OnLive Cloud Gaming Service

One of the great aspects of YouTube is that its videos are streamed. All that's needed is a small client or a web browser and a sufficiently fast Internet connection, and its entire library is there for the viewing with no storage or download requirements for the end user.

OnLive is for videogames what YouTube is for short videos.

OnLive is a technology that many pundits (including yours truly) did not think would be possible. You see, unlike videos which pretty much one-way, static communication, gaming requires input and fast response times. There are lots of calculations that need to be done to take those inputs and translate them into the visuals and sounds that make up a game presentation. It's taxing work on a computer in the same room; doing it across the no-guarantees Internet seemed highly unlikely. And yet, the geniuses at OnLive have made it work somehow.

Membership to OnLive is free. Once you have an account, all that is needed is to install a small client on your local computer.  Currently OnLive works on Windows PCs and Macs (no Linux yet).  In addition, there is a viewer for the iPad that allows you to watch videos and games in progress (more on that later) but not play any games, presumably because of the difficulty of mapping controls to a touch-screen interafce.  There is also a microconsole, a diminuitive device that can be hooked up to a television or monitor and played with a controller to give a more console-like experience. I have tried all of these options except the microconsole, and they all work quite well.

Because the processing for the games is done on OnLive's servers, the minimum requirements for your computer drop dramatically. Basically if your computer is capable of streaming high-quality videos, it can run OnLive.  The caveat is that playing games remotely places the onus for performance on your network connection. The faster and more reliable your Internet connection, the better your visuals and gaming experience will be. Like streaming videos, the graphical quality will degrade as your network connection declines, and below a certain threshold it will refuse to work altogether. But with a steady 3.0 Mbps connection, you can play top-flight games with great graphics on an eight-year-old PC or a netbook.

Games can be "purchased outright" via a Full Playpass at prices comparable to other services (like Steam) or rented for a period of three or five days. In addition, there are free 30-minute trials for most games to allow you to try before you buy.  There is also a PlayPack option which allows access to about half of the games on the service for a flat rate of $10 per month. If you want to see what other gamers are up to, you can check out the library of 10-second long brag clips, or you can go into The Arena to watch live games in progress. From there, you can rate gamers with a thumbs up or down or jump into the game with them (if their settings allow that).

Unfortunately, the list of games is presented in a sortable but linear fashion. This was fine when OnLive launched with a scant dozen or so games, but today there are more than 100 games available to play which can make it tedious to scroll through the list to find a specific title. Hopefully a more capable indexing system is on its way. It should also be noted that even when playing on the microconsole, OnLive offers the PC versions of games, so any controls and menus will have the same nuances as their PC counterparts.

The fear with a service like OnLive is always that it will fold at some point in the future and take your library with it. Having seen this with a number of music services, this is a valid concern. Even purchased games are only guaranteed to be valid until three years after purchase of a Full PlayPass. (It will be telling to see how they handle access for customers who paid full price for games once those expiration dates come.) But as of now OnLive appears to be growing steadily. Not only are there regular $5 Friday sales and specials offered via their Twitter feed, but they have recently added achievements, in-game chatting, and scheduled multiplayer nights for specific games. Add in the ability to record 10-second brag clips or to watch other players' gaming sessions live, and the service begins to rival or surpass the offerings from the big boys.

OnLive is a great service and highly recommended for gamers with fast networks and aging/multiple computers. There are no kickbacks to me for recommending the service, but if you do sign up, you can friend me as theKSMM. See you in the Arena.

Pros:

  • Free to sign up
  • Ability to try games for 30 minutes
  • Abiliity to rent games at low cost via three- or five-day PlayPasses
  • Monthly PlayPack subscription allows unlimited access to a growing game library at a flat rate
  • The Arena allows you to watch, rate and chat with other gamers as they play
  • Runs on multiple platforms and even low-end PCs

Cons:

  • Requires a very good Internet connection
  • Linear presentation of games makes scrolling tedious
  • Games offered are all PC versions which may make playing with controllers less than optimal
  • If service goes, your game library goes with it