Giant Bomb News

230 Comments

What If Your Game Console Was Just A Video Stream?

What if your game machine was just a video display box hooked up to the Internet? OnLive thinks that very concept will change the way we play.

Pretty interesting story over on VentureBeat tonight that takes a look at OnLive, a new attempt at gaming via cloud computing via Steve Perlman, the guy who brought you WebTV. OnLive will be showing off its device at this year's Game Developers Conference.

The core concept of OnLive is really pretty simple when you break it down. What if you take all the computing power out of your gaming console and put it into a huge server farm somewhere else on the Internet? Then, instead of having your controller directly control your local game machine, your inputs are sent over the Internet to this magic cloud of computers, which sends back a low-latency video stream of the action. If it works, then suddenly things like CPUs and graphics hardware becomes kind of meaningless at the consumer level. In fact, so do retail versions of games, since you'd ostensibly be signing up for a service and/or buying your games directly from the OnLive device.

Speaking of which, here's a shot (or at least a mock-up) of said device, courtesy of VentureBeat:

Tiny, right? Apparently it's all made possible via proprietary compression algorithms that get latency down to around 80ms--which if you've played enough PC shooters in your time, you'll know that that's a pretty playable ping. But is it enough? Really, that's only one of the questions I'm left with after reading the article.

Whether you know it or not, a lot of games out there rely on pretty specific timing. While you could certainly play Street Fighter IV over the Internet, the game's top players are so busy counting each individual frame that even that 80ms is going to add up. And would games like Rock Band work properly with that sort of latency? It kind of reminds me of the time I tried to hook my Neo Geo up to my Sony AirBoard--that's a wireless TV that receives signal from a base station. If you weren't paying attention, the games were pretty much playable, but the moment you really started focusing on the action, it was an unsatisfying mess. Of course, for games with big online components, like first-person shooters and other action games, players are already used to some sort of latency, and games are built to predict your actions just enough to keep things running smoothly.

But the old QuakeWorld model of guessing where you're going to be next doesn't seem like something I'd want to apply to every single game ever made. I have to imagine that the games running on the service would have to be "optimized" to work properly. So, as you've probably already expected, color me skeptical. I can't help but think something is snake oil the minute people start talking about "the cloud." It screams "check it out, we shouted a bunch of buzzwords and someone gave us millions of dollars!" But most crazy, futuristic devices start out sounding too good to be true. So color me totally interested in seeing this thing first-hand. Apparently 16 games will be running from the GDC show floor later this week.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
230 Comments
Posted by Jeff
Pretty interesting story over on VentureBeat tonight that takes a look at OnLive, a new attempt at gaming via cloud computing via Steve Perlman, the guy who brought you WebTV. OnLive will be showing off its device at this year's Game Developers Conference.

The core concept of OnLive is really pretty simple when you break it down. What if you take all the computing power out of your gaming console and put it into a huge server farm somewhere else on the Internet? Then, instead of having your controller directly control your local game machine, your inputs are sent over the Internet to this magic cloud of computers, which sends back a low-latency video stream of the action. If it works, then suddenly things like CPUs and graphics hardware becomes kind of meaningless at the consumer level. In fact, so do retail versions of games, since you'd ostensibly be signing up for a service and/or buying your games directly from the OnLive device.

Speaking of which, here's a shot (or at least a mock-up) of said device, courtesy of VentureBeat:

Tiny, right? Apparently it's all made possible via proprietary compression algorithms that get latency down to around 80ms--which if you've played enough PC shooters in your time, you'll know that that's a pretty playable ping. But is it enough? Really, that's only one of the questions I'm left with after reading the article.

Whether you know it or not, a lot of games out there rely on pretty specific timing. While you could certainly play Street Fighter IV over the Internet, the game's top players are so busy counting each individual frame that even that 80ms is going to add up. And would games like Rock Band work properly with that sort of latency? It kind of reminds me of the time I tried to hook my Neo Geo up to my Sony AirBoard--that's a wireless TV that receives signal from a base station. If you weren't paying attention, the games were pretty much playable, but the moment you really started focusing on the action, it was an unsatisfying mess. Of course, for games with big online components, like first-person shooters and other action games, players are already used to some sort of latency, and games are built to predict your actions just enough to keep things running smoothly.

