GDC 2009: OnLive unveils on-demand game-streaming

[UPDATE] Cloud-computing service promises top-tier games from EA, Ubisoft, Take-Two, others, delivered to any PC, TVs in winter 2009; video demo inside.

NOTE: GameSpot will be live-streaming the first OnLive press conference tonight at 7 p.m. PDT. Check back to the On the Spot page to tune in. For a detailed examination of how the service will work, visit GameSpot Hardware's OnLive: Inside and Out Feature.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, look out. Your traditional video game console business model may be in danger. It's too early to tell how much danger, of course, but a startup called OnLive announced a brand-new game distribution system Monday night that, if it works as planned, could change the games game forever.

OnLive, which was started by WebTV founder Steve Perlman and former Eidos CEO Mike McGarvey, is aiming to launch a system--seven years in the works--that will digitally distribute first-run, AAA games from publishers like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Take-Two, Warner Bros. Interactive, THQ, Epic Games, Eidos, Atari Interactive, and Codemasters, all at the same time as those titles are released into retail channels. The system is designed to allow players to stream on-demand games at the highest quality onto any Intel-based Mac or PC running XP or Vista, regardless of how powerful the computer.

The system will also stream games directly to a TV via a small plug-in device, and players can use a custom wireless controller as well as voice-over-IP headsets in conjunction with it. OnLive timed its formal unveiling to this week's Game Developers Conference, where it will be showcasing the technology and 16 initial games it will launch with.

The service is currently in a closed beta but is expected to go into a public beta this summer and to launch this winter. According to Perlman, OnLive's technology will make it possible to stream the games in such a manner--high quality, no matter what kind of system the user has--by virtue of a series of patented and patent-pending compression technologies. And instead of requiring users to download the games, OnLive will host them all and stream them from a series of the highest-end servers. Users will have only to download a 1MB plug-in to get the service up and running.

An intended benefit of this infrastructure, Perlman and McGarvey explained, is that users will be able to play streamed games via OnLive with no lag, so long as their Internet connections meet minimum thresholds. For standard-definition play, that would mean a minimum 1.5Mbps connection, and for high-def, 5Mbps. The company promises that as long as users have the requisite minimum hardware, operating systems, and Internet connections, they should be able to have seamless play.

The hardware.

The upshot of this infrastructure model, Perlman said, is that OnLive is somewhat future-proof, meaning that players won't have to upgrade anything to keep on playing games on the system years into the future. Instead, the upgrades will happen on the back-end, with the company regularly boosting the power of the servers it uses to host and stream the games.

OnLive will offer access to games by way of a monthly subscription, where players will pay a monthly access fee and then pay additional costs, depending on whether they want to play games once or buy them for permanent play.

The company also said that it will probably offer free trials of some or all of the games it offers, allowing consumers to decide whether they want to buy. OnLive recognizes that some players may use those trials as a way of deciding whether to buy such games from traditional retail stores, but Perlman and McGarvey suggested that as long as people are interacting with the OnLive system, they'll be happy.

OnLive appears to be modeling its system at least somewhat after Microsoft's Xbox Live service. As such, fans of multiplayer games won't be on their own. Rather, they'll have full access to multiplayer features of games built for them. And another interesting social feature is one that will allow users to watch others play games in real time. The company thinks that users will find it exciting to watch the best players in action, even if they themselves are only kibitzing.

Perlman said that the concept of spectating in online game systems is, in and of itself, not new, but that OnLive presents the first time players will be able to look in on what others are playing without owning the games themselves.

Yes, that does say Crysis.

Another social feature in the Xbox Live mold is what are called "brag clips." These are essentially 15-second replays of game action that players can share with friends if they want to show off their prowess. This is possible, Perlman said, because OnLive is continually recording the last 15 seconds of action. All told, McGarvey said, OnLive offers a full suite of standard social features including friends, clans, rankings, leader boards, tournaments, and more.

From the outset, OnLive isn't partnering with any of the first-party publishers--Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo--meaning that franchises like Halo or Zelda won't be available. That means, Perlman and McGarvey acknowledged, that many players who sign up for OnLive's service will still maintain their consoles and continue to buy games for them. At least for the rest of the current generation of machines, they said. But come the next generation, all bets are off, they said.

And for the nine--to date--third-party publishers who have committed to being involved, McGarvey said, OnLive presents a much more efficient and profitable distribution model than the standard retail structure. That's because the system is all digital, cutting down on physical distribution costs, and because it is designed to eradicate piracy and second-hand sales, both of which are banes of the publishers' existence.

Indeed, McGarvey said that OnLive has gotten strong commitments of titles from the nine publishers. That means, added Perlman, that the planned launch this winter could be accompanied by the most titles of any new gaming system launch in history.

