Opinion: OnLive – Did the Future Come Too Soon?

by on March 12, 2013

Opinion-OnLive-Did-The-Future-Come-Too-SoonIf you have even a passing interest in the world of video games, you’ll remember the promises made to us by OnLive. “It’s going to be the future of gaming” they were saying, and “You’ll never need another console again!” was another favourite that was being bandied around at times too, and, on paper at least, it all sounded like it could very well be absolutely true. If the people behind the new technology would be upgrading their own hardware to meet the ever-increasing demands of the video game industry, and all the consumer was doing was streaming a video, then the sky’s the limit isn’t it?

If you had asked me that question three years ago, before OnLive was launched, I would have absolutely agreed with you. I was one of those people that was totally behind them to be the next big thing, and we all know what happened with that. However, the remnants of what used to be OnLive has been limping back into the forefront in recent weeks, news has been creeping out and it’s starting to look like OnLive might be coming back in some form, but does it have enough fight left in it to take on the might of Sony and Gaikai? What will it need to do in order to keep the fans happy? Is the dream already over?

OnLive was announced at the Game Developer’s Conference, back in 2009, and the internet lit up with talk of the new service which, if done right, could revolutionise the video gaming market. The minimum system requirements of a 2Mbit/s connection seemed doable even in 2009, so people were foaming at the mouth to get their hands on it. The service launched on June 17th, 2010 in North America, with the UK launch coming over a year later on September 22nd, 2011. OnLive promised to expand hard and fast, with their catalogue of games promising to be expanded as the service gained traction in its respective market, how could things possibly go wrong? Eurogamer Expo 2011 featured a huge presence from OnLive, with the queues for consumers to get their hands on the MicroConsole literally stretching out the door at one point during the day. People could get their hands on the service there and then, I myself played Warhammer: Space Marine without problems, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t cynical about how they were running it. Despite the assurances from the OnLive staff members that the game I was playing was running on the OnLive servers hundreds of miles away, the cynical part of my brain still kept prodding me and telling me that I was playing the game on a hidden console feet away from me. Still, ignoring my cynicism, I was excited to finally be able to jump on the service and experience the future; I even upgraded my internet connection to BT’s fibre optic service just to have a better experience with OnLive; I was all in.

It wasn’t long after that when things seemed to fall apart for OnLive. Things that they had promised to bring to the consumers were starting to simply not happen, games that were promised at one point just seemed to vanish into thin air without a word from OnLive themselves about where these items were and whether or not we were ever going to get them. One of the first missteps was the promise that Trine 2 was going to be released day and date on OnLive, I was even supposed to review the title via the service but, due to the title still not appearing even a month after the game was originally released on Steam, we gave in and decided to review the PC version instead. This unfortunate event was soon followed by the announcement of OnLive on tablet devices, complete with a trailer that clearly showed games being played using the brand new bluetooth-enabled controller that had just been released, on Apple’s iPad. The Android version of the application released without a hitch, I even enjoyed a couple of games of touch-enabled LEGO Harry Potter myself, but the much requested iPad version was nowhere to be seen. People asked for it, some of them were just asking for information about it, but OnLive seemed to have a knack for avoiding the question or just ignoring it entirely. The fans, the people that believed in OnLive and the service that they were providing – or at least promising to provide – were starting to become dubious about the companies future. And with good cause.

On August 17th, 2012, the moment that everyone had been expecting to happen since the silence over missing deadlines, games and app started to happen, finally occurred. OnLive filed for Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors bankruptcy, which basically means that all previous shareholders in the company lose their stake and the company can then be sold off in an effort to recoup some of the lost money. The entirety of the OnLive staff roster was let go, and a few days later the founder and then-CEO Steve Perlman stepped down from the company as Lauder Partners were installed as the new head of the company. OnLive was seemingly lost and there was nothing anyone could do about it. What followed was a period of almost six months where no news whatsoever came from OnLive. People could still log into the service, they could still play the games that they had already bought, but since the release of Sleeping Dogs, the entire OnLive product seemed to just be ticking over and not doing very much else. To an outsider it would very much seem that OnLive was dead in the water from that point, and it had no chance of coming back. But it did come back.

One of the biggest things that people complain about when they think about playing games using OnLive is the fact that if, for whatever reason, their internet isn’t working to its full capacity. Then there’s a chance that they’re not going to be able to play the game that they paid for. OnLive has answered this questions will the recent addition of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings to their game library: a free digital offline edition. If everyone that bought a game from OnLive could also access that game via an offline version from GoG.com, then the number one complaint would be instantly fixed and OnLive would be able to start making their way back into people’s hearts. There’s a lot more that needs to be done to get people behind the service again than just giving them offline access to the games that they’ve already paid for. In my mind, one of the biggest challenges that OnLive will have to face in the coming years is not promising things that they’re not going to be able to deliver on. Perhaps that problem was solely down to Steve Perlman – someone who is notorious for making promises that he’s not able to keep, perhaps eclipsed only by Peter Molyneux – and now that he’s not in charge any more, it will no longer be a problem. Only time will tell.

I’m still behind OnLive 100% though, personally. I still love the things that you’re able to do with the games on there, brags clips, recording footage from within the application, getting people to watch you playing live, etc. It’s obvious that OnLive were on to something too, as a lot of the features that people were already able to do two years ago via OnLive are being integrated into Sony’s PlayStation 4. They do say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. The question posed at the very start of this article was whether the future that OnLive promised the consumer was here too soon, and the answer to that question is a resounding yes. The internet infrastructure, even here in the UK, isn’t capable of handling the bandwidth that the service requires. Yes, there are a small percentage of people who can run it without much problems, but that’s a small percentage and if a company intends to survive, then that simply shouldn’t be the case. Yes, the future was here too soon in the form of OnLive, but let’s hope that it sticks around long enough to find the right time.

I still believe that OnLive is the future of video games, the idea that I could potentially play a game such as Crysis 3, on the top graphics settings, using a laptop that’s little more than a word processor is still a concept that excites me. Maybe this new era of OnLive is something that the company needed, a little bit of a break for them to get their footing back. I’ll be continuing to play a multitude of games using the service, as I have done for the past almost two years, and if they ever eventually release the promised WiFi model of their MicroConsole, I’ll be the first in line.