Review: OnLive

When is a game download service not a game download service?

Well, when it’s a whole new way of approaching the concept of game ownership and accessibility.

Those of you in the know will, well, know that OnLive isn’t a game download service anyway, it’s a cutting edge gaming portal which allows you to play games via it on a number of different platforms.

But what does this mean, well for the first time in history you can play current, premium games, at home or away, on your TV, PC, laptop or soon even your mobile, instantly.

The Big Deal

OK, let’s break this down and consider its impact for a moment shall we?

If you are reading this now then you are connected to the Internet. So that’s step one sorted. Good times. :-)

Right, so say you want to play a big premium game you’ve never played before, right now. What are your options? Well, you could dash down to your favoured retailer, buy a copy, install it on your PC / XBox / PS3 / Wii and start playing, total time to achieve this is likely going to be a couple of hours at the very least. Another option is to buy it on something like XBox Live, PlayStation Network, Origin or Steam, download it to your PC / console and start playing, “time to live” for this is going to be, most likely… a few hours.

Or, you could launch OnLive and start playing now, yes right now, time to first game-play is going to be less than 5 minutes.

Wait! What?

Yes, that’s right OnLive delivers you game-play, near instantly; no travel time, no downloads, no installs, no patching, just play.

I think it bears mentioning that sometime ago we discussed “The Future of Game Ownership” on this site and mentioned, at the end of the piece, that one day it might just be possible to buy a game (or access to it) and instantly experience it, without having to waste anytime between the idea of playing it and actually starting to play.

Well dear friends, that day is today!

But, whilst this already sounds like “future now”, there are far, far more interesting consequences of using OnLive than simply instant access. Let’s break these down quickly so you can get on with gaming!

OnLive UK

Welcome Gamer! Click on a buttony thing… cool stuff will happen!

Additional Benefits

1. You no longer need to worry about storage, of any kind. With OnLive, all your games, their patches, expansions and save games are all stored by OnLive in their huge Cloud (A couple of distributed data centers actually, but that doesn’t sound so cool). No time needed to install, no need to worry about versions numbers and no chance of corruption or having to re-install, and no need for backups. Also no need to uninstall any other games to make space to install your new one. Another ongoing benefit of this is that you’ll never need to download patches or expansions, which for some games come in to the 100s of megabytes or more, as all the code resides on the OnLive servers!

2. You no longer need to maintain, upgrade, improve, insure, worry about or pay for a full gaming console or PC. Because OnLive does all the hard work for you, all you need is an Internet connection and almost any computer capable of running Windows Vista or Windows 7. (Alternatively you can grab their “OnLive Game System” and just plug it into your TV! Oh and this costs a mere ¬£70, a cost which is highly likely to drop.)

3. Should you lose all your worldly possessions and have to rebuild your life from scratch you can just login to OnLive and start playing instantly, from any PC, laptop or OnLive Game System! No need to re-install, or re-download anything ever again! Most importantly your save games are protected, backed up and, well, basically invulnerable! Ultimate gaming peace of mind? Check!

4. No more missing out on game-time because you’re away from home, you can just use any PC / laptop you have available to you, login to OnLive and get playing. This is a huge feature for anyone who works (or plays) away from home. Wherever you are you can just fire up OnLive and jump straight into the action. No more missing out on family birthdays or week long business trips!

5. Online / multi-player lag can often be caused by as little as one slow Internet connection amongst the many players of a game. Well, with OnLive Servers, the data about players movements, shots fired and objectives completed is all internal to OnLive’s own network so no more player or server lag! This on it’s own is a HUGE improvement for every single multi-player game out there!

6. “Try before you buy” becomes a practical option with OnLive a you can play a demo of almost all their games, instantly. This means no more waiting 20 minutes for a 2GB download¬† to complete only to find that after a couple of minutes (far less time than it took to download!) you realise the game is not for you. With OnLive you’ve just saved yourself about 1.8GB of bandwidth and 18 minutes right there!

7. Democratic gaming is also made possible, you can now play any supported game on any supported platform! No more being left out in the cold for Mac users! OnLive welcomes you as it does Android and PC players and of course anyone with an OGS (OnLive Game System). Every method of accessing OnLive supports every game! This is a huge day for any gamers not on one of the major platforms.

8. “Brag Clips”, natively available on every OnLive supported game, allow you to record you favourite gaming moments from any game, but wait for it, they are recorded retroactively! What does this mean? Well if you ever thought… “That was awesome… really wish I’d recorded it!” you will be delighted to hear that a Brag Clip, once activated, records the previous 10 seconds of game-play. Yes, it’s your very own time traveling best bits recorder! The fun you can have with this is massive. Seriously, try it, it’s a riot.

