I’m sure many of you are following the news coming out of the Game Developers Conference going on this week. Probably the most exciting news released thus far is details about the OnLive gaming service that looks to be pretty revolutionary for the gaming industry.
For those not following the story, OnLive is basically “cloud computing” for gaming. It’s platform agnostic, meaning that you don’t need any particular console or PC to play the games offered by the service. You can use a PC or Mac or a little console-like device provided by OnLive to plug into your TV and play all of the games available on the service as if you had them exclusively on your home device. The service takes care of all the thinking your machine is currently responsible for and off-loads it to their own servers where it renders the game play and video and sends the data back to your machine via the Internet. What the means is that you don’t need any particular set of hardware requirements for your games. PCs/Macs don’t need beefy system specifications and consoles will all be essentially equal in terms of horsepower because they aren’t using anything but input/output and data transfer services in order to play the games.
Besides offering gaming that doesn’t require any specific platform to play games, the service also is said to offer a greater community aspect then you find with most games. Essentially the streams that are sent to your machine in order for you to play the game can also simultaneously be sent to other spectators who want to watch you play. The service also offers a “brag” feature that will capture the last 15 seconds or so of your play and let you create a shareable moment of awesomeness that others will be able to view through the service. You will have the option of adding voice over to these streams so you can record specifics. I can see this being helpful for people providing helpful walkthroughs or tips to get through parts of certain games much like you find currently on YouTube.
This service has great potential to change gaming as we know it. Going into beta this summer and a launch some time next winter, we will soon get a peak at whether or not the Internet is capable of delivering this kind of content to individuals at it’s current state. The Internet has always been a pretty sloppy delivery medium and you have no direct control over the speed your end users get which can ruin their experience with a service like this. It’s possible that this service may end up being ready before the Internet itself is ready to handle delivering this content to users on a large scale.
The other issue that crops up is latency. Online gaming is already plagued with problems when it comes to latency and can directly influence the end result of the game for the user. When that happens, it’s only sending small bits of data to the server and then to all clients. Imagine having to send that data in addition to the large stream that is containing HD video content for your TV. It will also be interesting to note how much data the service ends up sending over the home connections and whether or not bandwidth limits imposed by ISPs start coming into play. I could imagine that some individuals who spend many hours a day playing video games may reach those limits quickly.
It’s a great idea that I hope is successful, it may take a few years after launch for the service itself and the Internet to actually be up to the task of making this concept a smooth reality, but I will keep my eyes on this as I’m sure many of you will as well. Here are some videos detailing the OnLive service.
Another great movie about the service can be found here: http://i.gizmodo.com/5183416/onlive-demos-streaming-games-yes-thats-crysis-on-integrated-graphics