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June 18th, 2010 in .News & Events
Suds McSoapdish
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Recently the rumor mill has been abuzz with stories of a new service called OnLive. This year’s E3 gaming show in Los Angeles, California was a good opportunity for the people behind OnLive, a new venture, to showcase what they infer is the ultimate cloud gaming portal available. While cloud entertainment and gaming products aren’t new, what makes OnLive special is that it’s no Farmville. This is full PC and Mac titles, full in the sense that they’re more like the packaged DVD ROM versions of games, streamed over the internet.

As a result of the heavy lifting and backend work being done by software on remote servers, users are not required to meet steep system requirements. Effectively, any PC or Mac will do, and in the near future, devices such as the iPad and Eee Pad may work as well. Do you realize where this is going? The traditional model of ever rising hardware needs to run ever more sophisticated gaming software may be challenged here, as so long as you have the right internet connection, it doesn’t matter really what kind of hardware you’re running it on.

Don't let the future sneak up on you. Image courtesy Ubisoft and OnLive.

The list of games available on OnLive is currently limited, but expected to grow, plus it already contains gems like Mass Effect 2, Borderlands, Splinter Cell Conviction, Assassin’s Creed 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum. The service is for both PC and Mac at the moment, but OnLive is also planning a console version that aims to hook up any TV with the internet, and thus stream those games directly onto the display, skipping the computer altogether.

While on the face of it OnLive takes cloud gaming to its next logical conclusion, there are a few caveats. First of all, the requirements list broadband connectivity of a minimum 5Mbps, sustained. That’s still not exactly run of the mill quality, as most people in the world are a few years removed from having this speed available 100% of the time, no matter where the server is located. Latency and distance remain huge hurdles to any online service. In this case, implications aren’t clear – what exactly happens if speeds dip below 5Mbps, OnLive doesn’t say, but presumably either game quality drops sharply or you’re outright disconnected.

Holy megabit per second, this could be huge! Image courtesy Eidos/Warner and OnLive.

Further, it’s not clear from perusing OnLive promo materials precisely which versions of the game you get for the purchase or rental fees forked over. It’s implied that they’re the full PC or Mac versions, but are all features available? And what’s the streaming resolution, is it just as flexible as when playing on traditional hardware? These aren’t readily answered by info OnLive has made available, guess time will tell.

Ezio Auditore, everyone! Image courtesy Ubisoft and OnLive.

The service will only apply in the 48 contiguous United States for the time being, we guess because trusting that 5Mbps figure to submerged optical cables is a big no-no for now,  plus there’s no Wi-Fi support, presumably because the quality of connections over wireless is even less predictable than wired high speed internet, and so OnLive can’t promise their base minimum functionality. That’s the core problem with all cloud services – is the internet speed infrastructure really mature enough to sustain all this? Are we at the level of power grid maturity, for example? Probably not, which is why there are these cautionary clauses in the OnLive system requirements section.

While the hardware requirements to run OnLive on a PC or Mac are minimal, and possibly in the near future will even be non-existent, the main question to answer is where is the connection? However, once that’s done, we’re definitely looking at a revolutionary step towards all-streaming gaming as opposed to the more physical model so well known and loved by tens of millions of gamers around the world.

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