9. Spectating games becomes not only actually practical, but fast, easy and fun. One of the best ways of understanding a game is to watch someone play it. With OnLive this couldn’t be easier! You can even jump near instantly from game to game and player to player with the click of a button, and even more amusing is the ability for you as a spectator, or indeed those spectating you, to “vote up” and “vote down” those they are watching. A great way of offering encouragement or showing disapproval and a very fresh and funky experience when you are on the receiving end of either!

10. OnLive also brings gaming to people who have no access to shops or delivery options. As long as some form of Internet is available they can instantly jump on OnLive and just play. I am all for expanding the availability of games and, using any computer with even basic Internet, everyone now has access to any number of game demos at no cost at all. better still OnLive just works. No complicated setup, no big install (the tiny PC client is just 1.1MB at the moment!), no technical issues, just fire it up and go.

OnLive Cloud

Cloud Gaming, no, not so much like a flight sim… more like… well… the future.

Worry Ye Not!

Bandwidth usage is an oft quoted concern of those looking into OnLive, and that’s understandable. Quality of visual is another worry people often talk about. Well, these are actually inextricably linked in the world of OnLive. Basically OnLive delivers you the highest quality visuals your Internet connection can give you. OnLive is more than capable of delivering you HD visuals which are indistinguishable from the originals, and as near pixel perfect as any gamer could even know, and in fact, this is exactly what will happen if you have 6MB of bandwidth of more at home, which, if you are a gamer, you are very highly likely to have.

Alternatively, if you have less bandwidth available for whatever reason, OnLive intelligently scales the quality of your visuals to fit. This is both automatic, near instant and dynamic. It is a seriously impressive technical feat and one by which we are most impressed. Not only that but during all of this your game-play experience remains, clean, sharp and instant. Most of all OnLive preserves “control” of the game, so even on very slow connections your movement and aim stay 100% true, your visual quality may decrease, but your precision never will. Genius.

One final point to note here is that OnLive is also exceptionally good at using the correct compression level for the correct situation; Running through an exotically lit, busy urban jungle with lights, people, explosions and vehicles everywhere uses a fair amount of bandwidth, whilst running through a grassy field, with blue skies overhead uses amazingly little. Again, OnLive have done some crazy codec magic here to make this work, but it does, it really, really does!

OnLive Mobile

Yes, you can play you favourite AAA title in a meeting, just turn the sound right, right down…

The Future?

Do you ever get annoyed about missing out on a game which is a platform exclusive? Well OnLive is capable of playing games from any system! So, in future, we may all even be able to play any game from any platform via OnLive (or similar technologies)… but will Sony and Microsoft ever go for this? If they do we can all also look forward to no more “Darn… where shall I stack my third console?” moments. We’ll have them, in one place, and you won’t even need any hardware if you already have any reasonably current PC!

But there are other serious opportunities presented by OnLive that go beyond what we, as gamers, might initially care about.

OnLive offers, for probably the first time, the opportunity for developers to “write for anything, play on anything”, this frees them up from having to handle 3 or 4 different platforms during development, which can take a significant portion of a game’s development time, and allows them to just stick to what they do best, work on whichever platform they prefer and know that anyone, anywhere, using any device, will be able to play their game.

Not only that but, as you will likely be thinking right now, the final barrier to gaming is removed. Distribution. There will no longer be the need for game developers to worry about the practicalities of getting their games into the players hands. As soon as they press the button players can play their game, wherever they are, no shipping, no downloading, just “make and play”.

OnLive Hardware

Not sure I mentioned how small the OnLive game system is, it's tiny. There, mentioned.


Well, as you no doubt agree by now, the remote cat is most definitely amongst the local pigeons!

Things are changing and we’re not just talking about how to buy your games anymore, we’re talking about where they are stored and the effect casting off the shackles of game code “location” could have on the future of the industry. Will OnLive be the VHS or the Betamax? The HD-DVD or the BluRay? I’m certainly hoping for success, because I truly believe it could benefit everyone involved, from gamers to developers to publishers, the question is will the big boys play nice? Here’s hoping the do. But whatever happen, you should definitely check OnLive out (Why not start at erm… well… onlive.com?) It IS the future, so why not take it for a spin now, and be part of the next age of gaming from the very start!

– Richard “Rax” Burley