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Introducing OnLive... and the End of Consoles?

OnLive is a new server-based on demand games service, which just might completely overhaul the entire video game industry ecosystem. We speak with CEO Steve Perlman and COO Mike McGarvey.

by James Brightman on Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Introducing OnLive... and the End of Consoles?

The video game industry may be forever changed if Palo Alto, California-based OnLive is a success. After seven years in "stealth mode," the company revealed itself to the world at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. GameDaily BIZ had the opportunity to meet with the founders in advance at the office of Maverick Capital in New York – Maverick is one of several key investors, including Warner Bros. and Autodesk.

What's so revolutionary about the OnLive Game Service? As long as you have a decent broadband connection, you can play essentially any game, no matter how complex. This editor, quite frankly, has shied away from PC gaming for the majority of his life because of the large investment needed in high-spec computer equipment and continual upgrades to graphics cards. It just wasn't worth the hassle. Now, with OnLive, there's no hassle. The games all reside on a server (which can be upgraded by OnLive every six months – meaning you never have to buy new equipment) and you don't need a souped up machine. We witnessed Crysis (which is notorious for how it pushes PCs) being played on the server off a simple Macbook, and it was smooth and looked fantastic. The service uses video compression techniques (the first interactive video compression tech) to send the game information to your TV or PC/Mac and latency is low enough – just 1 millisecond – to support online multiplayer.

"By substantially lowering the barriers between content and consumers, OnLive has created an environment that is highly beneficial for every facet of the video game ecosystem."

What kind of broadband connection do you need? Well, if you have a basic 1.5Mbps Internet speed, you'll get "Wii level" resolution. 71 percent of U.S. homes have 2Mbps speeds or greater, however. For HDTV resolution, you'll need a connection around 4-5Mbps. Right now, about 26 percent of U.S. homes have that type of connection. OnLive does not have numbers about what connection speed most gamers have in their homes, but they're betting that gamers are more tech savvy and already have better Internet (we'd agree on that assumption).

OnLive is showing 16 high-end titles at GDC and publishers will be able to release games on the on demand service within the same window as the corresponding retail launch. The games can be played on any PC (Windows XP or Vista) or Mac (OS X), but OnLive is also releasing a special device called a MicroConsole, which can connect to an HDTV and supports HDMI and optical out (for audio), as well as compatibility with Bluetooth for voice chat. The pricing on the device, which is quite small and lightweight, has not been announced but we're told that it's "less than a Wii." OnLive CEO and founder Steve Perlman called it the "least expensive console, but the most powerful one ever made – and it's always state of the art." OnLive, when it finally exits beta and launches this winter, will be offered through a monthly subscription and will have "a variety of different pricing packages and tiers, competitively priced to retail."

The OnLive Arena

OnLive was incubated by Rearden, a company started by Steve Perlman nine years ago. Perlman says Rearden focuses on developing technologies that are "extremely speculative" but that if they work they tend to be "transformative" to an industry. OnLive would certainly appear to fit that category.

Perlman himself is no stranger to innovative technologies. Rearden incubated Mova, the facial capture tech that was used to capture Brad Pitt's face in "A Curious Case of Benjamin Button" as well as Ed Norton and Tim Roth in "The Incredible Hulk." Perlman is probably best known, however, for the development of QuickTime, as well as WebTV. He has over 30 years of technology development experience, and has been a Microsoft Division President and a Principal Scientist at Apple Computer.

We also met with Mike McGarvey, who serves as COO of OnLive. Most of you probably remember McGarvey as the CEO and member of the board of directors for Eidos Plc (Tomb Raider, Hitman). He helped lead Eidos' turnaround by redefining its corporate strategy and reorganizing the company.

Perlman and McGarvey are joined by Tom Paquin (a founder of Netscape and Mozilla) as VP of engineering at OnLive, John Spinale (former SVP of product development at Eidos) as VP of product development, Paul V. Weinstein (former EVP of business development for open source database pioneer MySQL) as VP of business development, and Charlie Jablonski (former head of engineering at NBC) as VP of operations.

Selecting a game is extremely easy, and very graphical.

Although OnLive's servers are for North America, the company does have international plans in mind. And in fact, Perlman pointed out that Internet Cafes across Asia use low-end PCs, making the OnLive service perfect for those venues, and certainly a great business opportunity.

Aside from playing games, OnLive users will also be able to engage in "mass spectating." If you want to just sit back and watch how your friends are approaching a certain level or you want to perhaps gauge an opponent's skill before entering a multiplayer match, this feature could certainly be useful. Similar to Xbox Live, OnLive will be very much community oriented. The company says the live community will be "of unprecedented scale." Gamers can join a live game at any point and it's also possible to create "Brag Clips" to showcase skills to others. With the push of a button you can instantly save the last 10 seconds of gameplay, if you want to show off something you did in-game that was really cool. There will also be online leaderboards, rankings, etc. And OnLive users will, of course, also have immediate access to demos – no more waiting for a 1GB demo to finish downloading.

Perlman said it only takes a few weeks of work to bring any high-end game from a publisher over to their service, and OnLive already has substantial publisher support, including Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Take-Two Interactive, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, THQ, Epic Games, Eidos, Atari Interactive and Codemasters. One really big company currently missing from the roster is Activision Blizzard, but Perlman is optimistic that he will eventually hook the big fish. "We aren't working with them for this GDC announcement. We'll see what happens from here... we've got several months before we launch. I'm sure there will be a lot of companies eager to partner with us once they hear about us at GDC," he said.



Cute but you still have to many people without high speed broadband(faster than 3Mbit/400KBPS), we do not have a good enough infrastructure for full digital only distribution. "We" would be better off with a mix and the loss of the console war model moving to universal hardware where the console makers sell hardware designs and parts that can be installed into all in one units vendors then sell to the masses.


Ah modern gaming its like modern film only the watering down of fiction and characters is replaced with shallow and watered down mechanics, gimmicks and shiny-er "people".
Incoherence is my friend and grammar my bane, which is the fulcrum of suffering I place upon others!:ZippyDSMlee

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