OnLive Drops Monthly Fee for Cloud Gaming Service

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And just like that, OnLive, the fledgling full-featured cloud video gaming service for Windows and Mac computers, is free.

Well, still free anyway. The service, which launched in June, hasn't actually reached into anyone's pockets yet. But it was poised to pull $14.95 a month out after the one year founding membership and a second promotional year at a discount $4.95 a month expired.

"It's official," reads the announcement at OnLive's official blog. "There will be no base monthly fee for the OnLive Game Service going forward."

That means free instant-play demos, free "massive spectating," free "brag clip" videos, messaging, and friending. Or if you care to split hairs, still free, since that stuff already is.

It's hard to gauge the timing of the announcement or how it reflects on the service's performance to date. It certainly seems premature. Are the service's investors muscling OnLive for bigger numbers?

And bear in mind it's not really free: You still have to pay real prices for the games--no using games you've already purchased elsewhere. And once they're purchased, they're locked to OnLive--no playing offline or installing to your local hard drive.

Then again, OnLive Founder and CEO Steve Perlman has a point: You can always use the service just to fiddle with a demo of a console or PC game before buying it. OnLive's hoping you choose to buy (and play) through them, but you're certainly not obligated to.

OnLive's explanation for the sudden course change:

"Although we wish we could have confirmed no monthly fee from the get-go, pioneering a major new video game paradigm is hard: we had to first grow to a large base of regular users before we could understand usage patterns and operating costs," wrote Perlman. "Now that we've reached that stage, we can confidently say a monthly fee is not needed..."

Perlman also teased an upcoming feature designed to let you stream the service to your TV and play using OnLive Game Pad Controllers (according to Perlman, "Founding Members get first dibs"), said more international announcements were coming, and noted the company's plans to continually "[improve] video quality and lower latency."

Rough edges notwithstanding, I'd say it's pretty remarkable what they've pulled off so far, considering some had claimed the company was battling basic physics to get up and running. And heck, now it's free indefinitely, no credit card required, so there's no harm in taking it out for a spin.

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