You might have heard this week that Sony bought OnLive, the streaming service for games and desktop tools, only to announce that the service will be shut down around April 30th. OK, so maybe many of you expected such a thing, and I am sure that anyone who had tried the service thought it might not last very long. I was a sucker for it from the beginning, simply because I also knew that streaming music and video is the future, so why not streaming games? The service had issues earlier in its life and closed down before, but I still held out hope that the technology would grow further. I still believe it will.
For the record, one streaming service closing does not spell the end of streaming services, just as OnLive’s failure does not mean that only physical media is the answer. If you think so, be sure to take a snapshot of your CD collection and post it in the comments.
Oh, I forgot… no one uses physical media anymore.
In case you do not know how the service worked, OnLive was a service that basically worked liked this: (you brainier types can hash out the tech details in the comments section.)
OnLive runs a game on a supercomputer. They capture the image and send it to you via the client, and you control the game without needing a supercomputer. Imagine a Twitch livestream that you control, and you’ve got the basics.
It sounds like an awesome idea, and it does work well most of the time as long as you have a good connection. But, as I love to play Captain Hindsight, I thought it would be good to look back and discuss five reasons that OnLive had such a short, strange trip.
- They should have concentrated on mobile: If there is one thing that streaming technology shines a light on, it’s the ability to run PC or console games on a tablet or smartphone. Sure, you can already do this (sort of) by using a desktop streaming service, but OnLive allowed players to use any device to access almost many titles… at least in theory. The problem was that the company seemed to ignore tablets. Tablet users would be perfect for a game streaming service. On-screen control pads and buttons are easy enough to do (just look at SLgo, the Second Life OnLive streaming service) so why didn’t we see all of those keyboard and mouse titles on tablet? I have no idea.
- They should have offered more killer titles: Sure, there are a few nice titles like Shadow of Mordor and others offered through OnLive, but many of those relied on a Steam purchase and then connecting your Steam account through OnLive. Huh? I messed with the Steam connectivity and found it to be a bit cumbersome and as expensive as if I bought the games directly from Steam. In fact, that moves me on to my next point.
- They should have made it more affordable: I am one of those people who defends something like an ebook costing the same amount as a standard book because you are paying for the words, not for the physical copy. But, with a streaming game, you are also paying for the delivery service. Why was there a monthly fee for OnLive on top of the costs for many games? Why put all of those extra steps in between the gamer and the product? OnLive needed to be one subscription price with full access to all of its titles. To be asked to pay a sub and then pay full price for many titles felt silly.
- They should have made it less confusing: Even now, people do not understand how OnLive worked. The service was simple, and I explained it earlier: it was a livestream that you could control. People understand streaming music through Spotify or streaming video through YouTube, so why did OnLive have tiers of service or a desktop client that often ran like cold molasses? The service should have consisted of one client for all tablets, PCs and devices that acted with a single subscription cost.
- They should have worked with more MMOs: MMORPGs are a very popular genre of gaming, despite what all of the doom-and-gloomers tell you. The key is that MMOs do not usually require such split-second timing (no, no, don’t bring up dodging fire attacks in a raid. If you are at that point in your gaming career, you’d already have a capable PC) and can be enjoyed by socializing, exploring or customizing; all activities that a streaming client can do well. The entire time OnLive ran I dreamed of running PC MMOs like RIFT or EVE Online on my tablet… in the end, only Second Life attempted it. A great choice, yes, but it’s sad that others did not try.
OnLive was an ambitious project and, one day, we’ll see it tried again. In fact, I have always stuck by the prediction that all of our heavy gaming PCs and entertainment equipment will come down to one small, portable device that simply ties into peripherals when you are at home. Streaming services play heavily in that scenario.
We already stream video – at high resolutions as well – so why not gaming?
Maybe one day we’ll know.