As a gamer, you would have to have been away from any form of news over the last week or so to not be aware of OnLive. For those two people, let’s start with a little overview of what OnLive is.
OnLive is a streaming service for games. Using either software on your PC, Mac or the OnLive MicroConsole (other formats such as iPad are being promised); you connect to OnLive and are given access to their library of games. At the moment that stands at about 150. Initially you are given access to just demos of the available games, but you can buy or rent the full versions as you please.
Unlike a standard console or game, there is no install. When you select a game to play, it doesn’t download to your device. Instead, it streams footage of the game play to you. Everything is handled on the OnLive servers. As you make a control input, it is sent to their server and then the results in game are streamed back to you.
First, it is worth looking at what is available too you and what it costs.
The software for your PC or Mac is free. Registration is free. Demos are free. When you want to play a game past the demo, then you have to start paying. Games vary in price, from about £4 (for example Brain Challenge) to full console price of £35 (Deus Ex: Human Evolution), with many around the £20 mark. If you are not sure you want to buy a game out right, you can rent them. Rental depends on the game, but for instance WarHammer 40,000: Space Marine will set you back £3.49 for a day of £4.99 for 5 days.
As well as the individual purchases, there is a subscription service called the Playpack. This costs £6.99 a month for unlimited access to around 100 of the games as well as discounts on other releases. This pack actually contains some superb games. Borderlands and Batman: Arkham Asylum justify the cost on their own. Chuck in a few classics like Alien vs. Predators 2000 or Bio Shock and it is a pretty sweet deal.
The other play option is the MicroConsole. At Eurogamer this year, OnLive was pretty aggressive with the MicroConsole, giving away hundreds of them and doing some pretty hefty deals with BT Infinite.
About the dimensions of two iPhones stacked on each other, the OnLive MicroConsole is pretty wife friendly as it will not take over the living room! It comes with a wireless controller and all the leads you will need to get going. There are two USB ports on the front. These let you connect a keyboard, mouse or certain supported controllers. This includes the Xbox 360 controller. It looks like this will cost £69 in the UK.
Not much Bigger than an iPhone
The controller is a kind of cross breeding experiment with the Xbox 360 controller and Wii Classic controller. Hardly surprising when you consider that the CEO of OnLive once worked on the Xbox 360. It is very well designed and comfortable. It also as a neat set of recording and playback controls to help you create your Brag Clips.
So the hardware and the basics all seem pretty solid. The interface is just as solid. It looks great and is really very easy to navigate. You have the standards abilities you would want from a console. You can browse your games, buy new ones and connect to friends. There is also a voice communication system in Beta, which looks a bit like Xbox Live. Something a little unique is the ability to watch other players live, in a very voyeuristic but quite enjoyable way. As well as that, you can watch other people’s brag clips, little recorded nuggets people think you may like. You can actually use up a few hours just watching other people play!
Once you have selected a game to play, it takes only a minute or so for you to get going. This is where things become a little variable. Playing the games requires a constant internet connection of 2 Mbps minimum though 5+ Mbps recommended. Sadly in the UK, non fibre broadband can fluctuate wildly in quality. Another factor is whether you are wireless or wired.
Let’s start with my 17 inch laptop experience over wireless. Over wireless I clock up a connection of about 17mbs (I have a 30mbs Virgin Fibre connection, but only wireless G in my laptop). I constantly found that whilst the controls were responsive, OnLive’s adaptive quality was a real pain. Graphics looked like stretched YouTube videos, with washed out pallets and blocky images filled with artefacts. Playing Home front Multiplayer was nearly impossible as people just blended into the mess of a background. Sound was also seriously subpar. I also had a few problems connecting, being told that OnLive was at
capacity! On the other hand, on my 9 inch net book, Arkham Asylum ran very well. It was great fun playing an AAA game like that on my little old laptop.
Using the MicroConsole was a totally different experience. For some reason, OnLive have only included an Ethernet connection on their console. In this case though, that may be a blessing in disguise. I was able to play most games at 720p with very little lag or video compression. To be honest after 30 minutes of Deus Ex: Human Evolution I had totally forgotten I was not playing on a standard console. Controls were responsive and even in high action sequences the graphics and sound all held up admirably.
The thing is, none of these problems are OnLive’s fault. Their service is really very good and when it works it is like magic. Sadly, broadband in the UK is pathetic for the most part. Another issue that may not help is developer support. At the moment there are not that many AAA games available. They are working hard and have got about 50% of the major studios on board. They have even managed to secure LA Noire. But, it seems that not all are willing to embrace it enough to launch new games straight away on the service, which could harm them.
That said, I can see many gamers loving the service. On the PC, it gives people the chance to try games out that they may have looked at in the last 6 months, but not had the confidence to buy. For casual gamers, the console with the Playpack is a great way to get in some modern and some retro classics, without breaking the bank.
OnLive has a way to go before hardcore gamers with consider it the future of gaming, especially if the UK broadband capabilities do not improve soon. However, if you have a good internet connection (one that isn’t capped!), then I think you should at least give OnLive a try. I have and for the most part I really like it.
It may be the future of gaming, but it is certainly a great addition to the future of gaming!
Check out OnLive for yourself at www.onlive.co.uk