OnLive: Leaving Hype Station

November 8, 2011, Author: James Joell-Ireland

Last month, we brought you a glowing report of the cloud-based gaming service OnLive. The service launched to a packed, anticipating crowd, but now over one month since its launch, is the service meeting the expectations of the consumers?

James Ireland takes a look in this video commentary and associated editorial to bring us an insight into the service since its launch and reflects the general vibe in the community now the hype train has left the station.

Under the microscope
One of the biggest areas up for scrutiny is the marketplace, an area that has already fallen behind due to a delayed PC release date for Batman: Arkham City; a game heavily advertised by the service as one of its big hits for the year.

The service is currently running its first big exclusive, which is a demo for the new Lord of the Rings game. It’s nothing too much to write home about, though. OnLive’s big titles for the rest of the year remain a coming soon tease, with forthcoming titles such as already mentioned Arkham City, Saints Row 3, L.A. Noire (complete edition) and LOTR: War in the North.

PlayPack: The bundle dreams are made of?
For its relatively low asking price, we stated in our review that the OnLive PlayPack bundle was worth its weight in gold. Over a month since the service has launched there has not been anything particularly noteworthy added to the mix to further justify that subscription, other than you now get more games for the same amount of wonga.

If you look at the subscription at face value at the titles provided that were once considered AAA (or at least AA titles) since its UK launch, then it’s fair to say that the service hasn’t been pulling its weight. The bundle additions have been weak at best, serving very little to get excited about. When you add a game that features dogs playing American Football to your subscription storefront, something doesn’t seem right.

Is OnLive’s strategy to serve everyone’s taste? You could argue so, the plethora of games is most certainly varied. However to use your first launched month in the UK to add diversity to the bundle doesn’t seem like the smartest strategy where there are bigger and better games already out on other platforms.

The general consensus
Speaking to those whom bagged an OnLive console back at the Eurogamer Expo, I noticed one continuous trend from the people I spoke to. After the initial buzz of the services’ launch and the gimmick that games were being streamed wore off, so did the general desire to use the service.

The biggest complaints have been the lack of exclusive content, the capped 720p visuals and the recent marketplace activity. Many believed that when this service launched, it would bring in publishing powerhouses to mount their games ready to be streamed on launch day. This, so far, hasn’t come to fruition.

The gimmicky element of sharing game clips and watching other people game live has been superseded by console game launches. The service has also dramatically less content offerings than Valve’s Steam service too. Valve use a preloaded option on some of their games, giving users the ability to download a game before launch and then play immediately the second it goes live, OnLive hasn’t brought us any of that functionality thus far.

To remain a player, it needs a star
It’s worth noting at this point that OnLive is very much in its infancy in the UK and perhaps I am arguably impatient. Switch back to the launch of the Wii and Xbox 360 and even these consoles had a lack of great content within the first six months of launch.

Obviously, though, OnLive has the luxury of just having optimised and reprogrammed controls for existing PC titles, so our expectations should be somewhat higher.

OnLive has to attack the market in two ways. Firstly, it will need to give people an incentive to buy; whilst the one pound first game incentive is a piece of marketing genius, they also need a return rate of use to ever profit out of such a generous offer. The guys at OnLive need to look at publishers who will make exclusive games for the service. AAA blockbusters are somewhat out of OnLive’s reach for the moment, but quirky, risk-taking developers who create titles that will generate a buzz would help the service dramatically.

Secondly (and this is where the true success can be made), OnLive needs to focus on timed exclusivity and midnight launch content arrival. Imagine if the service could grab a week launch exclusivity for a big name title. Imagine if they could make big multi-platform game launches available to play immediately after the legal release street vendor time of midnight? It’s an unequivocal money spinner. EA’s season pass model was a prime example that people will pay more to get hold of a game early, and I am sure they would invest into a service that can offer them that content via a stream instead of physical media.

The verdict still stands
By and large OnLive is still a fantastic service, it’s just not fulfilling perhaps what we anticipated it would. As for the argument of whether cloud gaming is the future; not unless it gets the industry backing. So far it has some way to go before it’ll ever become a viable alternative for the hardcore gamer.

The gaming arena, though, is changing and some of that pales down to the economic environment. I know personally that I have looked more at the rental model for my gaming needs as it works out considerably cheaper than footing down forty-something pound on a game, that in some cases can be completed in less than ten hours. That is something that cannot be denied; OnLive offers value for money on its subscription and gives users the ability to rent on demand.

It has its place in the gaming sphere, just don’t expect it to be setting the world alight.