OnLive: Will it Beat Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii at Their Own Game?

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The Question of Prices and Games

Darren: no doubt, no doubt. I think the real tricks here -- besides the fat pipe hurdle -- will be getting the games and selling them at reasonable prices.

Sid: yeah, which is a bit of a sticking point. OnLive is charging a subscription fee just to access the free demos, right? Then it's another charge to buy or rent a game...

Darren: Hey, I'm not so sure I agree with you about that whole subscription fee issue. I mean, you look at Xbox 360's Live service and you're dropping 60 bones annually -- and that's on top of the price you're paying for the console. Plus the overpriced hard drive -- you dig where I'm going with this, sucka?

Now, the guys at Rearden Labs are talking a good game. They say how they'll time out releases with regular window of when titles hit store shelves. But what they aren't saying are 1) how much this system will cost, 2) how much the monthly / annual fee will be, and 3) how much the actual retail titles will sell for? I mean will I ever see savings on a digital downloaded game in my lifetime? It's not like someone is printing up a manual or burning a disc for me to play this.

Sid: All excellent points -- the proof will be in the pricing. The game library is of some concern as well. We saw versions of Crysis and Burnout playing during the OnLive demo. But without system-seller mascots like Master Chief or Kratos, OnLive might struggle to form an identity. Playing high-end PC games at maximum settings with great performance is all well and good, but I can't say it's something I'd jump at.

Darren: Have you actually played Crysis? Or Crysis Warhead? Dude, those are some solid games. And you don't see something like that running on a console (yet). And since EA is one of the partners signing on board for this, imagine playing a REAL RTS game on your TV. Red Alert 3, anyone? Don't know about you, but when I'm trying to play RTS games on a console (I'm looking at YOU Halo Wars) I want to wing my gamepad at the set and draw circles around units on-screen. Companies such as Warner Brothers, EA, and Epic Games, Ubisoft, Eidos, Atari Interactive, Take-Two Interactive, THQ and Codemaster already look like they are on board. Call me crazy, but I think that they might have a sweet game or two between 'em.

But I will concede one point: There need to be enough unique PC-only games out there to really sell this. Otherwise, there's nothing stopping someone from playing the same games on a console they already own. And not have to be online to play ‘em. Now if I were running this show, I'd scramble to hook up with the indie / casual gaming community and tap that braintrust to lock down some of the really cool, unique games that you usually see pop up on the PSN, and Xbox Live Arcade and WiiWare stores

Sid: I agree that Crysis is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, a little bit of that visual luster is stripped away due to the aggressive, high-speed video compression needed for OnLive. When I played Crysis, I definitely noticed visual artifacting that made colors look grittier and more banded, giving the overall impression of playing the game in one of those TV windows.

Darren: Yeah, I was noticing some muddiness as well (it wasn't as pronounced when I was racing around GRID) but I can forgive it a little right now. I mean, this is a closed alpha test version of a service that won't launch until sometime in waaaaay late 2009. So I'm holding my nit-pickery to a minimum for now.

Sid: BUT the real deal-breaker here may be the "Micro Console," which is the tiny, almost inconsequential breakout box that allows you to play OnLive games on your TV. This little guy was pretty slick -- HDMI output, 5.1 optical output, two USB ports for peripherals like mice and keyboards, packed in quite a few features in a tiny, iPod-like form factor. Did you catch the OnLive guys hinting that the Micro Console might be cheap enough to "give away" with a subscription to the OnLive service?

Darren: I don't think that'd be a deal-breaker, more a deal maker. I mean the ability to plug in a mouse and keyboard to play an RTS anywhere in the home doesn't sound like a pile of suck to me. And for something significantly less than the "usual" gaming PC...

Sid: Yeah, it sounds like we both think OnLive will have more consequences for the PC gaming market than the console market...for now, at least. Can you imagine living in a futuristic society where men don't need PS3s and Xboxes to play insanely gorgeous games? Someone pinch me, I feel like I'm living in a George Orwell book.

Darren: Right, and for all those jokers who pose as pundits proclaiming the death of PC gaming (surprise -- still not dead) this is a big fat Brooklyn cheer for them. I mean, people have been dreaming about this idea of a streaming console for a long time (ahem -- Phantom console, anyone?) but now the Internet bandwidth to support it is at least remotely feasible.

I mean, OnLive will let you spectate people play as well as join in games. Not too shabby. But going back to one thing that I am probably digging the most about this: If done right, the service can stick it back to resellers that are cashing in on used game sales. At those retail stores, they profiteer of old games, resell 'em, and not share any of the profits without the folks that actually make the games. I mean, the music and movie industries are figuring it out through the likes of iTunes and Hulu, but games are hugely demanding mediums. And I, for one, would love to see more money go back to the right people. Not vultures.

Sid: Good thought. You know you're making some powerful enemies here though, right?

Darren: Y'know, the funny thing is, in the past, developers used to be polite about retailers that resold used games. They'd grumble because it was basically the only game in town -- so to speak. Maybe it's a sign of the economic times. Maybe it's because digital download / streaming technology finally looks ready for real world use. Whatever the reason, developers and publishers want (and for what it's worth, I think they deserve) a bigger piece of the pie.They said as much at DICE back in February.

Think about how the Roku box and the NetFlix Instant Access Queue on the Xbox 360 started pushing people to sign up (I did). I'm not racing out to buy DVDs like I used to a year ago. All I'm saying is that, technology is blowing down all kinds of doors. I may still be a little skeptical if OnLive can pull off everything they are promising, but it's a promising-looking start.

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