OnLive is back, though in truth it was never really gone, merely in a lengthy hibernation of sorts. The servers kept puttering away, supporting the existing customers, but the company has been rebuilding itself, redefining itself and now, relaunching itself.
At the core of this new vision is a two pronged approach to the business of video game streaming, coming from a new management team with plenty of experience in the field of internet streaming. Bruce Grove, General Manager of OnLive, sat down with us to explain the new push and the two plans – one which addresses the needs and wants of gamers and one aiming at other companies.
Aimed towards other companies, OnLive Go, to my mind fills the gap left by Sony’s purchase of Gaikai, giving companies like Gaijin the ability to eliminate the long wait for the initial download of War Thunder and let people jump right into the free to play title and start playing by streaming and at high quality settings.
But for gamers it’s the consumer-facing service which matters. As the average internet speed has improved, the technical obstacles that OnLive faced have shrunk. Faster connections are more readily available, they’ve been able to expand their server network and so on. The trickier problem is what games you can play, and CloudLift is their solution.
It marks a significant shift in strategy, from being another distinct and separate store front and streaming service (though these and the PlayPack subscription will continue) to a subscription service which takes your own personal PC games collections and lets your stream them wherever you want.
“The idea is to make it be like Netflix or like any other streaming video service in that respect,” Bruce explained, “that by giving you the benefit to play across all these different devices, there’s a fee that comes with that. You own the game, and we’re extending the reach of that game through our technology.”
Initially, CloudLift is wrapped around just Steam, leveraging their cloud save system to give you access to your game data on a PC, Mac or Android device with a steady connection, without having to lug around a chunky gaming laptop or try to stream from your home machine.
Just as Steam is the starting point as a service, there’s a starting point for the catalogue of games that this will work with, and Warner Bros., Deep Silver and a freshly inked deal with Codemasters were highlighted as helping to fill an early selection of 250 titles. More deals are in the works, and simple conjecture would say that collaborations with Ubisoft and EA hang upon integrating with uPlay and Origin. But for publishers, it’s a case of why not?
“Part of the story was going to some of the publishers and showing them a game that they knew they hadn’t given to us, up and running in this environment,” said Bruce. “That’s a great way of demonstrating it, to say, ‘Look. Remember how difficult this was? We’ve really solved that now.'”
Rather than requiring access to the code, making tweaks and changes to suit OnLive, they now run the basic .exe file, just as you would on your home PC. It’s a change which will allow OnLive to be there on day one much easier than before, instead of turning up late to the launch party.
Asking about that relationship with Steam, Bruce replied, “We’re not doing something that conflicts with what they’re doing. Steam is about bringing people onto the Steam platform, and we’re doing that, so that’s not a bad thing!
“The way their technology works just supports this, so that’s perfect and we can take advantage of it. As they talk about things like SteamOS and bring out Steam Boxes, this comes to the idea that we want the users to own their games, but what we do is then make those games available in other places. It’s complimentary, not about taking away from that.”
At the core of the system is that your save files will zip back and forth, but this is integration to the extent that you will be able to bring up the Steam overlay in game, letting you join friends online and play together. Additionally, buying a game from OnLive will get you a key to unlock on its native DRM system – again, this means Steam for the time being. It gives you ownership of that game to play on native hardware, as a friendlier and more inviting proposition.
Explaining the system, Bruce said, “If you buy a game through OnLive and get the key through us, you won’t need a CloudLift subscription, it will just be applied to your library. But we’ll also give you a week of CloudLift for free.
“So if you’re buying a key from us, you’re still buying that game for your platform, so you’ve got that ownership, and now you can try OnLive. There’s no commitment to trying it, it’s about trying to let people get comfortable with it and get on board, and if it works for them, that’s great.”
Even with improving internet connections, getting it to work could still be a sticking point for some. On the server, the games are all rendered at 720p60, before being beamed to your device, but the base connection speed needed for 720p is 5mbps.
For comparison purposes, I was able to play Batman: Arkham Origins on a MacBook Air with a gamepad plugged in and also sample the game on an Nvidia Shield Android device.
Piped over a speedy 50mbps connection, it was much closer to a home console experience than I’d personally seen before. Even returning home to a paltry 6mbps connection was more playable than my previous experiences, on both my ageing Macbook Pro and breaking out an OnLive microconsole with short play tests over a wired connection.
OnLive was always an interesting service for those that could make use of it but this relaunch makes it a much more focussed product. It’s made all the more tempting by its new streamlined approach, getting some or all of a user’s existing library into the OnLive ecosystem and the lack of competitors in PC gaming that they now have, thanks to Sony’s redirection of Gaikai. They’re left with no competitors in the PC gaming arena and plenty of potential partners.
On Gaikai, James Beaven, European Communications for OnLive, sees the former competing service as a benefit to OnLive’s mission “game streaming is great at solving problems. In Sony’s case they’re looking at solving for backwards compatibility on the PS4,” he says, “we don’t necessarily see that as directly competitive, and frankly, what they’re doing with PS Now is drawing more attention to the cloud gaming space.”
OnLive’s new direction is certainly a bold and interesting one, shifting focus on the consumer side quite drastically to one designed to supplement your current gaming diet. It feels like a logical move to make and one with a clearer, albeit niche, appeal.