thing has the right idea, changing games so that no matter the platform, you can play it with one interface. Using the internet is really the only way to get this to work, what with only one internet, but currently our greedy ISP overlords think that internet is for little more than for granny reading her email. So, thus, any good data plan is horribly expensive, the infrastructure is out of date (my city passed on paying for fiber optic to be laid on EVERY street), and there’s still bad latency, which only matters for multiplayer gaming, of which there’s one per sq

  8. Mike says:

    As someone who is admittedly a bit obsessed with graphical quality (I haven’t played crysis because my rig can’t handle it and I’m not spending that much for one game), I’m extremely skeptical of this service. I haven’t found a streaming service yet that provides enough quality to look good on an HDTV; even netflix streaming on my 360 is reserved for non-hd tv episodes. Gizmodo did a great piece about this situation, I’m too lazy to link it but it’s easy enough to find. Even the fattest in-home pipes can’t deliver full, true HD, and until they can, this type of thing will remain firmly in the “That’s nice, but I’ll stick to what I have.” category.

    Until then, that’s what GameFly is for.

  9. Tim Skirvin says:

    I live in Silicon Valley, a couple of miles from the Big G. I cannot watch youtube in HD without buffering.

  10. Strangeite says:

    I like this idea depending on the pricing model. I am a casual gamer that used to play far more than I do now. Spending the money on an Xbox 360, PS3 or a fancy gaming rig is just not going to happen, but there are games that I would like to try (your posts on Saints Row 2 have peaked my interest).

    This service would be perfect for me.

  11. Nick says:

    Somehow, while typing, I managed to click “post”. And, I suspect, that due to it’s length it must be moderated first, so I can’t edit it to continue. Here’s the rest (not much).

    …one per square mile where I live, so they won’t invest in lower latency.

    In other words, the infrastructure to make something of this valid (let alone the questions of game ownership, and MS and Sony’s innevitable opposition), will ensure this will not do well.

    When I heard about this initially, I thought it was just another “Phantom” console: A blank console where all content is online. I didn’t picture it as a dumb console for displaying the output of a REAL xbox hundreds of miles away in some warehouse. The kind of work behind this is just… boggling.

  12. Zel says:

    I never heard of this service, guess I’m not up-to-date with the current video-game industry news.

    1) Potential market : if you already own a 360, why would you want to pay again to play the games you own on OnLine ? You could just, you know, put them into the disk tray of your console and play. Unless you want the ability to play anywhere (with high-speed low-latency internet connection), in which case this service is worth additional money.

    2) Latency : I’m with you on this one, I don’t know how they will solve this, and I’m really curious. If people can feel the lag between low-end LCDs and their console (few milliseconds) then I can’t imagine how an even low ping of 50ms would fare.

    3) Community features : the question is, are those features worth the price of the console plus the monthly/annual fee for the account ? They may be nice, but I don’t consider them worth this much.

    4) Renting & Buying : I don’t think you’ll be able to “buy” any game on this service. You will probably buy “playing time”, possibly unlimited, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll be buying the game itself. I’m interested in their pricing policy, but it’s yet to be announced (according to their official site). About the “owning” bit, it’s not any different from buying games from any other digital distribution providers (like Steam) : if the service goes down, you lose your ability to play the game.

    5) Publishers & Co : They will probably see this with as good an eye as they see second-hand, rental or piracy. Expect some EULA modifications to prevent their future hardware/game running on this service if it’s too successful.

  13. chabuhi says:

    Well, it has no real appeal to me right now, but I also swore I would never buy games via digital download, and now that’s almost exclusively how I get my PC games today.

  14. krellen says:

    We’ve recently implemented “remote access” at work that essentially boil down to dumb consoles; they open the VPN connection, then remote desktop to a machine here on site. I’ve been greatly amused lately at the migration back towards dumb terminal technology. It’s almost as if technology is starting a loop cycle.

  15. AceCalhoon says:

    What I’d be interested in is something that allowed me to use my home PC as a server for this type of technology (without using third party servers). The ability to run PC games on a cheap laptop (like an EEE PC) could potentially be handy… Just not handy enough to justify the overhead of a subscription plus cost of repurchasing games.

    StreamMyGame is closer to this, but they still cut their servers into the loop to keep it subscription based…

  16. Abnaxis says:

    Am I understanding this system right? You’re essentially renting a console, then buying rights to games on top of it? I could do that already–all I need to do is walk to blockbuster and pay to rent an XBOX. There’s a reason I don’t.

