Tobold's Blog
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Is cloud gaming dead or OnLive?

Cloud gaming service OnLive this week entered a form of bankruptcy and layed off "over half" of its employees. The usual internet kerfuffle broke out, with accusations flying in all directions, as employees discovered that receiving company shares isn't much of a benefit if that company is broke and will never reach the IPO. During the explanations some interesting numbers emerged, like the company having 2 millions registered users and 8,000 servers, but people actually playing were only between 800 and 1,800 depending on the time of day.

Recent reviews suggest that this might be due to OnLive only working well if you have a very good broadband connection to the internet of over 5 Mbps. Personally, I live in a densely populated country and have 30 Mbps VDSL (a technology in which broadband speed is not shared, thus doesn't diminish at peak time); but many people either have slower internet, or have cable internet, where your speed goes down when your neighbor starts surfing the internet. Other concerns cited by various reviewers were a limited library of games, and newer games being somewhat expensive. On the plus side the service enabled you to play PC games on a dedicated $99 microconsole, your iPad, your Mac, or even your smartphone.

OnLive management insists that the service will continue, keeping things running to pay off the debts. And there are the usual patent disputes between it and the competition. But the wider question is whether cloud gaming is actually a good idea, and something we will see more of in the future when everybody's internet access is faster. And that question is related to questions over the viability of the multi-million dollar video game, as cloud gaming doesn't make sense to play Angry Birds. Will we reach a point where the savings on hardware and game price make it worth while to "rent" our games in the cloud and be able to play them just as well? I'm not sure.

sad if true. but it is entirely possible. such services would go well in countries like korea, where the infrastructure is uniformly covering high standards, but even in europe and america the actual wiring of the net is worse than most of us imagine. several years down the line though cloud gaming can try again.
I think they haven't found a financial model that will pay for it. Players clearly don't want to pay whatever the service costs to actually run.
The problem with OnLive isn't just the quality of the user's broadband. Input latency is a problem online game makers have to put a huge amount of effort into coping with, and that single-player games that represent the draw of OnLive simply don't even try to. They take it as a given that if the user presses a key, their code will know about it within microseconds.

Introduce 50ms of lag into that feedback loop with no compensation or masking, and the player's going to feel like something is off, it just doesn't feel right. Introduce 100ms, and they're going to hate the process of playing the game without quite knowing why.

OnLive can't fix the speed of light, or every crappy router on the internet, and they can't make games that weren't designed to cope with them play right when they have to.

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It will be written off as a pioneer that came in too early.
What Krasimir said. Come back to this post in five or ten years.

Every step-change in technology goes through this overhype and backlash phase, when what's promised is far beyond what can yet be achieved. Then a few years later, with a lot less fuss, we all wake up and realize the thing we thought had failed and gone away has become the new normal and we scarcely even noticed it happen.

I also vote for the typical disruptive technology prediction: it will underperform expectations in the short term and outperform in the long term.

I remember when the cloud applications came out. Now, I guess I would want a $50mm departmental budget in Excel, but I never use Excel any more, just Google Docs. I don't have to worry about PC or Mac or Excel 2003 or whether I am on the desktop or laptop or both.

Note also that as processor power grows, you can do more compression and processing on the iDevice; and your new iPad has the processing speed of the typical WoW computer of 200?.

Factors against CG:
currently does not work

Factors favoring CG:
Future of computing moving to mobile devices which people use and upgrade more frequently. Which also means Just Windows hurts sales far more than 2008.

Stagnant consoles - if you have a virtual console (CGSteam publishes a virtual machine definition, game developers design games that run in that virtual machine, players access with cloud), you can release cgBox360-2012 and cgBox360-2013 and. Whereas the console makers are maximizing profits over pushing the technology.

graphics drivers - not having to fight the config wars matrix of games, OS, directX and video drivers.

Mobile - 5 minutes in a coffee shop might be Angry Birds, but if you are doing a several day trip and just take your tablet no laptaop, then you may want access to your traditional time sinks.
it's worth noting that the iPad and smartphone clients were "view only", not play
Cloud gaming definitely has a future, it's called web games (browser games). It makes good profits, though the current crop of successful games mostly stick to the genre of "pvp strategy" like Travian.

Playing console games on your phone isn't very viable for a variety of factors, mostly having to do with controls and content "portions". Mobile games tend to come in much smaller content portions.

Also, there's the brand factor. People who play consoles know and love certain titles and developers (Halo, Bungie). Most PC gamers like myself are Blizzard fanboys, Tobold is partial to WoW as well.

Cloud gaming supposes truly global and cross-media brands, which exist at the publisher level (EA, ubisoft) but are not v. trusted as a symbol of quality. In fact, there's truly a lot of animosity at the mere mention of EA ruining ... (fill in the blank).

So to sum up, you need new brands (or old entering the space) and new games that are tailored to cloud gaming. Forget about playing WoW on your phone. It will never happen.
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