The OnLive cloud-based gaming service, based in Mountain View, CA, will be shutting down for good on April 30, 2015. At that point, all personal subscriber data will be deleted permanently. All OnLive hardware (console and controller) purchased before February 1, 2015 will not be refundable and is not compatible with any other gaming product or service. All user-owned software found on OnLive servers will also be gone forever. So, how did it come to this?
Why Is OnLive Shutting Down?
OnLive was made public in 2009 to elated praise from the dinosaur gaming media websites. The company’s estimated worth at the time was almost $2 billion. Yet all major video game publishers refused to let their games be hosted on OnLive. Though you could play a few genuine classics (that otherwise required extensive tinkering to make them work properly), OnLive mostly contained indie games, whose quality varied greatly.
OnLive allowed their users to play demos or full versions of any game from its catalog. Games themselves were hosted and run on computers located in OnLive’s data centers but were playable on any device that could stream HD video. The user of the service would send button presses and commands via the Internet connection to the game on the server and receive a response with perceptible, but otherwise manageable delay. It was supposed to be the next big thing.
The biggest problem with OnLive was the one thing beyond its control: user bandwidth. The service worked flawlessly in ideal broadband conditions, but few peoples’ Internet connections are perfect. OnLive’s solution to this was the death knell of the company.
To transmit the game content to the user via an average Internet connection, it has to be compressed first. High levels of compression wreak havoc on the video quality and cause sudden drops in frame rate or smudged pixels if the action moves too fast, the scenery is too colorful or the user’s bandwidth suddenly shrinks. Another problem was latency, which constantly hovered around 150 milliseconds, with a tendency to spike frequently. Combined, these two factors completely killed any immersion the player might have had in the game.
Can cloud gaming work? Unless video games get the kind of respect they as interactive worlds deserve, definitely not. Video games have absolutely nothing in common with streaming video, which is a lesson OnLive learned the hard way. Video games are inherently immersive and this makes them fun. If a cloud-based gaming service can create this atmosphere of immersion, then the video quality and framerate don’t matter in the slightest. It’s not about innovation, it’s about engaging the player.
OnLive’s patents were purchased by Sony for an undisclosed sum and will probably be integrated in some fashion into the PlayStation Network. This means we’re likely to witness a new era of DRM dawning.