    Don’t forget the fact that you need extra hardware for this service as well. I don’t know anyone who can even stand an SNES emulator without a gamepad. It would be murder to go without a gamepad or even an analog input on PS3 or XBOX360 titles.

    Has anyone ever tried doing this (running a real-time game fully server-side) on a smaller scale? Like running, I dunno, counterstrike on nothing but dummy terminals? Surely that should be the first step before trying all this nonsense…

  17. AceCalhoon says:

    StreamMyGame has been out for a while. It’s the same basic concept, only you supply the processing power. I’ve no idea how well it works, but they haven’t gone out of business yet.

  18. Robyrt says:

    This would be a fantastic idea if America was set up with fiber connections. As it is, though, current broadband support is nowhere NEAR good enough to stream 720p video, let alone respond to the controls in a reasonable amount of time.

    I suspect that OnLive will not be released until the infrastructure supports it. It’ll take at least that long to get everybody on board with making versions of their games for an additional “console” (Xbox, PS3, OnLive).

  19. Torsten says:

    As someone who doesn’t own any console or up-to-date PC I am really interested in this kind of service. There is already slightly similar system called Spotify as music renting service. I dont believe that this kind of service is going to end console manufacturing or selling games on discs, but just like in music this will be one more selling channel aimed for those who do not want to buy a console or keep updating their PCs.

    Publishers will probably love this service. It has all potential to kill piracy as the game actually rests on publishers own servers where they can monitor user traffic. Also, this frees them from developing game for multiple platforms. Furthermore, publishers wouldn’t need to pay royalties for console manufacturers to get their games into said consoles anymore. MS and Sony take a share from every single sold console game.

    For all skeptics it would be good to look into five, seven or ten years into the future, time when the current console generation has become obsolete. Connection speeds will be higher then and broadband network will be larger than now. Remember, it took Youtube five years to bring their HD service. In few years, if all goes well, this will be just one more way of owning and playing games.

  20. Abnaxis says:

    I agree with Torsten in that, for the PC market at least, OnLive could potentially be seen as a pirate killer.

    RE SMG: The real deal breakers (for me, at least) for this service involve limitations on technology and infrastructure in the united states, which SMG circumvents by offloading the processing client-side. I want to know if anyone has seriously tried running a game service like this completely server-side, essentially OnLive on a smaller scale. The people running OnLive are going to have to invest buku bucks to make this service even feasible on the scale they are talking about–to me it seems plain stupid to do so if latency is going to be a game-killing issue, which it most definitely can be.

  21. Lalaland says:

    GDC: Why onlive cant possibly work”

    The above is an interesting article coming at this from the video encoding side of the debate, basically the article author calls them out on their video encoding technology and quality claims. The author is the guy who does the comparison articles for Eurogamer. More importantly he makes and sells video capture technology explicitly aimed at capturing 720p and 1080p from consoles. He knows encoding and points out it’s really hard. I work for HP and we sell a product that aims to allow the real time viewing and manipulation of 3D objects remotely (HP Remote Graphics Software). It’s good but I wouldn’t game with it as the speed isn’t there for that application

  22. Nathon says:

    I have to agree about the latency issue. I don’t see how any real time games can be played with significant input latency. On the other hand, turn based games like Fire Emblem and Civilization could do really well on this sort of platform.

    If it turns out that I’m wrong about the latency thing, and this service catches on, I don’t think there will be a lot of resistance from Sony or Microsoft. I think they’ll more likely come up with a way to generate profit with special licensing schemes that get them a slice of the OnLive pie instead of just trying to crush it.

    I also think this is far more likely to succeed in the world of PC gaming, where the hardware isn’t something for which you just go to a toy store and plop down a few hundred dollars. Of course, if we’re doing our PC gaming with dumb terminals, why shouldn’t we do our word processing and general purpose computing with them? Oracle tried to roll out thin clients back in the ’90s before there was enough broadband penetration to support it. MIDs and netbooks and google apps are all pushing us back in that direction again. Heck, I’m writing this on a computer 5 miles away. It will certainly be interesting to see how it fares.

  23. Luvian says:

    I think you forgot the most important aspect: Monthly download limits.

    Streaming games in HD is going to really blow through ISP’s monthly download limits. There you come home after work and go to read your email but oh no! You forgot you blew through your limit by playing games all weekend and now your internet is offline until next month. Or alternatively you receive an inflated bill for the extra access.