In addition, McGarvey said publishers are eager for the kind of raw data that OnLive can provide about players' usage of the games, including whether they like or dislike games, how much they play, how they play, and so on. That data is hard for publishers to collect with traditional consoles, he argued.

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Discussion

625 comments
Falcon084
Falcon084

I don't like it. A lot of people do not have the internet because of finance or being in the middle of know where and they have the right to play games as well. If this became the mainstream media these people would have to go with out. If it is both then fine but if one cansels out the other it could be a disaster for DVD-Blu-ray Game lovers the world over!

nexus01591
nexus01591

No way is this gunna happen soon, sooo many secuirty issues with cloud computing...

milannoir
milannoir

Never felt any restriction in bandwith to this day, tbh... But anyway, my main point was that if Onlive succeeds, it will hopefully force ISP's to improve their quality of service, by stimulatin competition (oh btw for 30euros you not only get "unlimited" broadband, but also unlimited telephone and access to a wide choice of television channels)

CrystalEdgen
CrystalEdgen

I seriously think this is going to fail. You need a high download limit and the cost is likely to be sky-high! So unless u are a millionaire or an idiot its probably not 4 u.

maxsteel86
maxsteel86

@milannoir Sorry to tell you pal, but you THINK you have unlimited download limit. Many ISPs in Europe offer 'no download limits' but if you read the fine print it clearly says 'Subject to fair usage policy'. I know some ISPs throttle your bandwidth if you were to exceed 200GB in a month (easily do-able with this service) due to their fair usage policy. And with services like video on demand, you'll find yourself going through bandwidth like water in a desert. Its just one of the reasons why I hope this fails. The costs involved will be way too high. PS 30 euros a month for broadband is a rip off. I'm paying for 16MB 'unlimited' broadband, £12 p/m.

VigoSOC
VigoSOC

Sorry, I like a real game in my hands. This all sounds alright until the servers go down for maintanence etc..., or my ISP is having some technical problems. I want to play a game when I want to play it and not have to worry about possible technical difficulties.

milannoir
milannoir

I have no dl limit, my connection is good enough to support this. I actually think this could be the biggest thing that ever happened in video game history since Pong. Moreover, it would create an incentive for IAPs in many countries to offer far better service. I live in France, and in most parts of the country, for 30 euros per month you have unlimited access to an Internet connection that meets Onlive's requirements.

Dragdar
Dragdar

actually scrap that it has to have NO monthly fees but every game costs a bit more (onlive provider takes a small cut) NO monthly fee is apsolutely necessary for this to work or you're a slave to them

Dragdar
Dragdar

OnLive will work ONLY if publishers decide to have lower prices for games via OnLive considering their is no packaging or transport. I'm talking 33 % cheaper or more. Then people might consider this as saving money and simplifying their life. Otherwise why should I care if the price of the game is similar, might as well get the game disc and a console. Let's say a monthly fee for this is 15 $ and new AAA games cost 35$ THEN it'll work.

comp_atkins
comp_atkins

this really is the way things are going to go in the future... lets be honest.. it will all be distributed content. its the easiest way for the developers to control their content. not to mention companies save millions on expensive hardware development and manufacturing.... it makes the most sense. movies will soon be going the same way.. i doubt anything beyond bluray will come out in terms of physical media you can hold in your hand ( and copy )..

AlbertiRAGD13
AlbertiRAGD13

Oh I definitely want this service to come out. I believe it's a step to eventually getting rid of this "three console" thing we got going on. I want one console on which to play games, and if it's my computer, I'm completely fine with it. Especially since this means I don't have to buy one of those stupid alienware computers or something. This is the future of gaming if it works.

Fiotwo
Fiotwo

Please Gamers out there, Unite to make this fail. If this does come out, its the end of gaming as we know it. I am not trying to be sarcastic but really it is. If this comes out, that is just going to rush everything else in terms of competitors releasing new hardware. I dont want new console hardware yet. Not even that but what if you just dont want the service anymore? You lose all the games you payed full price for? What if in the future this fails and doesnt become mainstream? Every person who bought a game on it is gone? It seems like once you give them your money, your screwed and they can do anything they want to you... please make this fail...

