This could be the game-changer… or perhaps not.
I’ve been following the news about OnLive with great anticipation. OnLive, if you haven’t already heard, is launching a high-performance, streaming service that could be the first of its kind to offer a true online gaming experience previously relegated to PC or console play. Let’s face it—one of the biggest limitations to gaming is the choice of platform, and the affordability of each. Having an X-box 360, PS3, and a souped-up gaming PC at home isn’t a reality for most of us (despite my insistence to my spouse that it’s a necessity). And even if you are lucky enough to have all of those, each console will be succeeded every few years by a newer, faster, better model and gaming PCs are constantly demanding more power achievable only though incremental and expensive upgrades. If OnLive lives up to the hype, consumer money previously shelled out for new hardware can be put to better use if gamers subscribe to their service. OnLive will stream platform-agnostic games over the Internet. The user needs only a PC, Mac, or OnLive MicroConsole to receive the streaming signal and render the graphics.
This isn’t the first time the idea of games-as-a-service over a network has been considered, and a few examples exist today (albeit at a much lower-performance standard). No, this idea was born a half century ago when Ralph Baer, inventor of what became Magnavox Odyssey, first created his Brown Box. As fellow blogger J.P. Dyson and I discussed the history of the prototype console with Baer during his visit, one point stood out to me as incredibly poignant and interesting: as early as the late 1960s, Baer was trying to sell the idea that video-game service could be offered by cable companies as they became commonplace in homes across America. Needless to say, and despite some significant interest from one particular cable company, this method of delivering early games such as Pong did not come to fruition.
What is significant, however, is that the early history of video games may have looked quite different if gaming had been sold as a cable service. Instead, the home-console-based method of play that began decades ago became the standard for game delivery. I often wonder if games had been reliant on cable service, would that have hindered the growth of the market? After all, it wasn’t until twenty-plus years later that data was being regularly delivered to homes over another infrastructure outside of the cable television networks (that being the Internet), and even at that point with fairly limited bandwidth. Of course, it is the question of reliable and sufficient bandwidth that has skeptics speculating on the potential success of OnLive’s games-on-demand service.
If OnLive is a success, aside from platform independence, it could also mean significant changes in how games are developed and distributed (which I’ll elaborate on in a future blog). In the interim, I’d be interested to hear other opinions concerning the potential success of this service, given the bandwidth limitations of most ISPs. Have you seen a demonstration of the service? Have you been lucky enough to participate in the closed beta? We’d love to hear your opinions. Until then, here’s to hopes of playing together “in the stream.”