    You think it was bad when your kid came home with a high cellphone bill? Just wait and see the bill you’ll get from his compulsive Gears of Wars playing.

  24. Jeff says:

    My computer is awesome, my connection is not. Wireless to my router through 2 walls, over DSL (I think. I set up the router and home network, but the connection purchase and details were made when I was away at university.)
    I like Steam, but having to wait two days minimum to play a game is already wearing me down. Drakensang is pretty darn nifty though.

  25. Abnaxis says:

    If I have a monthly download limit, I am blissfully unaware of it. I have no idea how widespread they really are, but if they’re as present as you suggest then…ouch…

  26. Steven Burnap says:

    Processing power is increasing at a much faster rate than bandwidth, so it will likely never make sense to do the processing at the server end.

  27. Abnaxis says:

    Steven: Why not? If processing power is cheaper, it is in a company’s best interest to foot the processing cost if they can offload a lot of the bandwidth cost onto the customer. Isn’t that the point of OnLive?

  28. Lalaland says:

    Bandwidth limits are in Gigabytes and bandwidth is expressed in gigabits so let’s do some back of an envelope math for an example of a 1GB limit (chosen for ease of scaling).

    1 Gigabyte = 1 x 10^9 bytes (the cheap hdd makers definition)

    1 x 10^9 bytes = 8 x 10^9 bits
    playing at HD allegedly requires 4Mb (the 5Mb figure includes 1 Mb wiggle room) so
    4 Mb = 4 x 10^6 bits
    (8 x 10^9) / (4 x 10^6) = 2,000 seconds = 33 minutes =

    With 1 GB of bandwith getting you 1/2 an hour of gameplay whether bandwidth caps are an issue will depend on your provider and gaming habits. Let’s think about this though with the revenue sharing model this thing seems to be aiming for with internet providers your onlive subscription will probably either include bandwidth costs or your onlive gaming will not be counted towards your download cap.

  29. Noggy says:

    This would be great for me. I’d be able to rent all the old games I wanted to try but didn’t have the obscure consoles for. It seems like a cost effective way to game for some people.

    And I think Tosten really hit the nail on the head for why publishers will like it. Don’t be surprised if you see exclusive titles for onlive or services like this.

  30. Julian says:

    I hope they release some kind of free demos. I’d hate paying money for, say, Soul Calibur IV and finding out that every time I press a buttton I have to wait 500ms for my character to actually do anything. I’d be less concerned if I lived near a major US town, where they will surely have one or several of these terminals. I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and companies don’t realize that the legal online gaming market is larger here than in other South American countries, yet they never build a single server in Buenos Aires. Take for instance WoW: there are some Latin American servers, but they’re ALL in Mexico. For latency purposes, they might as well be in the US. Building a “Latin American” server in Mexico is like building, say, a “European” server and placing it in Iceland. Yes, it’s in Europe, but most of the continent is going to have some really bad connection issues.
    I hope OnLive works. I’ll be getting my very first credit card later this year, so I’ll actually be able to buy games online (I WANT TEAM FORTRESS 2, DO YOU UNDERSTAND VALVE? I have no credit card AND there are no stores selling Team Fortress 2 nor The Orange Box in Buenos Aires because game dev neglect this city. You can’t have my $20 yet.)

  31. Alkey says:

    I think this is an invetability. Pipes get fatter, and they will eventually become “fat enough”. This is also a dream for publsihers, maybe even developers. Eliminate the secondary market, piracy, shelf space and distribution issues. Actually, this could empower more independant developers. And assuming they don’t gouge the customer because they can, the end user could even see some value out of it.

    I do expect this sort of trend to elinimate the games that require twitchyness. With this platform being so favorable to the publisher they will be inclined to fund games that take advantage of it. Turnbased games and slower games with actiony elements will get thier attention. Action games may go the way of the adventure game. :'( I’m glad guitar hero was able to burn itself out before this sort of thing came along and prevented its existance.

    I didn’t see anything specific about how thier hardware is set up, but I had assumed that “cloud” meant distributive computing, they don’t have a console for each user, they have server racks with hundreds of processors sharing the load. I am not sure how they do console emulation, maybe they take the exact X-Box hardware and fit a dozen into a 1U blade or it is software. This should add some effeciency to the system and lower cost, making future home consoles impossible to compete with it.

    I am not sure I am willing to give up ownership for better games. Not that I can see where I have a choice.