But the old QuakeWorld model of guessing where you're going to be next doesn't seem like something I'd want to apply to every single game ever made. I have to imagine that the games running on the service would have to be "optimized" to work properly. So, as you've probably already expected, color me skeptical. I can't help but think something is snake oil the minute people start talking about "the cloud." It screams "check it out, we shouted a bunch of buzzwords and someone gave us millions of dollars!" But most crazy, futuristic devices start out sounding too good to be true. So color me totally interested in seeing this thing first-hand. Apparently 16 games will be running from the GDC show floor later this week.
Staff
Posted by soul101

I don't like it sir....nope, I don't.

Posted by Wolverine

I like the concept of it but dude what if the internet is down? I would personally rather just have a huge hard drive and download games than have to constantly stream them from the "cloud".

Posted by ZombiePie

The concept is sound, but there is so much room for failure with this that I think I'll just wait to see how this turns out.

Moderator Online
Edited by Teptom

I don't know. I'm a big fan of putting a box on a shelf. That's why I don't really like the idea of games going fully downloadable.

Posted by NinjaHunter

Forget SkyNet, "cloud" will kill us all!

Posted by MB
Shini4444 said:
"I don't know. I'm a big fan of putting a box on a shelf. That's why I don't really like the idea of games going fully downloadable."
It's going that way, and probably faster than you think.  The days of physical media are numbered.
Moderator
Posted by gunslingerNZ

I'd always prefer to own the content myself rather than permanent "rental". The problems with latency and the fact that you won't get internet everywhere you go are problems too. I do like the idea of having a super small device that plays all my games though...

Posted by Khann

Give it 5-10 years and I guarantee something along these lines will be a much more realised product.

Edited by freedo

I agree with Wolverine. I'd much rather download the game than have to rely on my fragile internet connection to play games. Besides, I don't like this "sign up for a subscription based service and pay for a stream of a game" instead of just going on the Playstation Store and paying 10 bucks to have Flower on my ps3 at all times. It seems like kind of a ripoff to pay for just streaming a game and a subscription fee. But still, I'm glad things like this and Steam exist. It gets people thinking in differently.

Edited by JoelTGM

Sounds cool as long as there is no input delay.

I like the idea of never having to upgrade hardware.  They would upgrade whenever possible, so you'd always have access to the best hardware on the market.

Edited by Mats
"Apparently it's all made possible via proprietary compression algorithms that get latency down to around 80ms"

How the hell is a compression algorithm going to change latency since this factor mainly is dependent upon the network infrastructrure, distance (re: laws of physics) (and part routing/network protocols) and not bandwith?
Posted by Johanz

Nah, count me out. I'd rather pay for a box so that I can play anytime I want, regardless of my internet connection, and I don't get any latency at all. I am connected 24/7, but that doesn't mean that I always will be, or think that this idea is appealing. Physical media, physical games and consoles feel more rewarding than some streaming stuff. It feels good to know what you have and being able to see and feel it at the same time. Don't get me wrong, I love downloadable games, but I would never want my discs to go away and have it all be downloadable or streaming stuff.

Because, when OnLive ceases to live, I will still be able to play on a NES (granted that the hardware hasn't broke), Snes, PS1, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360 and so forth . When Steam dies, will I be able to play those games I have bought? I have no idea. That's really the scary thing, if you are like, that you like to keep your console and your games. And right now, downloable games cost about as much as retail product, if not even more, atleast if you compare towards Steam, and then you get even less control of your copy that you purchased. Many think about the positives about digital distribution, but there is a huge backside to it all. It's all digital, none of it is in your control, if the service dies, so does your games. And you still bought the at the same price as a physical disc.

I think when people start to realize that, thats when stuff like OnLive is going to be sketchy for some people. I know some who totally don't care about keeping their games forever and such, but still, there are people like me. And what happens if OnLive is launched, and it's not a huge success, and still has some subscribers, what happens if they decide to terminate the service? Refunds? Or will your investments be lost forever?

Edited by slantedwindows
Posted by Lassegp

I like the idea, but i dont think its gonna work as well as actually having your console next to you. On top of that, if i were to hand over my Xbox to some "guy in the sky" what would be my heating source in my living room?

