What If: OnLive Takes Off?

After a week away at the repair shop TSA has finally had its microwave returned to it. Of course it was my own fault for breaking it during mine and Gastos’s last trip, but once it arrived back we were keen to get back on to our time adventuring ways. Unfortunately during the repair it seems that the tuning of the microwave (it’s really a precision instrument) had been messed with during the repairs. Of course you can’t blame the repair men, most microwaves don’t need tuning, but when you’re using your microwave for time travel the tuning is everything. So what were the results of our timing misfortune I hear you cry? Well I’ll tell you, that’s sort of the point of this whole story now isn’t it?

Gastos and I had intended to go back to the routes of gaming and look at Pong. I mean you can’t really get much further back can you? Sadly with our detuned microwave we were sent hurtling into one a multitude of possible futures rather than the fixed past. Once we arrived and established where we’d mistakenly ended up with the classic time traveler trick of looking at a newspaper with a look of mild shock and confusion on our faces. We were around 4 years into the future. Of course whilst we were only in one of any number of possible futures we decided to make the most of it now we were there. Whilst Gastos tried to retune the microwave enough to get us back home I took a look around at the gaming of the future we’d accidentally stumbled into.

So what was different in the world of 2013? One thing: OnLive. After a little research I found that whilst OnLive’s 2009 launch in the US had been more than a little shaky, it was still leaps and bounds ahead of any competition. With their existing funding being quickly supplemented by subscriber fees in the regions they were operating in they expanded to cover the whole of the continental United States, and then north into Canada by the end of 2010. From this strong base they made tentative expansions into Europe via the UK. Whilst the UK may not have been the most obvious location to expand into with its less than stellar broadband network, its size and relatively significant place in the games marketplace made it seem a relatively obvious choice for expansion. Data centers were built in Edinburgh and Southampton giving good coverage to the whole country with significant overlap. Given the size of the UK the thousand mile limitation could easily have been filled by one data center, but to compensate for the broadband network and to ensure good coverage for the European launch of the service data centers were built in Southampton and Edinburgh ensuring that almost the entire mainland UK was within 200 miles of a data center providing a very good coverage network for the UK, particularly compared the US service. An Olympic themed launch was made to much fanfare in 2012 and the service quickly began to grow in the UK and expand into mainland Europe.

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So was the effect of all this success, and what was the cause of it all? Well the essential key for OnLive was living in the environment they served. That is they read commentary on the internet, on websites like TSA in fact, about the potential launch of their service and made a very savvy business decision. They tried to appeal to the ‘otaku’, the ‘core’ gamers. This is a marketing strategy that some companies take, particularly with consumer electronics. You appeal to the people who need to know everything about the industry, who need to know every fact and have every gadget. You even send out some free stuff to peak their interest more. You make sure they enjoy it (that they really enjoy it) and then they spread the word for you. It’s sort of like the media reviewing products, but more grassroots. People are bugging their friends to buy the product/use the service and thus it grows. Considering the general critique of this market on OnLive (they like physical media, they want to own it), the service was pitched against rental services like LoveFilm and GameFly.

Putting it firmly in the rental market, rather than the purchase market gave the service a huge edge over other services, particularly in the US where people didn’t want to pay for separate GameFly and Netflix subscriptions. The “instant on” functionality also appealed to many, not having to wait for games to come through the post. As I said before the service wasn’t perfect, but improvements were quick and effective. With the deals with a variety of publishers already arranged before the service went live, disk based rental services were slowly overtaken in areas where broadband penetration was good. Of course without OnLive targeting the retail market, that continued to flourish. There was still a significant chunk who wanted their games via disk and thus the market stayed largely unchanged, although OnLive quickly moved into a referral deal with Amazon with “Buy It” link placed beside titles on the service.

My research complete I returned to Gastos to find our microwave retuned and ready to go home from this possible age of digital rentals. Now where shall we go next week?

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