LinktheCloud
LinktheCloud

I think whats getting lost in translation here is whether or not enough consumers will go for this. The technology can only threaten the status qou if it has supporters. I personally REFUSE to support this, I will not give out my money without having a hard copy. How expensive is the service going to be? Its going to use an INSANE amount of bandwidth regardless of how you look at it. It could easily cause you to exceed your transfer limits on your internet (Though I have a 50 GB limit myself, the rate I play, I'd chew through that pretty quick). I'm not a fan of this atm. I hope it dies.

adh105
adh105

I agree that this could possibly break your dl limit (i jsut upgraded to 25 gigs) but i rekon the real reson for a possible failure is I H8 MONTHLY or annual or anything FEES thats y i went for a ps3, also no second hand games no borrowing games from friends sharing them around that would be to much of a loss.

childe_roland
childe_roland

Wow, this is brilliant, sounds like something from a sci ft flick.

klugenbeel
klugenbeel

@revanent, Not just that, not everyone even has access to those kinds of connections. I shell out 80 dollars a month to a company called Pine Tree Cable for 1 Mbps upload and Download...down the road, literally by 2 miles...is Comcast, for about 40 bucks a month...its over 6 times faster.

maccy99
maccy99

How about the broadband download with these people who don't have unlimited download them it would eat it up and you will have to pay even more fees to your Internet provider for going over the limit At the moment not sold on the idea hope they come up with better ideas

revanent
revanent

one word - no why cause connections arent perfect now, not everyone can afford fast connections

altenter
altenter

u can always sell your video card for scrap metal if there is any in it.

c_wuzzy
c_wuzzy

wait so what happends to our expensive video cards? do we just trash them D=?

brain20035
brain20035

seriously guys, this technology is amazing, but its chances of success is limited. i mean not every country has the fast internet connection. in my country you should pay about 100 $ a month for 1Mbps!!!!

Caer_Death
Caer_Death

Tandem_Toad I don't know where you get the idea that 5Mbps is a very fast internet connection that most people don't have. It's already available to the vast majority of the country, and I believe it's only $20 or $25 monthly from SBC. I have TEN TIMES that amount for only $10 more, and I could DOUBLE that for an extra $5 a month. This stuff really isn't that dramatic. Bandwidth is comparatively cheap these days, unless you're still part of the minority that still pays for dialup. Essentially, if you have a connection good enough for youtube HQ videos, you're good to go, and if you don't, upgrade your service so your service level fits your needs. It's simple and accessible, equitable and capitalistic. Best of all worlds and nobody has a reason to complain.

nate1222
nate1222

To add to a previous comment; The only console maker I see even attempting what OnLive is attempting is the Wii. And the Wii gets it because I can play my downloaded NES, SNES and Genisis games EVEN WHEN I'M NOT CONNECTED. With the Wii, once you've bought it - it's actually yours. If OnLive can't do that - it'll fail. It'll wind up being another 'steam'-type service that puts people off.

Carterman00
Carterman00

To the guy that said this will eliminate "console wars" I have 10 bucks, that says if this becomes legit, Microsoft comes out with the OnLive killer, or downright buys it out. If Microsoft comes out with the same idea, they have the servers, power, and name recognition the "casual" gamer will buy. If I didn't hear this first on GS, I'd see one at the store and say... hmmm MicrosoftLive or this rip off "onlive" I don't comment very often, This news was worth my two cents.

aaronobst
aaronobst

I love having a collection of games in their PHYSICAL FORM not the digital download rubbish, I hope OnLive does fail and fail miserably

paleogamer
paleogamer

If this eliminates second hand market then i will have second thoughts about this.By the way, why would they say second hand gaming is a bane?

tttttank
tttttank

im not sure i like this idea, if everything is going through the net, then isnt it possible they could monitor your pc or something? and HOW can it work? if this gets popular, HOW are our ISPs going to be able to handle so much data at one time? this may be the future, but it will be the in the future before we are all able to get it working properly

jmoney128
jmoney128

This is the future. OnLive will be a verb just like Google one day. It will be the Facebook for video gaming. This has to be the most versatile online service with the most potential I have every seen. If they can get video games to operate seamlessly over the cloud, what keeps them from integrating movies, video's, music, TV, and providing an even greater service premium?

X-RS
X-RS

wait, didnt sega already try this anyways?

X-RS
X-RS

screw paying for 10010101's, when i throw down 50 or 2 bucks i AT LEAST want a disc, never mind nanual/case/jackets.

Tandem_Toad
Tandem_Toad

XanderZane, so true. Also, if your own ISP goes down it's game over. I don't think many people are going to have an internet connection as fast as 5Mbps. That's considered pretty fast. Otherwise, all the current gamers are going to have to settle for standard definition. Not-to-mention, what about lag? How often does your ISP consistently give out your purchased bit rate? I'd rather buy and trade. Big console makers are still going to buy exclusives like they do now anyway.

