Ah, the future – TODAY!
Is what I’d love to say, but I just can’t. Not only is it cheesy as hell, it also doesn’t fit the scenario. Ever since the unveiling of this tantalizing new piece of hardware (well, service as it’s essentially just a signal receiver) had created a shitstorm of chatter and debate around the internet. Oh my God, what is Microsoft and Sony to do? I can play Crysis on my busted old Celeron D? Is this the first step to a Tron-like wonderland? Where the hell’s my light cycle?
Oh so many questions, most of which will be unanswered by the time the dust settles on OnLive. Now, just to get this out of the way – this looks like a fantastic piece of technology. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play the very high end of gaming fidelity on a computer equivalent of Larry King? The only problem is it’s far too ahead of its time, and when the rest of the world catches up to the service, I’m doubtful they’d still be in business. Here’s some, in my opinion, very valid concerns about the service conglomerated into easily readable points.
The service needs a 5Mbps line to get 720p graphics. Not very many people have a 5Mbps line. Upgrading to one can easily run you $50+ a month, which is before a single cent is charged toward your subscription to OnLive. Another barrier to entry is the simple fact that many providers who offer such connections to the majority also implement those nasty bandwidth caps.
I have Rogers, and despite it being listed as the “Extreme” service, ‘perfect’ for gaming and file sharing, it also has a 95Gb limit that I usually reach around the 20th of each month, leaving another 8-11 days where I’m charged $2.50 per extra gig. Fortunately there’s a $25 limit or I’d have gone broke long ago. I know, some may say 100Gb is a hell of a lot of pipage, but know that I am not a big Bittorrent user, and use it mainly for online gaming – which is exactly what OnLive is. Beyond playing on Xbox Live and the occasional MMO, OnLive will be streaming far more data, far more steadily, than the usual bandwidth cap can probably handle.
Many potential buyers will have to ask themselves: am I willing to pay not only a higher premium for my monthly internet services, but also likely a significant charge on top of that for over usage of the bandwidth? Am I willing to pay all of this as well as pay a subscription fee to OnLive and a licensing fee to play each individual game? Personally, I probably will be willing, but I already pay the extra premium monthly anyways. I’m not too sure the masses needed for this service to be a success would be of the same mindset, though.
And it goes without saying (beyond this line) that you probably shouldn’t expect a latency free experience, either. 5Mbps or not.
Anyone who bothers reading user rights agreements that come with their games and movies already know you never own anything you buy, but the majority don’t realize this. The real, tangible sensation of a jewel case and disk means they own it just as much as the creators and directors own the rights to the property. People like to have things. Real things. Things to stack onto shelves, to collect, to look at nostalgically. What OnLive would do is make those user agreements very literal, essentially only selling the license to a game, minus the disk and case. It’s essentially tearing down the situation to its bare core and telling gamers definitively that, no, you don’t own any game you’ve ever bought.
You rent it. You purchased a lease to another man’s creation and doing anything that usually goes along with ownership – ripping, modification, duplication, etc – is against the law. Through OnLive, it would mean the complete loss of this feeling of ownership that so many love. You no longer control it, manipulate it. You no longer have it. You can’t bring it over to a friend’s place, you can’t lend it out. It is now licensed to you, and only you.
Yes, you don’t really own those games on your shelf, but you don’t want to fucking know that do you?
Fast Enough Market Penetration?
With something like this, the hardware underneath it must be staggering in its scope and price. This can’t be an affordable line of business and as it is now, it must be losing money. The key to its success is to have a quick enough, and wide enough, penetration into the consumer market to either immediately offset the revenue losses of development or tourniquet the bleeding.
But like I mentioned at the beginning, I don’t think the current market, especially in the downward economic spiral, can afford to support the service. OnLive, even despite its late scheduled release, is still far too early. Of course, this opens up the technology and know how for another go at the no-console gaming domain sometime the line, but it won’t be OnLive.
OnLive, at least on paper, is a rockhard, solid, sound idea. It offers on demand gaming on a scale never before dreamed of. But it’s primary weakness is being too innovative for its own good. The infrastructure simply isn’t in place to take full advantage of the services at anything resembling a reasonable price, and like it or not, most hardcore gamers still love their pretty packaging and ‘collector’ editions (despite there existing more CEs than standard editions sometimes).