The general idea of the service can be stated as "Games on demand" (similar to movies on demand). The user gets a client for the OnLive service, which can be either software client in form of a computer program, or hardware client in form of a “microconsole” - a small box which is connected to broadband Internet and to TV via HDMI connection. Then the user is connected to OnLive server and can play any game he or she wants. The came runs on the OnLive servers, and the image, sound and control commands are transmitted between the client and the service over the Internet. So, essentially, your TV (or computer) becomes just a remote terminal for OnLive servers.
I've heard already some talks about OnLive being the tomorrow of the gaming and about the imminent death of consoles as we know them now (and of PC gaming as well). From my point of view, these claims are a quite exaggerated (to say the least). First, the service currently works with maximal resolution of 1280 x 720, that is in 720p mode. From what I understand, this is a limit imposed by the bandwidth (actually, I think it is a miracle they provide stable image at this resolution!). As you can see, the resolution is even worse than 1080p, provided by Xbox and PS3 , to say nothing about decent gaming PCs. Another fact is lag. At the expo the demo run from the server located approximately 50 miles away from the convention center, and the feeling of the games was OK – though even with server that close I felt some “softness” of the control – not a lag, just some unusual feeling. In real life the distance to server will be significantly larger, and this effect will, probably become more noticeable.
So, I think hardcore gamers will not switch completely to this service. As for more casual gamers – this, of course, will depend heavily on OnLive pricing system. From what the OnLive representative told me, they are still unsure about the model, but, most probably, they will charge the users some subscription fee, and then charge some amount per game. Until we know more about the prices, it will be hard to tell whether it will be less expensive to use the service, or, maybe, in the long run the purchase of a console will be more financially reasonable.
Another interesting thing about OnLive is that it makes easy to continue playing your game when you are traveling – as soon as there is a good broadband connection, the player can access the games from anywhere (if there is a server not too far, of course).
For developers OnLive might be interesting because of several features:
- Stable target platform – knowing target hardware will make development much easier;
- Direct distribution channel, with possibility to dynamically adjust pricing and get real-time business data;
- Reduced piracy and cheats.
Porting the games to OnLive platform is not transparent – developers will have to use special SDK (available for free) to implement, for example, save/load and multiplayer features in the new environment. As of now, there are no plans to support any sort of community or indie game development for OnLive.
By the way, as for now the multiplayer happens only within OnLive network – though in future it might change.
To sum it up: I don't think that OnLive will "kill gaming as we know it", but I do think that the service is extremely interesting and promising.