Some Reason’s Onlive Sucks

I just don’t get OnLive. It makes no sense to me whatsoever from a consumer standpoint.

First of all, let’s cut through some of the marketing hype.

Although they could compress a frame of video in 1ms, that doesn’t mean they can deliver it from the server back to the player’s screen in that time. It just means on their server they are compressing the rendered frame coming off the GPU in 1ms – which isn’t all that crazy if you’re using custom DSP chips. The time it takes to send your input (ie. game control) to their data center, process that input in the game engine on their server, output the result to a compressed video/audio stream, and return that video to the player is a different matter altogether.

But I really don’t get why consumers would want this anyway. You’re getting inevitably degraded video/audio quality (it must be so to compress it to the degree required). You can call something 720p due to the resolution – but it can still be chunky, blurry, washed out crap. Resolution is not the sole arbiter of image quality. Audio can likewise be severely degraded by aggressive compression. I think this is why OnLive keeps talking about “perceptual” science that goes into their service – in other words, how badly can they degrade the video, audio, and feedback experience before users balk. As someone who appreciates graphics and audio, I know I’m not going to have much threshold for tolerance in this regard.

Next, if you’ve got any lag issues you can’t play your games (even single player games). Want to play games at the house, or elsewhere where there is no decent broadband? You’re out of luck.

Further, although you’ve “bought” the games you must continue to pay for the service (plus potentially more for enhanced broadband to get your “high def” video) to access them. Right now, if I give my child a couple games for Christmas she can play them all year without any further costs – no ongoing subscription fee or more costly internet connection required. Also, she can resell the game (or trade it in) and get value back. She can loan it to a friend. Multiple members of the family can play it with their own save games (which is unclear how OnLive will handle this aspect).

If the OnLive service goes out of business, or decides to stop offering a game (due to a publisher pulling it) you lose the ability to play the games you “own”. Heck, I can still pull out the old SNES, N64, or other console and play those old classics. My first published retail game came out in 1997, and I can still pop the CD into my PC and play it with my daughter today. Will this future be lost with something like OnLive? Will the art form of games (to which some of us contribute) become completely transient – like smoke in the wind? Here today, gone (completely) tomorrow?

They keep comparing OnLive to somebody having to spend $3k on a top of the line gaming rig. But this is a complete farce. If you did buy a rig that expensive, you’d at least be enjoying full image and sound quality and good control feedback. But the truth is that people can buy a PS3 or Xbox 360 and get excellent quality graphics and sound for around $300. Even if you want to toss in a monitor (if you don’t have a TV), you are still sub $500 with everything. If you amortize this expense over the lifetime of your console (let’s say, 5 years) you’ve got a hardware expense of $100 per year. So if OnLive’s service costs you more than $8.33 a month you’re on the losing end of that equation – AND you’re not getting nearly the same quality of experience.

Let’s face it, more and more major titles are being released cross platform. So having a “unified” platform isn’t a big deal. Those titles that are exclusive to a console maker (like Mario for Nintendo, or Halo for MS) are NOT going to be releasing to OnLive. So that is going to leave OnLive with properties that are going to be dominantly cross platform anyway. And for those who think OnLive will “unify” the gaming market, do you honestly believe that they would exist for long without competition? And once competition enters, we get the whole exclusivity battles starting all over.

OnLive has to have data centers near to their customers (in order to make lag acceptable). They say 1,000 miles is the maximum (and I’m guessing a very poor experience at that distance). So they can’t really gain economies of scale in use. Consider that the majority of players in a given region are going to want to play at roughly the same time (the evening), and when new releases come out there will be a rush online. Given that a piece of hardware in the data center must be used to support each player, there will be a finite amount of resources. Will users of OnLive find themselves waiting in a queue, or unable to access their games, because all of OnLive’s servers in their regional data center are tied up?


About Eric Meek

Just an average, everyday Apple lover.
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