Hands On With OnLive: On-Demand Gaming Scores, but Still Clouded With Issues
Given the colossal audience of social networking sites and streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, the adoption of such financially sound models by the video game industry represents a boundless and untapped gold mine. Enter OnLive, a service that seeks to provide video games instantly to users (on an array of devices), while also enabling
The cloud-based game service, which also plans to release a MicroConsole in the fall, won't require lengthy, storage-sapping downloads. But will it provide seamless, uninterrupted gaming at a competitive price? That question, as well as numerous others, remains to be conclusively answered.
Platforms (and Prices)
One of the uncertainties in regard to OnLive's future success unquestionably rests on its "PlayPass" prices, since the existing numbers don't appear particularly enticing. Even with an as-yet-undisclosed subscription fee, users must basically pay the same rate for games as in-store shoppers (who actually have access to discounted, used copies). Subscribers are also only allowed to play purchased titles for a temporary period (initially until 2013, although that could be extended). While 'Arkham Asylum' evoked unprecedented critical acclaim, its OnLive PlayPass still costs $39.99, despite the game's year-long market presence. However, rental fees ($4.99 for 3 days or $6.99 for 5 days) closely resemble prices for on-demand movies, and implementing special deals and free-play periods would alleviate some monetary concerns. (Go ahead and cross this off the to-do list. From July 30th until August 1st, OnLive offered a full PlayPass for 'Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands' for an attractive $24.99 -- half the normal price.)
OnLive's existing exclusionary system requirements and lack of wireless capabilities also provoke a significant amount of gamer angst. But, wireless access will supposedly be available when the service becomes official, as will availability for slower computer models. Aggressive gamers could also find fault with the current lack of live-chat (which is essential for certain multiplayer games), the 720p resolution and the somewhat limited controller support. In an exhaustive and enlightening interview with CNET, though, Perlman repeatedly reminds and reassures wary gamers that the company plans to address all of those needs prior to the official premiere. He also purports the service to be 3-D ready, and will be compatible with various smartphones and tablet devices -- depending on certain proprietary regulations, of course.
Science, Strategy and Success
On July 16th, OnLive did initiate a free "Founding Members" program (for which you should definitely apply), which grants selected participants a free year-long membership, as well as the option to renew for a more-than-reasonable $4.99 per month. The service already seems worth that price for the aforementioned Mac owners, and for casual gamers who may not own an expensive console. For those folks, it provides a perfect and unique medium for playing with friends, while staying current with trendy titles and technical advancements. OnLive could at least carve an indelible niche with those frequently alienated and isolated markets.
Although the issues may seem intimidating, if OnLive accomplishes its objectives -- and enables universal, cross-platform gaming -- the service should revolutionize the industry. A multifunction and affordable (or, ideally, free) Roku-like MicroConsole could also sway consumers previously discouraged by the $300 price tags of other devices. With networking, demos, previews, rentals, purchases, and both new releases and classic titles, OnLive bridges a gap between serious, hardcore gamers and casual, infrequent players who may just browse the site for weekend entertainment. Others may only utilize it to purchase gifts for friends or kids. If that universal attraction blossoms, OnLive could absolutely relegate consoles, portable gaming gear and rival download services to a Sega-like status of obsolescence. While the market may not have been prepared for Perlman's '90s WebTV venture -- which numerous heavy-hitters now seek to imitate -- his generous new creation may go live at exactly the appropriate time.