  32. bbot says:

    I’ve got a pretty beefy machine. All right, I have a really beefy machine. Crysis Warhead, Enthusist settings, 1920×1200, no problem.

    But I still get mild stuttering when I watch HD videos on youtube. Bluray movies, at 1080p, are just fine; but my Tiny God can’t handle 720p youtube videos. It’s not crippling, and for some applications it’s much better than youtube’s standard worse-than-VHS quality, but it is definitely there.

    Golly, that’s a bit ominous for a business model that’s all about HD streaming, isn’t it? When someone with a computer powerful enough that they’re way, way outside of your target audience can’t handle HD streaming?

  33. Magnus says:

    Download limits are a serious problem, as many people will assume that they have an “unlimited” connection, but it will have “fair use” in the terms of service.

    I live in the UK (and up north to boot), and the chances of there being some sort of Onlive Borg Nexus nearby are pitifully small. Most people in the country have crap internet connections, theres very little high speed access (especially up north and in rural areas).

    No word on the costs at the moment either, they could be so much that it would be easier to just pick up a console or upgrade your PC. Surely the majority of folk that want to play games have some sort of game playing device already?

    Somebody above mentioned RPGs and strategy games being the most logical choice for this sort of system, and I would go further and say that turn-based games would excel. Unfortunately, the prevailing wind is for action games, racing games and the like, there are precious few old school RPGs or strategy games released these days, and they aren’t the big money spinners.

    I’ll be sticking with a budget gaming PC, upgrade every 2-3 years, and support Good Old Games. Much more sensible than this pie in the sky, cloud computing april fools joke.

  34. gorthol says:

    I read the article above on how the compression can’t possibly work (this article), and it makes a lot of sense. I can’t verify the guy’s numbers, but apparently the guys at OnLive are fibbing.

    I used to work at Google Video/Youtube (and will continue to do so after I finish my degree). While I didn’t get to touch any of the encoding stuff, I can say that one of the main problems OnLive will face if it becomes a success is bandwidth. Not the users’ bandwidth, but the total bandwidth available to their datacenters. Youtube uses a lot of localized datacenters and a non-trivial (read: expensive) caching system to make sure videos are delivered to the end user quickly. OnLive will have to do one better (REALLY low latency) with higher quality videos, and probably with less money to make datacenters all over the place.

  35. Brackish says:

    “The descriptions I've read suggest that you never see the out-of-game interface. No gamertag. No avatars. No achievements. No trophies. No friends list.”

    So… what’s the downside? =P

    Seriously, though: this might be possible with broadband over powerline. Maybe. If they ever get it deployed. Which means the HAM idiots need to stop their incessant, ludditic whining. Really, guys… I don’t give a dog’s left ball about your stupid transceiver playset. Grow up.

    Still doesn’t do much for latency, though.

  36. Groboclown says:

    There is one, and only one, reason why I’m all for this.

    The elimination of quick-time events

    With the potential for lag that this presents, I can’t see anyone being able to do quick time events.

    Heck, even mini-games like the jump-rope one in Final Fantasy 9 would be impossible.

  37. elias says:

    I’m just as skeptical, but some of the points you make are a little uninformed. From the video interview I watched yesterday they will have some interesting community features like voice chat, the ability to watch other players play even in games which don’t support spectators normally–with options for who you want to allow to watch you play, player profiles, friends lists across all games on the service, a feature where if something cool or shitty happens in a game you can push a button to have a recording of the last 15 or 30 seconds of play instantly put on your profile for people to watch, etc.

    I agree that the market of people who will actually be able to get the advertised experience out if it will be incredibly small, though.

  38. SatansBestBuddy says:


    Dude, most of the people I know can feel lag at 50MS, and they can see it at 80MS; anything over that is overkill.

    Anyway, while this is a really cool idea, it sounds a little too… futuristic, I guess.

    I mean, I can imagine it happening, and it would be great when it does, but I don’t think for a second we have the amount of computer power a system like this would need, nor do we have the proper internet wiring to get it to run.

    Maybe when Internet2.0 takes off and we start getting AI’s that can redifine how much computer power it takes to render a polygon, then yeah, I see this as being the way to go, but for now?

    Right now, it’s a twinkle in GDC’s eye, and nothing more.

  39. R4byde says:

    So, why would I want to pay to stream something I already have over the internet? What do I already have that is capable of playing any game ever made, regardless of platform? A PC!