Posted by Hexogen

Correct me if I'm wrong, but if the device has to send the inputs to a server, and then the server has to process those inputs and send what results on screen back to you, wouldn't there be a delay in between when you press a button and when something actually happens on the screen? Assuming the latency is around 80ms as stated in the article, I can't see it working very well. 80ms may not seem like a lot, but I bet it'd be really noticeable when playing any type of action game. While online multiplayer games do have to send data back and forth, the game files are stored locally and everything on screen is processed on your own computer/console, so when you press a button on the controller, the game responds instantly.

Posted by JJOR64

Very interesting.  I want to hear more about this.

Posted by Duckbutter

wait, what? so i can play Crysis at its full graphical potential with this thing? sign me up holmes. us graphic whores can be even more whorier now. but wouldn't this service piss off console companies and retail fucks? this service is gonna get sabotaged to death.

Posted by Southgrove

Ping is not the same as input latency though.. so blergh, I say.

Posted by DJJoeJoe

Net speeds will increase with time, heck if the states just advances to half the speeds of ANY other nation...  well let's just say america is a tad behind on net connection speeds.

Posted by ilsantomembro

Reminde me of when purchsed Spore from EA online, and i had to pay an extra $5 just to allow myself to download the game beyond the 6 months of the purchase date, but only up to 3 years. And i can only download "my" game up to three times?  They're essentially saying "this game is not owned by you." Yet, if i would not been too lazy to drive to Fry's or Gamestop, i woulda had payed less, and been able to do what i pleased with the product. Even used it for a coaster for the rest of my years, if i wished to do so.

But that does not mean this concept isn't worth the effort- Figure the cost of your gaming rig, or your consoles, if this service settles with just a monthly fee of <$20 a month, it's probably well worth the try, assuming there will be games you wish to play over it. Then again, it's all about the games.

Edited by Al3xand3r

Seen articles about it in the past. But I don't think it will ever become standard. Maybe a kind of Steam-like service for people with weaker systems, but not an actual standardised way of doing things. That would mean a company making games would either thave to spend money to have this third party offer their cloud computing to their customers, or spend money to make a service like it for themselves, which would perhaps make it require a MMORPG-like overhead on a LARGER scale, and have to pass the cost to the consumer in some way because of that, probably with the use of subscriptions. It's an alternative, not a thing to become standard. But I could see it used effectively for some new MMORPG that would offer better visuals than any system could handle for example, only made psossible thanks to this cloud computing tech.

Edit: Here's another reason why it wouldn't work in practice. Think Guitar Hero on this thing (I don't even play that, but it's an awesome example). Even a mere milisecond delay, which will be impossible to achieve in practice, would fuck your game up in a big way. It won't catch on as anything but a service for a very particular audience, one that surprisingly enough has access to uber connections, particular game tastes, yet doesn't have the hardware for them and on top of that is willing to pay subscriptions. Who fits that description?

Posted by icoangel

This seems like a cool idea but since i am  in Australia and have a download cap it would not work very well.

Posted by RBolduc625

I hate to say it. But this is what I had in mind for the next gen of gaming. i was just hoping MS and Sony would've done it first.

Posted by Pet_Assassin

"Time to add OnLive to the "Consoles" page," he added hopefully.

Posted by Coldbrand

Sounds like this might be pretty damn rad. They need to get Capcom, SEGA, and Square though. Or at least some Japanese companies.

Posted by Conojo

oh hey look it's the phantom

Posted by HarrySound

This has to be impossible.
Surely there is no way you can get frames through the net instantly.
Don't fancy the bandwidth bill either after playing  mass effect for the 4th time

Posted by DJJoeJoe

Even with 80ms latency levels you'd still notice it a lot, because normal games have your render the game and your position and aiming on your computer so your movement and aiming is obviously 1:1 perfect all the time, unless you CPU chugs etc. With your display being completely over the net, you're not aiming 1:1 but rather what you see and where you are aiming is delayed visually, which is very bad. This basically cuts the speed of your mouse out completely, and now you're on even ground with everyone else at a slow latency level of aiming. This concept of gaming on the net was talked about a while ago with an example of an MMO with above Crysis level graphics being playable over the exact same method.


Like I said earlier, when net speeds become WAY faster then 80ms you'll start seeing REAL games on a system like this. Before then though, no developer is gunna take a serious game onto this service and not many gamers are going to use it like you'd expect it to. Best case senerio there is 'some' genres covered that don't really rely on 1:1 aim such as...   hrm can't think of any as every game would be annoying with slight aim lag.
Posted by ishotmrburns
Al3xand3r said:
"Think Guitar Hero on this thing (I don't even play that, but it's an awesome example). Even a mere milisecond delay, which will be impossible to achieve in practice, would fuck your game up in a big way."
You do realize what a millisecond is, right? 'Cause one thousandth of second ain't gonna fuck your game up.
Posted by Petruccio

You can see that technology already.

