Tag Archives | OnLive

Wow, OnLive’s Subscription Plan Costs $10 Per Month

OnLive still has a lot of kinks to work out with its cloud gaming service and MicroConsole set-top box, but they’re easier to overlook when you can have unlimited gaming for $10 per month.

The so-called PlayPack plan, announced alongside today’s MicroConsole launch, will have more than 40 back-catalog games when it becomes available on January 15. Subscribers can still purchase or rent newer games a la carte, and they can suspend subscriptions for up to a year without losing their saved game data.

For now, folks who buy the MicroConsole can try the plan for free in beta, which includes 15 games to start. John Spinale, OnLive’s vice president of games and media, says new games will land on the subscription package, and on the service in general, on a weekly basis.

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OnLive MicroConsole Review: Future Imperfect

OnLive is instant gratification tempered with disappointment, a glimpse at the future of video games that constantly reminds you that we’re not there yet.

The value proposition: Subscribe to OnLive, and you’ll never have to buy another game console or graphics card. The service streams video games as compressed audio and video from remote servers with minimal effort from your own hardware. Although OnLive launched for Windows PCs and Macs in June, the service takes a major step this week with the MicroConsole, a tiny $99 television set-top box and game controller that starts shipping on Thursday.

I’ve been playing around with a loaned MicroConsole from OnLive, and while I wouldn’t dare abandon my Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 for it right now, I won’t rule out the future that OnLive keeps promising.

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OnLive MicroConsole Costs $99, Subscription Option Coming

Although OnLive’s cloud gaming service is able to run on almost any computer, the key to success could lie in its MicroConsole, a tiny TV set-top box that’s still unreleased.

That’ll change on December 2, when the OnLive MicroConsole launches for $99 with a controller. One free game will also be included as a holiday promotion, and pre-orders are starting now. Games on the service cost between $4 and $9 to rent and $5 to $50 to “own” (access to the games, which stream from remote servers, is guaranteed for at least three years).

The cost of the MicroConsole is less than I was expecting, but just as interesting, I think, is this line at the bottom of OnLive’s press release:

“In addition to its rental and Full PlayPass plans, later this year OnLive will add a monthly flat-rate plan, providing unlimited access to a broad library of quality games and indie titles.”

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OnLive Needs to Embrace Its Streaming Ways

Streaming is not just a delivery method for media, it’s a business model, but I don’t think OnLive realizes that.

Earlier this week, OnLive announced that it dropped subscription fees from its cloud gaming service, which handles all the intensive processing of modern video games on its own servers and sends back compressed video that runs on pretty much any computer. OnLive launched in June and was already giving away free 12-month subscriptions, normally $5 per month, as an introductory offer.

By dropping subscriptions, OnLive can bring in curious users without demanding credit card information. With free membership, people can still play game demos and eavesdrop on other gaming sessions. Rentals are available in three- and five-day increments, but if players want full access, prices are on par with retail, and guaranteed to run for at least three years. That’s where the offer gets icky.

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OnLive's Online, But What About Gaikai?

On the opposite side of the Los Angeles Convention Center from OnLive’s glitzy E3 booth, Dave Perry held a small briefing in a cubicle to talk about his own cloud gaming service, Gaikai.

Perry wanted to clarify that Gaikai is “the ultimate lead ever for a publisher,” as opposed to a full-blown gaming service for consumers. He’s positioning Gaikai as a try before you buy service, kind of like the InstantAction service that debuted in April, but with all the heavy graphics processing done on remote servers, allowing for immediate access to the latest PC games. The idea is to let publishers, and eventually gaming websites, embed video games directly into the browser, so readers can instantly try the game instead of watching trailers or looking at screenshots.

This stands in stark contrast to OnLive, which on Thursday launched its subscription service. Though OnLive subscribers can play demos for free, the service is less of a promotional tool for publishers and more of a final stop for gamers who have committed to spending money.

In my meetings with OnLive and Gaikai, each company displayed a gentle animosity toward the other. Perry said his data centers are going to “end up in rings around [OnLive’s],” and claimed that each of his servers can run many more virtualizations. He also questioned OnLive’s subscription model; Gaikai won’t charge anything to consumers, and will instead charge publishers, likening server time to advertising.

