With OnLive a failure, what happens to cloud gaming now?


For a while it looked as if OnLive, the first-ever cloud game streaming service of its kind, was going to be the future of video gaming.

OnLive’s closure is a blow for cloud gaming

Back in 2009, IGN wrote that “this service has the potential to completely change the way games are played. If it works and gets proper support from both publishers and gamers, you may never need a high-end PC to play the latest games, or perhaps even ever buy a console again. That is not an exaggeration.”

Only a few years later, that dream is over – with the news that the streaming game pioneer will finally close down for good at the end of April 2015, unloading several of its patents to Sony in the process. After that, all game save data and achievements will be deleted: a sad end for a service that had such great potential.

So how exactly did a service once met with near-unanimous fanfare and a valuation of $1.8 billion (£1.2bn) suffer such an ignominious fall from grace?

Onlive LEGO Movie
The OnLive service enabled users to buy games and stream them over an Internet connection.

OnLive debuted with the promise that it would allow PC and tablet owners to play console titles without requiring dedicated hardware or storage space. Like the arcade of the future, OnLive was meant to be “pick-up-and-play” at its simplest. Games would run on the company’s servers, with the video and audio streams then compressed for transmission over the Internet to be played from gamers’ homes.

Sony’s PlayStation Now and NVIDIA GRID aim to succeed where OnLive failed

The first serious warning signs came in 2012 when the company closed and then reopened. It had run up $40 million-worth of debt and had been acquired by a venture capital firm. Many staff lost their jobs in the process. Early last year, OnLive made another go of things when it launched CloudLift, a less-revolutionary partnership which allowed players to stream and play a selection of games bought on Steam for a $14.99 monthly subscription — later reduced to $7.95.

By closing its doors for good, the world will be left with the impression that cloud gaming was a terrible failure: too reliant on a speedy broadband connection, lacking an enticing selection of games, and not offering a compelling enough alternative to existing PC, Wii, Xbox and PlayStation gaming systems.

Mass Effect PlayStation Now
Mass Effect 2 is just one of a number of games that can be streamed via Sony’s PlayStation Now service.

But while OnLive failed as a business, latency-free cloud gaming is still a revolutionary idea. Streaming games are almost impossible to pirate and, as they are not locally installed, you can play them on any device, regardless of its OS and technical specs. The success of streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and Netflix demonstrates that the subscription model resonates with many of today’s media consumers.

OnLive was arguably ahead of its time.

So what’s next? There is still Sony’s Gaikai-powered PlayStation Now service, with access to 100+ PS3 games via subscription or one-off rentals. NVIDIA GRID, meanwhile, can render 40 3D games in its vast cloud servers and stream them to an Nvidia Shield Tablet or Nvidia Shield Portable device. With both systems, the only limitation is the speed and reliability of your broadband – NVIDIA recommends a 15Mbps connection for 720p play.

Cloud gaming’s biggest problem is still one of bandwidth. – Luke Dormehl

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