PSP - PS3 connectivity.
I had similar, but bigger idea more than a year.
And send in the end of 2008 my vision of future.
Jeff.
You can check bombcast mailbox. Subject is "Glib from Ukraine writes about future of gaming. Somewhen in the end of december or early january.
Posted by Al3xand3r
Posted by PapaLazarou

If it lives upto what the interview on gametrailers is saying then it'll be great for users who don't have a good PC. However everything he said is all fluff until they prove it because I heard this all before and 99% of the time it fails.

Posted by MB
  
Moderator
Posted by SinGulaR

The idea sounds kind of interesting. But I wouldn't consider a latency of 80ms in a pc-shooter very playable. But that concept would suit good for games like big scale rts or movie games like Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit.

Edited by Al3xand3r

That was in my link you embed whore :P

Jk.

Posted by guthwulf

The second most important thing about games for me (after playing them) is having a box on my shelf. Do. not. want.

Posted by MisterWaingro

Something about this just seems very Gizmodo/Phantom/WebTV late 90's/Early 00's experimental entertainment tech to me.  Seems interesting.  Will it be a worthwhile endeavor?  I don't know.

Posted by MrKlorox

Love the concept, however I don't see it being truly feasible at a hardcore level for another decade or more when the rest of the technology catches up.

Edited by AspiringAndy

Internet speeds are not quite up to scratch for this to work yet, right?
Looks pretty interesting, kinda weird that I was just thinking about this type of console at school today.
That LivePlace video that someone posted looks pretty awesome too.

Posted by parrot_of_adun

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO

The last thing ANYONE should want is to puchase the right to play someone else's game AND hardware remotely. This is, in every way, a terrible idea, and the day this succeeds is the day I'm no longer a "gamer".

Posted by KingOfIceland

Although I love downloadable stuff and think that people who have a boxed copy fetish are weird, this doesn't sound all that good. Especially since most dudes don't have the internetular connection power to utilize this well.

Posted by c1337us
soul101 said:
"I don't like it sir....nope, I don't."
My reaction too
Posted by Geno

Quite an interesting idea. I really want to see how it works in practice.

Posted by Scooper

If I can buy this thing for £50 then play as much Crisis as I want for £30 then I'll get it. I can see this thing being a ridiculas amount of money to either buy or rent games. Think of it. They're going to basicaly single out a super powerful rig to run a game for each person, that would be expensive especialy with all the matainence.

Posted by Meltbrain

Nah, not interested. I want to go to the shop and buy games. I want a manual and a case and a disk or similar medium.

Edited by WilliamRLBaker
ishotmrburns said:
"Al3xand3r said:
"Think Guitar Hero on this thing (I don't even play that, but it's an awesome example). Even a mere milisecond delay, which will be impossible to achieve in practice, would fuck your game up in a big way."
You do realize what a millisecond is, right? 'Cause one thousandth of second ain't gonna fuck your game up."
um actually it will specially in any fast paced game.

Milliseconds mean every thing in fast video games, fps, rythem games...ect milliseconds is the difference between a win and a lose.
Posted by sdauz

this could never work outside the US, ppl like me in Auz pay for not just download speed, but download limit (for me its 25GB a month MAX MAX MAX MAX) it looks good - sadly it will never work in Auz

Posted by RagingLion

I will be watching the results of the system and the comments of first adopters of this system with extreme interest.  I couldn't say myself yet if I would be prepared to have no physical copy or even a copy of a game stored to my hard drive (since I already use Steam a fair bit).  But the potential in this is that I would no longer have to buy a high-end PC and upgrade it regularly to be able to play games at their best and if that saving equates the cost of using this new service then it may very well be worth it.

Also it would encourage me to play more titles that I might never normally buy, but if I can just rent them easily this way then I might just do that.

Obviously if you don't have fast broadband then this isn't going to work for you as I know is the case for much of America atm.  But in much of Europe and also Korea and Japan internet speeds are often pretty high and I could see this working for me in the UK potentially.