OnLive’s director of games and media development, Joe Bentley, said he has yet to see Gaikai in action. Though Perry showed embedded streaming games — along with software such as Adobe Photoshop — on a PC and an Xbox 360, the server was in the same room. OnLive’s E3 demos were running on a server in Silicon Valley.

My problem with Gaikai is the disconnect between trying a game and buying it. Let’s say you play the first 20 minutes of a game through your Web browser and are persuaded to buy. Then what? Do you start a lengthy download through Steam? Run to GameStop to buy the boxed version? The ideal solution would be a full cloud gaming service that players could easily jump to once their trials end, because once you’ve experienced instant gratification, it’s hard to go back.

That’s why I think Gaikai’s advertising service and OnLive’s subscription package would work wonderfully together, if only they could stop sniping at each other.


OnLive: It's Live!

Today, I played Unreal Tournament III on an iPad, thanks to OnLive. It was impossible to control, of course — it’s just a proof of concept that’s not available in the App Store — but it worked, proving that OnLive’s cloud gaming service can stream modern PC games to just about anything — but just Mac or PC for now.

Today, the service goes live, and at a price that’s making me eat my words.

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OnLive’s Cost Still Looks Like a Sticking Point

Now that OnLive has finally revealed some pricing details, the cloud gaming service is looking more than ever like a dubious proposition.

OnLive will cost $15 per month when it launches on June 17, but that price won’t let you play any full games. You’ll still have to rent or purchase games to stream to your computer in addition to the monthly charge, at prices that are still undisclosed. Even if it costs less to rent or play a game — and it probably will, given that OnLive promises lower distribution costs compared to retail — OnLive will have a tough time competing with actual hardware for all but the most dedicated gamers.

Let’s say you spend $300 on a new console every five years. That’s $5 per month, already less than a subscription to OnLive. Now, let’s say you buy one new game every two months, at $60 each (a very generous estimate given that average game ownership per console hovered around six games after 24 months in this generation ), you’re basically spending $35 every month. That means publishers have to charge $40 or less for a game through OnLive (which makes $70 every two months when you add in the subscription) to make the proposition worthwhile.

Even if publishers are willing to go that low, the consumer is making concessions. Yes, you get instant gratification and the ability to play anywhere, but you lose the ability to buy, trade or sell used games, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to play what you bought 10 years from now. If OnLive goes belly up, so does your entire game library. And I wonder, if you decide to stop playing games for a year or two (say, you’re raising a baby), can you recover your library when you’re ready to start playing again?

The prospect of game rentals raises more questions. How much will an OnLive rental cost and how long will it last? In other words, how long do you have to rent a game before it becomes more feasible to “buy” it? Will the amount you spent on the rental be credited towards the purchase price?

I’m still willing to give OnLive the benefit of the doubt that its technology will work (despite one rogue report), and that cloud gaming itself isn’t a bad idea. But on pricing alone it’s too early to call OnLive a console killer.

Article updated to fix calculations.


The Press Tries OnLive, Results Not Stellar

Almost a year after OnLive promised to uproot everything we know about game consoles and PC rigs, a journalist broke into a closed private beta and reported his findings. The results leave something to be desired, but they also don’t give OnLive a fair shake.

OnLive shocked the games industry last March by announcing a cloud gaming service that could run even the most demanding PC games. The idea was to process games on remote servers, equipped with the latest technology, then send compressed data to the player, who would need only a low-end PC. Since then, no one in the press has been allowed to try the service, but PC Perspective’s Ryan Shrout gained unauthorized access through “a friend of a friend of a friend.”

The bad news? Games don’t look as good as they would on a high-end PC. Resolution topped out at 1280-by-720, and games looked sharper and cleaner on the local system than they did over OnLive, even when reduced to that resolution.

The really bad news is latency, which Shrout said was noticeable at best and terrible at worst. While the racing game Burnout: Paradise felt okay, the first-person shooter Unreal Tournament 3 was unplayable due to its reliance on lightning-quick reflexes.

There is, however, a big caveat to this experiment: Shrout was playing from outside the southern California area, where beta testing is happening, and OnLive showed a warning message saying he was experiencing high latency. He claims that lag measured 85 ms. OnLive once said that 35 ms to 40 ms is typical, and 80 ms is on the high-end.

Shrout also acknowledges that lag becomes less noticeable when using a game pad instead of the mouse and keyboard. Combine that with lower latency, and you might have a service that passes muster.

