Saturday, April 11, 2009

OnLive will kick your ass! No, seriously

Will OnLive kill the console market? Will they put everyone out of business? Will they beat up your dad? Your mom?

As you can probably tell from the prelude, this is going to be about the recently announced gaming platform OnLive and its fortunes. Since reading about it for the first time, I have lost count of the blog posts explaining to me and everyone else why OnLive will fail, crash, burn, cry in the rain, and possibly regret ever being born in the first place.

Let me say it right here that I do not necessarily disagree with those views. Which is also to say I do not necessarily agree. Here instead I would like to play the devil's advocate for this hopeful enterprise, not out of conviction for its birthright but simply to poke some holes in the most common arguments against it.

One reason why OnLive will never beat up your mom
Because that's not the point. Same with that "death of a console" fiction that everyone (including me, obviously) is eagerly writing about. They may not be the console killer but does that necessarily make them less significant? Is the internet somewhat less of a revolution because it failed to kill the print media?

Technology won't be ready for mass market until 2012
Oh no! But nobody will be alive in 2012! *

Let me do the math for you: 2012 - 2009 = 3 (years)

Three years is a very reasonable time frame for any tech start-up to see positive cash flows and profitability. We are not talking about the next century here. If no amazing success story about OnLive comes up in that period, that does not mean they are failing.

Also feel free to compare three years to the development cycle for a AAA title. Don't worry, your grandchildren will see it even if you don't make it yourself.

*Might be the case if that December 12th 2012 myth is not a myth after all.

People prefer having a tangible product (discs?) in their hands
Ah, yes. The collectors. Can't win the market without winning the collectors. Allow me to set up an appointment for you with the game rentals business people, so they may laugh at your face. Haha.

OnLive would disrupt all my other internet activities
Have you tried playing Call of Duty on Xbox Live when your roomie or SO is downloading a movie on the home computer at 600 KB/s? Let me tell you, you hit the ground first and then see the guy who shot at you. This is not a problem that would be unique to OnLive. We have always had it.

Nathan Solomon on LinkedIn says this is different than the latency issue on XBL. If someone else is downloading something, I would not be able to use OnLive at all. True that. But in both cases I (personally) would be killing the download before resuming my gaming experience. End result is the same. If there are people who like torturing themselves by playing a FPS game with heavy downloads in the background, then yes, OnLive would not suit that particular lifestyle choice.

Frame rate per second issues
As I said in a similar discussion on LinkedIn, the critics have the habit of picturing the video game market in their own image. Not every gamer is a FPS fanatic who measures the value of a platform by its appreciation of fast reflexes. There are games out there the players of which might not pull their hair out if they miss a couple seconds in a streaming video.

Retailers will not like it
Shall I arrange a second appointment with the game rental folks? Or would you prefer someone from iTunes this time?

Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo would not allow it
The strength of a reaction from the console manufacturers, I think, would be directly proportional to the chances of OnLive's success. If they take this newcomer seriously it means there is substance to the enterprise.

Gamers won't put up with "Servers offline due to maintenance"
True. That's exactly why World of Warcraft flopped after people had to stop playing for hours at a time every once in a while. Not to mention the waiting times to join the servers. Man, WoW would have been such a great game if not for that issue. Rest in peace.

Core gamers will not go for it
There is this common misconception again, thinking that core gamers and casual gamers are static, mutually exclusive camps. Such thinking ignores the people who have been pushed out of the core PC game market simply because they cannot afford to keep up with it.

I own a 3 year old pc laptop that has trouble running even the modest indie titles, let alone AAA powerhouses. A decent gaming PC would cost me 1500 bucks, and last maybe another year until it becomes outdated again. For people like me, OnLive offers an attractive value proposition: cheaper entertainment. Even if that means latency and issues, it can still be an acceptable trade-off, given the cost I would be avoiding by not buying a new PC.

There will be no next-gen graphics...
And thus, no problem to solve for OnLive. Or so they say. As much as I would love to believe that the focus will shift from technical superiority to interface and gameplay, I think that is a somewhat naive thing to say. Making games look better goes beyond turning HD into Super HD - whatever that is. It is not just the screen resolution, it is the scope of action, the physics engine, the loading times, and making peace between gaming and genuine multitasking on your PC (a 'pause game' feature would be handy to that end, OnLive).

Want more problems solved? How about not having to add support for every piece of hardware out there and not having tons of problems still with this driver or that? How about trading that for developing for a standardized hardware configuration? How about playing glitchless, bug free games that can hit the market sooner and for less cost?

Summing it up
As I said in the beginning, I am not claiming an absolute destiny for OnLive. Despite the humour poked at the common arguments listed above, there is still truth in some of them. Yet I am not fully capable of understanding the fervour with which the bloggers of the industry herald it as the stupidest thing ever, and regard it with an attitude that might deserve being called "animosity." That is why I felt the need to write up a critique of the ciritics.

So give OnLive a break. It will be fun to watch what happens, even if there is no other benefit to be had. It is not your money they are spending after all.

1 comment: said...

Finally a positive post about Onlive. Great Article. Let's site back and watch Onlive prove it's critics wrong!!