    Why should I subscribe to someone’s service and buy games (that can be permanently lost if they go out of business) when I can just emulate the systems now?
    I just buy a game for any system pop in the disk, burn off an ISO and boot up an emulator.

    It’s true that emulation is generally a hardware generation behind, and it’s a pain to buy the hardware needed to retrieve the data from some types of storage, DS carts for example, but I still think such difficulties are worth it because you still OWN what you’ve paid for best yet, you can do it even if you have a slow as molasses modem like I do.

  40. MadTinkerer says:

    The fact that I grew up in an era where the “computer terminal” was fast becoming an obsolete term goes to show how horribly backwards the whole thing is and how it’s going to fail in a spectacular explosive mess.

    Potentially, it could be very useful for specific kinds of games designed for it. Like MMOs. Other than that, it’s a lot like Steam but with a bunch of benefits removed.

    If they implemented a subscription service that let you play every game in their catalog with no limit, like GameTap, then I might think about it. But otherwise my local public library has discs you can borrow for free, so I know I’m not going to get involved with any game rental scheme period.

  41. vdeogmer says:

    You’re basing your impressions pretty heavily on the experience of the way current console’s games will play on the service. I got the impression that what they’ll be doing is not including console games at all, just giving you PC games to play, with an optional console experience, with the dongle you plug into your tv that lets you play the PC games with a gamepad. In this case, there’d be no requirement of them having PS3 or 360 boxes to run the games on, which would bypass all the nonsense of needing Live or PSN accounts for multiplayer. Servers for PC games, ought to be alot cheaper, as I’m sure that with the right hardware, they would be able to push out multiple instances of games.

    I would really like to see this be a subscription based service, where a subscription buys you all the content you want for a month, the way netflix does. I would gladly sign up for something like that so I could try games without having to buy them or download exceedingly large demos, and then turn around buy them for my real PC if I end up liking them. And games with really high requirements would play better on the service, so that’s another plus.

    All that being said, I don’t think the service will be able to work the way it needs to, because of the latency problem. I’ve played games before(Uniball comes to mind) that had a client sending off keypresses to a server, and only showing movement after the server replied, and it was horrible. Granted, this was on an old dialup connection, but the game was also much simpler fare than the complexities of modern PC gaming. And that was with all the rendering done client-side, so that there was only a tiny amount of bandwidth required to push the game state to the player, with the rendered data they’re needing to push out to the client, I don’t think the current network infrastructure we have can cope with that bandwidth and give a “latency free” experience.

    In short, I think it’s a great idea that is ahead of its time.

    If I’m wrong, and latency isn’t as big an issue as I think, I’ll be all for OnLive as a new gaming service.

  42. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Its a step in the right direction though.Sure,it has its flaws now,but it is a start of something great that will come in the future(say 50 years).

    Imagine if your computer became similar to television,in the sense that you only have to pay for internet(like you pay for cable tv),and then have unlimited access to any game/movie/whatever you like(just like you can watch plethora of tv shows now).

    Plus it is an effective way to reduce piracy without hurting customers.Also,it will slash the prices of games,since for the price of just one game(which is how much a high speed broadband costs here monthly,and I asume it isnt much more expensive in the rest of the world)you get all the games you might have dreamed of.And not just games,but movies,music,programs,everything.

    I am suprised that both ineffective antipiracy measures and high game prices are your gripes,yet you do not see that onlive can solve both of those problems(well,you dont mention it,at least).

  43. Ganon42 says:

    I’m going to have to say that on the issue of console makers, they’re probably not going to like it. At all.
    Also, I agree that I would rather physically own the game rather than only a digital copy of it.

  44. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Wow,I didnt know so many people use capped internet.I dont know about the rest of the world,but here,the price of the slowest(256k)unlimited connection(not counting dial up)is the same as the price for 2 gb at the same speed.I really dont see a point of capping your connection if you use youtube,steam,or anything similar,when the price difference is so small.

  45. Big Iron says:

    I’m not dead!

  46. Leland J. Tankersley says:

    This sounds a lot like (and may be the same thing as) something that Greg Costikyan blogged about earlier this week, at: Dyack Wrong on Cloud Computing for Games

  47. Nevermind says:

    As a game server developer, I am pretty sure that this thing is never, ever gonna work. Connections with latency low enough to permit server-side rendering do not exist – well, maybe except for some experimental overly expensive setup somewhere very close to a hosting datacentre.
    This MIGHT work for slower games, like, say, Civilization – but even then controls are probably going to feel unresponsive. An action game like Crysis will be unplayable.

