One of the more daring announcements to come out of this year’s GDC was the unveiling of OnLive, a game delivery system promising to replace the need for upgrades with a service that will do it all for you instead. All the player will need is a controller, or a set top box for their television, a PC, and the need to believe that they can accomplish the impossible.
Now let me first say that I would love to see something like this take off. Its very concept spits in the face of the entire upgrade model that the consoles are committed to and which PC players have long used to keeping up with as the market demands bigger, better, and prettier looking games. Imagine not having to save up for a PS9, or the Xbox 1080, or that Nvidia ExaByte GFX card. Sounds like a lovely idea, doesn’t it?
Eurogamer makes a solid case as to why this might not be as rosy as its evangelists have made it out to be, not the least of which are the network latency questions that should concern everyone. If you’ve had trouble viewing video on YouTube, CNN, or any other popular destination when a story breaks, you know what I’m talking about. But the service promises that this will soon go the way of the dinosaur which is an amazing statement to make.
Even that aside, the service takes the novel approach in generating the content on their end through a “state-of-the-art OnLive game server center” while pushing the pixels to your screen. In other words, you’ll be playing the game remotely. To put this in perspective, the client for a game is usually sitting on local hardware…your PC or console…whether it’s loaded on the hard drive or read off of a disc.
By putting the client on their servers instead and pushing the video to you, the PC player in me is wondering just how they will be able to process a different instance (which usually entails different geometry, physics, etc..) for the million or so people logging in to play, say, GTA V with that much overhead. Instead of doing all of the grunt work on a local box, the server is apparently capable of rendering a unique instance for every participant. Unless the servers are powered by SkyNet, I’m not sure how well this will work out.
Perhaps I’m just being overly pessimistic about the whole thing, but I would actually feel ecstatic if they can pull it off. It’s also not the only idea. Apparently, Dave Perry of Shiny fame has also been working on a similar solution called Gaikai which seems squarely aimed at PC users and browser based gaming.