Most gamers have heard of the upcoming OnLive service by now. For those who haven’t, it’s basically a gaming service attempting to lower the bar, so to speak, as to what you need to call yourself a gamer.
OnLive works by allowing you to purchase games online. Rather than downloading the games, however, what you’re purchasing is the ability to play them online. The game is hosted by one of OnLive’s servers – it does all the processing work, and then streams the game to your browser. That means you don’t have to install or download the game to be able to play it.
For those without high-end computers or the money to buy one, this could be a good thing. The idea is that you don’t need a gaming rig or any high-end hardware to be able to play the latest titles. You don’t even need to install or download it – all you need is an internet connection.
However, there are always going to be problems with a service that relies on internet speeds to deliver you your content. OnLive’s website recommends a 1.5 megabyte per second connection for standard definition gaming (the kind of picture you’d get out of a cheap T.V.). And it gets worse. In order to play your games in high definition, OnLive is going to need a steady 5 megabytes per second of bandwidth to work with.
But that’s no problem, right? Broadband is pretty fast, right? Well, yes and no. A lot of companies will advertise their cable speeds as being faster than what you actually end up getting, whatever the reason. A CWA survey two years ago placed California’s average broadband speed at roughly 1.5 MB/s – which is about the minimum recommended connection for OnLive.
That means that for most people, the limit is going to be low-def. That gives those of us who have access to gaming-quality computers or next-gen consoles little reason to use this service. Most gamers would rather take up another couple gigabytes on their hard drive than suck down all their internet connection’s bandwidth for hours at a time for a low-def game.
There is also something to be said for having an actual copy of a game (digital or physical) in your possession. With OnLive, you aren’t using up hard drive space to install your games, granted. But let’s say you lose connection to the internet for whatever reason. If you’ve invested your money in your own copy of your game, rather than just the right to play it online, you can still play it.
But if you’ve signed up with OnLive and your internet goes down, you’re separated from potentially hundreds of dollars worth of games that you paid for. And that separation isn’t under your control. Maybe the outage will last a minute, or an hour, or a day. But in the meantime, you’re left with a dead browser and Minesweeper to keep yourself entertained.
The way I see it is, for people that can’t afford to buy or build gaming hardware of their own, OnLive is going to provide a good and attractive way to get access to the latest games. But for people who have already invested in the right muscle for their systems, there’s going to be virtually no reason for them to sign up.