    And even if those guys from OnLive happen to have some magical latency-eliminating tech, using it for streaming Crysis is, well… like using a nuclear power plant just to warm a dinner. There are so many really cool things one could do with that.

  48. Scott says:

    This system might work in 20-30 years when we have giant CISCO cores powering all our basic appliances through the fiber-optic cable lines, (or whatever… I dunno…)
    I have the feeling that as high-bandwidth internet services increase in number and profitability, we will see more attention paid to the speed of the networks that connect the tubes to us. In time, we will all have CAT9e cables and 10Tb switches and routers.

    But then again… By that time, games will STILL be too large to fit through the tubes at a decent rate.

  49. GeneralBob says:

    I think lots of people with a connection fast enough to use OnLive already have a computer capable of running the latest games…sort of self defeating.

  50. Daemian Lucifer says:


    They still cannot play console games,which is what onlive will offer as well.

  51. Author says:

    I am pretty sure that Sonys and Microsofts of the world will work very hard to make their own clones of OnLive a reality. They really, really hate your capability to buy and own games instead of drawing out a monthly subscription.

  52. Sheer_FALACY says:

    The guy talks some about how this will allow him to play Crysis, but he neglects to mention that he almost certainly CAN already play Crysis… at 640×480, which is the DSL resolution this offers. Why doesn’t he? Because it would look ABYSMAL.

    It could quite possibly work for console games because up until the current gen they were designed around that resolution and even today they have to keep it in mind, but PCs haven’t touched that for a decade. Combine that with quite possibly lossy compression and you’re going to end up with illegible text and hideous graphics.

    Still, it’s an interesting idea. And I can see MS/Sony being in favor of it, because console sales aren’t where they make money. Game sales and peripheral sales are where the margin is, especially peripherals… and with the USB support, this could use any of those that the PS3 can.

  53. Caffiene says:

    Apart from all the concerns over whether it will actual work in the first place, Im foreseeing another problem.

    The startup cost is going to be huge, for all that hardware, bandwidth, licensing, etc… What happens in a year or two when 1080p is no longer considered HD? Or when the latest gen games no longer run at 60fps on a GeForce GTX? To continue providing a high-end service theyd need to upgrade all their hardware… and then again a few years later… and again, and again, and again…

    Even if their claims about their technology turn out to be true, theyll need to be profitable and have fully paid off their initial hardware investment within 2 or 3 years, so that they have the money to purchase the new latest-gen. Just to keep their heads above water.

  54. Zel says:

    Well, if their claims about their technology turn out to be true, they’ll make millions selling it (the tech) to pretty much everyone else : encoding to video broadcasting companies, latency elimination to server-based application or online game developers, expertise on distributed computing to any company that needs it, and probably more…

    As the author of the article Lalaland (#22) and gorthol (#35) mentioned, I would really like this to work because it would mean several major breakthroughs in networks and computers.

    I’m not sure OnLive is proposing console games. If someone has a link confirming it, it would be appreciated. Assuming they do, let’s not forget that Microsoft and Sony both lose (or make very little) money on the console sales, but with the huge added benefit of locking a customer up for future sales of games and services. OnLive’s model eliminates this lock up, which means you’re much less assured that customers will “rent” games for your console and not the other one or worse : play the PC version (less expensive, no royalty for platform).

  55. gorthol says:

    I read the article that Leland linked to (this one), and it makes an interesting point – that it will probably cost them more to render server-side and then send video to clients than it costs to render client-side.

    The reason cloud computing works is that those offering cloud computing (such as Amazon’s EC2) have idle processors lying around that they have already paid for, and can therefore rent it out for cheap, and make money on something that they would otherwise be wasting. This particular company essentially needs to buy a top-of-the-line computer PER CUSTOMER (let’s leave consoles out of the picture for now) just to provide their service. Since they need to turn a profit, that means that it will cost each customer (on average) MORE than a top-of-the-line computer.

    To be fair, the above analysis assumes that they have one computer per customer. They will probably instead have a number of computers equal to the total number of simultaneous connections they expect to have. The question is what percentage of their customers do they expect to connect simultaneously? For example, if they need to provision for 1/3rd of their total customers, then their average customer must pay about 1/3rd the price of a top-of-the-line computer for them to break even (ignoring bandwidth costs, power costs, cooling for their datacenters, etc).

