The recent troubles of OnLive have brought the area of cloud gaming, something that’s been a little quiet since Sony’s purchase of Gaikai (on my birthday strangely enough), back to the forefront of the gaming community. Not only do OnLive’s issues raise questions about some of their business practices and decisions, something I’m not going to focus on here, but it means the whole area of cloud gaming needs to be looked at again.
The question, for me, is whether or not a cloud gaming service can survive by itself, or if it’s simply OnLive’s approach that was at fault? I mean OnLive’s attempt to create a new category of gaming device is certainly praiseworthy, but I’m not sure if the way in which they’ve done it is necessarily the best approach.
The problem is that people seem to have this all you can eat perception of streaming services, likely created by the video offerings of companies like Netflix and LoveFiLM, or Spotify’s unlimited music service. The success of these services does seem to show that people have a space in their life for media consumption where you don’t own the media, although earlier physical video rental (like Blockbuster) had already shown that people don’t need to own everything they watch.[videoyoutube]Unfortunately for OnLive they didn’t go with the unlimited gaming approach from the off, although they were quick to introduce the Playpack which is probably as close to unlimited as the current model of video game licensing would allow them to get. In spite of the Playpack, OnLive always seemed to be more focussed on selling games, a much tougher proposition. However, given Steam’s success with a similar model, I think it really is the streaming aspect that makes OnLive a hard sell (at least as a games retail service).
Partly I suppose that’s due to the inherent technological challenges of streaming video, let alone an interactive streaming service. Personally if I’m only paying £6.99 a month, the currently listed price for the Playpack, I’m much more likely to be forgiving towards the service than if I have to pay for each game I want to play individually, despite the reduced prices that OnLive seems to offer.
The other mistake that OnLive made, and something they may have to address if they want the new incarnation of the company to survive, was attempting to make OnLive its own service. If they’d done what Gaikai did and partnered with other companies, before ultimately selling themselves to Sony, I can’t help but feel OnLive would have had a much better shot.
Trying to build their brand and their own identity was always going to be a tougher challenge than building themselves as part of say Xbox Live. Attempting to create a technology that could then be included in another platform may not have been as high profile or as “sexy”, but it may well have allowed them to build a more secure base for themselves.
Of course it’s worth remembering that this isn’t a eulogy for OnLive, the service still exists although the company has, obviously, changed drastically (and isn’t even the same entity). Maybe they’ll manage to change their business model in such a way that allows them to continue, or simply sell out to a bigger entity that can afford to support them.
I’m not sure their setback shows we’re not ready for cloud gaming though, merely that we’re not quite ready for cloud gaming as a distinct entity. I’m not sure we ever will be to be honest, but I hope someone manages to nail the formula for solo cloud success.