Though I’m somewhat skeptical about lag, OnLive’s business model has always worried me most. Word is that the service will combine a base subscription with individual game purchases, but we’ve yet to see actual numbers. Until we can measure how OnLive’s price measures up to the status quo, I’m not convinced it’ll revolutionize anything.


Skepticism Catches Up to Cloud Gaming

cloudgamingWhen OnLive revealed its plans last week for a streaming computer game service, it was hard to pick out the criticism with all the buzz in the air. Admittedly, I didn’t bother to question the service’s technical feasibility (I’m still fixated on whether OnLive can really compete on pricing), but now that the dust has settled, there’s plenty of skepticism to go around.

If you missed it, OnLive is supposed to stream high-end PC games to practically any computer with an Internet connection. It does this by handling all the processing on its own servers, and then sending packets of compressed data to the player. A day after OnLive’s unveiling, former Acclaim creative director Dave Perry announced a similar service, called Gaikai.

Shortly after OnLive’s big reveal, an article in Eurogamer challenged the service on processing power and compression abilities. At one point, the article claims OnLive would have to run games at 1,000 frames per second to achieve its claims of 1 ms latency. A video encoding specialist literally laughed out loud when Eurogamer described OnLive’s plans. Still, OnLive is supposedly using new technology, so I’m a little wary of Eurogamer’s argument myself. OnLive founder Steve Perlman told the BBC that Eurogamer wrote “a very ignorant article” that improperly conflates framerate and latency.

Now, a new nugget of doubt has arrived. Crytek, the company behind PC gaming’s gold standard, Crysis, said its own research found that cloud gaming won’t be feasible until 2013. OnLive is scheduled to launch later this year. “They have to provide fast bandwidths and connectivity in order to allow such technology to excel,” CEO Cevat Yerli told GamesIndustry.biz. “So as it was dependent on somebody else, we decided to wait.”

On a related note, Business Insider’s Eric Kangel wonders whether cloud gaming will die if Internet service providers adopt bandwidth caps. Certainly, the dollar per gigabyte model that Time Warner Cable is testing in some cities could make the cost of OnLive and Gaikai spiral out of control.

All of this reinforces what skeptics have been saying all along: Successful tech demos and a bundle of licensing agreements with publishers only go so far. Eventually, cloud gaming will simply have to prove itself in the field.


OnLive Will Change Gaming Forever. Or Will It?

onliveThere’s a sweet, sweet buzz in the air this week with the unveiling of OnLive, a start-up computer game service that’s inspiring eerie prophecies on the demise of the console and the subsequent rebirth of PC gaming.

It’s a tall order, and I love being a skeptic, but we’ll get to that later. First, let’s talk about the concept.

To use an appropriate buzzword, OnLive is cloud gaming. Instead of relying on $5,000 water-cooled PC rigs with alphabet soup specs, OnLive handles all the processing on its own servers. Thanks to once-impossible compression methods, the data comes to the player over the Internet, allowing even $400 netbooks to play Crysis.

OnLive plans to demonstrate 16 games this week, but some reporters, such as Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat, have already watched a preview, and they like what they see. In addition to smooth gaming, OnLive offers player-friendly features such as voice chat and video sharing. With a small device, televisions can run the games in standard definition or 720p high definition.

Game publishers like the idea because it takes the focus off individual consoles and emphasizes the games instead. The possibility of cutting Gamestop out of the equation couldn’t hurt, either, as it puts more money into publisher’s pockets and less into the used game business. Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive, Atari, THQ, Codemasters, Eidos,  Warner Bros., Epic Games and Ubisoft have already signed distribution deals.

With all this in mind, here’s my counterargument to the prophecies:

It seems like OnLive has all the bases covered, but if there’s one serious vulnerability, it’s what we don’t know. The service will be offered as a monthly subscription — presumably, it has to be done this way to pay for server upkeep — but there’s no word yet on pricing or service plans. Obviously that information would be premature now, but eventually OnLive will have to figure out how to attract enough monthly payments to stay viable as a business.

A little rough math shows that a new console every five years and three new games per year (that’s basically the consumption rate we’ve seen in the latest generation, according to Gamasutra) works out to roughly $22 per month, but the actual number depends on the individual player. To truly disrupt that model, I wonder what price OnLive will have to offer and whether it can afford to do so.

I’m not saying the service has no chance of obliterating the existing games industry, but we can’t rule out peaceful coexistence just yet.