Today, OnLive announced that its cloud gaming service will be accessible via mobile devices--including Apple's iOS-powered hardware as well as most Android tablets and phones--on December 8. To be clear, this is different from the OnLive viewer that lets users watch live gameplay and clips from the service's users. This is the full-blown OnLive service that, in essence, lets you play OnLive's library of games in a manner more portable than even a laptop affords.
Put in more crucial terms, you can play games like Batman: Arkham City on your smartphone if you have the aforementioned hardware. Does that have your attention?
For those not familiar with what OnLive does or how this is even possible, here's the basic idea: The service is built around ultra-low-latency video streams sent out by a server that also hosts the game you're playing, whether it's on a PC or through the diminutive OnLive console that plugs into a TV. As you press buttons or perform various actions, a signal is sent back to the server to tell it to perform the corresponding action. Previously, OnLive worked only with a wired Internet connection and had connection requirements that were a bit too demanding for the population, but since that time, the service has dramatically improved, allowing for Wi-Fi and generally slower connections than before.
In fact, the service and its streaming video compression technology have improved enough to be functional even over 3G (and older iterations of 4G) and on tablets and phones, but OnLive admits that Wi-Fi is still the way to go if you want optimal visual clarity and performance. However, if you live in an area that supports 4G LTE and have a device that can operate on that band, then you might be surprised to find that OnLive works well, according to company representatives. While we witnessed the service running over Wi-Fi (and it ran well during a recent meeting and in the GameSpot offices), we did not get to see it running on an LTE network since AT&T has yet to roll that out in the San Francisco area.
Of course, this advancement leads to the most important question of them all: How do you actually play all of these games on these devices? The good news is that most tablets and smartphones are Bluetooth-equipped devices and therefore can be paired with an OnLive controller, which, as silly as it may sound, effectively makes a smartphone more of a gaming device than ever before. It's also worth mentioning that if you prefer better controller response time, you can even use a USB dongle on some devices that not only offers a better signal over that of Bluetooth technology, but also supports up to four controllers at once. There will be around 150 games, such as Arkham City, with controller support available at launch.
About 30 games, including Lego Batman and Split Second, will have touch-screen support, but there's an important distinction to make about the type of touch-screen support available. Some games, like Split Second, will make use of a controller overlay that shouldn't be unfamiliar to those who already play games on their mobile devices. OnLive said that it has gone to great lengths to heavily customize these overlays to correspond to the type of experience, so the overlay for a racing game is much different from that of a sports game like Virtua Tennis.
But what's significant, and ultimately a testament to the kind of relationships OnLive has developed with publishers, are the games that have controls completely readapted for the touch-screen experience, like Rockstar's L.A. Noire. Instead of implementing an overlay that merely mimics the controller inputs, L.A. Noire is completely playable using only your fingers to gesture what you want Cole Phelps to do. Both OnLive and Rockstar felt that L.A. Noire's gameplay and mechanics were perfectly suited for the overhaul. And this is only the beginning of things to come in regard to exclusive content for OnLive, which the company hopes will start surfacing over the next year.
All of this puts OnLive in a supremely unique and favorable position as a platform holder, especially when you consider that, outside of the laptop-with-Steam combination, it's the only one that can offer games on just about any piece of technology you can get your hands on--Blu-Ray players and TVs included. But when you consider the user base of the mobile universe (iOS devices accounted for over 200 million of that base back in June of 2011), all of a sudden you're dealing with a much larger audience and a financially viable option for publishers that didn't necessarily exist before.
Then there's the issue of piracy. As much as people dislike the fact that OnLive uses no physical media or local installs for individual games, publishers love it because it means there's no piracy involved. All of a sudden it becomes a little clearer why Rockstar would take the time to redo the controls for a new, touch-screen-enabled version of L.A. Noire.
The only major hurdle OnLive has is an audience that demands optimal visual quality and control response, particularly in competitive instances. And to be fair, competitive multiplayer is a huge aspect of gaming thanks to the first-person shooters out there. But OnLive may have just cracked into an area where that same audience is willing to be a little bit forgiving because it has just became that much easier to play any major game, anywhere, and at any time on a device that you probably already own.