    This doesn’t take upgrades and royalties into account (I assume they will have to pay something to the game developers, and I’m going to label those costs “royalties” for now). So in the end, this can be VERY expensive for the end-users. In other words, even if it becomes technologically feasible, it may not be economically feasible.

  56. Luvian says:

    @Daemian Lucifer

    It’s not a question of choice. First of all the “unlimited” plans are not really unlimited. As someone pointed out they are “Fair Use” and they decide what is fair use.

    And secondly. I’ve found the faster your connection is, the more likely it is to have a download cap. It’s one thing to grant you “unlimited” download when you have 256k, but it’s another when you have a 10 megs line.

  57. ngthagg says:

    Ugh, I came to this thread way too late. I’m not going to read all 56 comments, so I apologize if someone has addressed this.

    RE #5: It is common knowledge (meaning I have no info to back this up) that Microsoft and Sony lose money on their consoles. The profits are instead made through licensing games. They may embrace a system that allows gives people access to games without a system. Also, I notice the Wii is excluded, presumably because of control difficulties. Considering the Wii is dominating this iteration of the console wars (common knowledge, see above), MS and Sony may embrace another way to get people to play their games.

  58. MuonDecay says:

    This would likely be a product with a reasonable chance of making it in markets like Japan, where low-latency broadband penetration is fairly high.

    In places like the US it’s amazing that anyone is ignorant enough to think that high-bandwidth streaming services have a chance. Even fairly low-speed broadband is a lot rarer here than most people are aware of. High speed broadband penetration is even rarer. Even if people want a faster connection, there’s a good chance that nobody in their area wants to sell them one!

    I’d love to pay the extra money to have a fiberoptic connection. The ISPs, however, don’t want to bother laying the lines and accepting my money. I’m not out in the boonies, either. I’m in a pretty affluent region of the Los Angeles suburbs, and I’m stuck with very slow DSL being the single fastest internet that anyone even offers to residential customers in the region. That is, unless I woke up tomorrow and shat a wheelbarrow full of diamonds to buy a T1 line.

    Streaming, right now, is nowhere near as viable a business model as so many spoiled tech-industry people think it is.

  59. ehlijen says:

    So people pay to play games they don’t own on computers they don’t own. Apart from the need for your own facilities that sounds like cinemas to me.

    Now if the price difference between onlive and buying games is comparable to the difference between buying dvd and going to a cinema I can see it working. Assuming they get over the hardware hurdle. But is that the price range they are aiming for?

  60. Marmot says:

    Hey Tim Skirvin, what do you mean? You mentioned that: “I live in Silicon Valley, a couple of miles from the Big G. I cannot watch youtube in HD without buffering.”

    Assuming that you mean Google, does their bandwidth consumption really interfere with your own connection? Like a shockwave or drain of some kind? This is the first time I’ve ever heard of something like this so I’m curious. I’d expect that Silicon Valley and anything close to it would all amazing connection speeds…

  61. Harvey says:

    “Be open to the unconventional marketplace that OnLive presents, where you buy the “right” to play a game without getting any physical media.”

    I think you just described coin-op video arcade machines in the 80’s :-)

  62. Lalaland says:


    I think Skirvins point was that even with his presumably close proximity to a Google data centre he can’t reliably stream a high bandwidth feed.

    There might be a get around for this if they team with ISPs as that would place all the dataflows within the ISPs own network without having to negotiate with the wider internet. From my own readings it seems they are proposing what would be in essence a WAN setup with all traffic only travelling between the ISP and the subscriber. That would increase the cost as every participating ISP would have to create a data centre of their own. Honestly they just haven’t revealed enough. There are major challenges on response time, video encoding, data centre costs and bandwidth consumption. All we have are questions and no answers.

  63. It would be even slower than YouTube HD videos. There would be no caching mechanisms in place that would normally occur for YouTube videos. I don’t know about ISPs, but I know on large networks, like college campuses, external resources are often cached and transparently served from a local machine.

    Additionally, the encoding wouldn’t be as good, making the video much larger for the same quality. This is because they can’t do the kind of video encoding in realtime that streaming HD videos have.

    And as mentioned all over, the inevitable lag would be awful. For my home connection, I find the NetHack lag to be nearly unbearable, and that’s just ASCII over telnet.

    This won’t work by a long shot and I am surprised it got this much attention so far.

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