XanderZane
XanderZane

"OnLive will offer access to games by way of a monthly subscription, where players will pay a monthly access fee and then pay additional costs, depending on whether they want to play games once or buy them for permanent play." What!?!? I have to pay a monthly fee and pay more to play the games as well? lol!! If it's anything like the Phantom, they are going to have a lot older game and even if you purchase them, you won't really own the game. It'll be store on OnLive's servers. People are also forgetting one thing. If those servers go down, it's "GAME OVER" for everyone. Say you have an hour and you want to play a game; you boot up the server and see "OnLive in maintenance! Come back later." lol!! Now what? I'll pass on this thing. I'm sure they will charge more a month then what WoW charges.

stephenc360
stephenc360

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

nate1222
nate1222

@Cicatraz ESP Yeah... I remember the Phantom. OnLive, however, seems to have a more accessible strategy. TV, PC, muliple broadband providers, etc.... Nonetheless, if OnLive pulls what steam does (no access to purchased content if your connection's out), it'll fail. Most people wind up going without internet every so often. They're NOT going to tolerate being denied what they've already paid for. I wouldn't. That's why I rarely deal with steam anymore.

K_M82
K_M82

onLive also provides rental service. you can see that from the trailer, you can rent the likes of mirror's edge or prince of persia for 5 days. that's what attract me the most. for most single player game, i only played it once, for about a week. then i moved on to a new one. the rental service (as long as we don't need to pay too much for it, i'll pay 10$ to rent a game for 5 days, hell most of us pays 15$ to watch movie ONCE in theater) is really great, i hope most games in onLive supports it, then i'll gladly subscribe to onlive even if i need to pay 20$ a month subscription fee.

xdeiri
xdeiri

no blue ray next gen, lol

cromwargod
cromwargod

I would not be surprised if there isn't 1 or even 2 exclusive games in the works from some of the current supporting developers. there has never been a platform that has not had their first party games, and I doubt this one will be the first. Plus, PC only games will be available on this service too.

joevit
joevit

If this works out well, This will cut into game systems and PC. Also it might just help with NVIDIA and ATi to stop tagging video cards so high. I think this would work. I know I would not jump up and get it. I wanna see how well it works.

duxter1
duxter1

i hope this works, i hate upgrading for newer pc games

Prime05
Prime05

Not gonna mess with this, I got DSL and I'm fine with it. Onlive games would crash with my internet connection. It is nice to see more competition, but with no first party games I'll pass. So will every Halo or God of War fan out there. I hope it sells just well enough so I can by the PS3 games I want at a more reasonable price. Thanks and No Thanks in advance OnLive!

Link_86
Link_86

I shall remain skeptical on this. A monthly subscription, and then you have to pay more for games you permanently want? I can see this not working out as well as they think it will. What are we talking here... maybe 10 bucks a month for the actual subscription part. Oh, hey I wanna buy this game... that's gonna be another 30 bucks per game. In the long run... that would cost more than a console and a few games. I still have all my old games, I still play them too. If I didn't want that particular game at the time (to buy), and then a year later, I wanna play it again... would I be screwed because they took it off for another game? I don't see this doing that great. But that's just me.

veitari
veitari

jesse757x, there was also some mention of a subscription. Personally, I prefer it as it is. This is a nice alternative, but I prefer to be able to play my games when I want, not at the whim on the servers and my appauling internet connection (And upgrading isn't an option. Well, it is, but all that means is it would cost more for the same lousy performance). That said, if people like this idea, then great. I hope it works well. I would just like the option to also buy a hard copy alot cheaper than the prices publishers seem to throw at us, as well as the reasons above. Above all though, I'm not a fan of the pay-to-play buisness model publishers like EA seem to want to push us all towards. If I'm playing a single player, I shouldn't have to keep paying for it when I already payed full price to even use it.

alz619
alz619

Man i feel sorry for all the businesses that rely on pre-owned game sales.

GANGSTASAN
GANGSTASAN

OHHH damn... I'm excited but.... WHY NOW? WHy not in the next gen of gaming? whats going to happen to nvidia and Ati? Since this thing excludes the requirements of a GPU for such powerful games.... I wanted to get a PS3 as well

kryptin
kryptin

I'd love this as I haven't been able to play a new PC release since around 2002 as I hate spending a ton on upgrading when I only need it for a couple games while with consoles you rarely need to spend money to upgrade.

viewtiful_jay
viewtiful_jay

I think this is an interesting premise at the least. I'm skeptical though, at performance. I'm sure the demos they got there are streaming from a server right there in the building with a 1Gb ethernet connection. There's a huge world of difference between that and even 5Mbps cable. I can see some genres working well with it. Strategies, RPGs, etc. FPS games, probably not so much. I just don't see this actually performing anywhere near as well as they're suggesting once it has to deal with a narrower pipe and higher latency of today's internet connections.

darkknight109
darkknight109

Am I the only luddite who isn't the slightest bit interested in this? What's wrong with buying an actual, physical game? When did the ability to hold something in your hands suddenly become a detriment? Personally, I'm hoping this will just be a flash in the pan, but given the industry support it's getting, it may just work.