OnLive: The End Of Games Platforms?

By Jim Rossignol on March 24th, 2009 at 12:19 pm.


At the last GDC the industry big brains were sat around telling us how games would one day be remotely rendered on big computing clusters and then streamed to our TVs. The big unveil at this year’s GDC has proved them to be correct. Maybe. OnLive is a service on which you use superfast broadband (1.5mbps minimum) to play games on a remote server. You just plug it in to any “entry level” PC or Mac, or hook it up to your TV, and play. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the latest 3D card: because the remote server does the rendering and streams the result to you. That’s the theory anyway, and it’s a theory a bunch of big name publishers have signed up to. Watch the OnLive spokesman Steve Perlman make his big claims after the jump.

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183 Comments »

  1. teo says:

    Pretty sure he says mbit

    also, won’t work

  2. schizoslayer says:

    I don’t think this will work for the same reason DRM on Music didn’t work. What happens when the servers shut down?

  3. The Sombrero Kid says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, never going to happen people where claiming this has a round trip latency of less than 1ms which is fucking impossible cause i can’t even ping my isp in less than a millisecond absolute vapourware guaranteed, also i and I’m sure the rest of the internet am unwilling to give up my unofficial ownership of games unless it was a lot cheaper (read virtually free).

  4. schizoslayer says:

    I’ve just realised that my argument is flawed as Steam has the same problem. However at least with Steam I can play my games when I don’t have an internet connection as they exist on my PC and not in a cloud somewhere.

  5. Yargh says:

    The idea of leasing some games and having all of your saves available from wherever you wish to play, not to mention being able to avoid the never ending PC upgrade cycle has it’s attractions.

    On the downside you’d better have a rock solid connection on an unlimited (really unlimited, no fair use rules) use contract to have a chance at it working for you. Not to mention that Euro-players don’t have chance until they run a server farm over here.

    I kind of doubt the current ISPs are going to be too happy about this kind of thing, they’re going to want to sell us ‘gamer quality’ connections at a premium as their existing price models are unsustainable if many people actually use what they pay for.

  6. AbyssUK says:

    Good idea and one day this will be how it all works. But not yet.. maybe 10-15 years from now.

  7. Matt says:

    @Sombrero

    He sais the video compression algorithim performed in less than 1ms, he doesn’t claim the round time delay is 1ms.

    IGN who actually checked it out say they’re perfectly playable: http://uk.pc.ign.com/articles/965/965535p2.html

    TBH I think this is the most exciting development of cloud computing I’ve seen.

  8. Robin says:

    Won’t work.

    Don’t be fooled by the list of publisher partners. Just means they’ve been offered free money/marketing.

  9. kyrieee says:

    Sombrero 1 ms haha that bullsh*t
    It takes 30 ms for light to travel from the US east coast to the west coast and back, and packages are slower than that. Of course, you might be closer, but in 1 ms light travels 300 km, so 150 km one way, and they can’t possibly have server farms that close to everyone

    Also, 5 mbit/s isn’t enough. I mean, that’s 600kb/s which is 10kb every 1/60th of a second (each frame in the game). That’s NOTHING for an image that large. Video works with a 600kb/s connection because it’s pre-rendered, which takes a ton of CPU power and can’t be done in real time.

    Pipe dream

  10. framstick says:

    has anyone actually used this in a ‘real world’ situation…ie one not controlled by them? …any beta testers?

  11. bansama says:

    This is a horrible idea and if it’s the future of gaming, then my gaming days are numbered. Aren’t we already too reliant on the net? An infrastructure that’s just going to buckle under moves such as this. (Look at the backlash with ISPs in the UK over the iPLayer or whatever the beeb called it).

    And what happens when there is a crash? No local way of backing up your gaming progress? What if there’s an issue with your ‘net connection? How about those on metered connections who already have a hard enough trouble with Steam and the like?

    Nope, perhaps I’m just old fashioned, but I really have a horrible feeling with this cloud computing stuff. I just have a nagging feeling that it’s not going to work even if I can’t exactly pin point why. Give me data stored locally on my own PC any day. Data that doesn’t rely 100% on a service of which I have no direct control.

  12. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @Matt
    woops good catch, well my point about this last year stands this paridgram is about where people want thier computing power located in thier house or in a server farm i would say both, people aren’t going to rely completely on this service mainly because it’s cheaper to run your own pc, there’s nothing stopping an individual from running the same setup at home and achieving all the benefits with none of the drawbacks i.e. paying for it or losing control of your games.

  13. Stijn says:

    Doesn’t this already exist? I remember submitting news about a similar concept to some big local tech site about 2 years ago.

    Ah, http://www.streammygame.com/smg/index.php

  14. Matt says:

    Well the benifits are obvious. Let’s say you’re going to spend £40 on crysis. If you want to play it on your own pc at high settings then you’re going to need a computer that has an expensive graphics card and a powerful cpu which can set you back 200-300.

    Or you could buy it on this service, and be able to play it on a netbook that costs as little as £150.

    I’m not saying that this will replace traditional games, people sitll enjoy playing resolutions of 1920×1200 (i.e. me :D) but for netbooks, people who can’t afford expensive computers etc, this is an incredible idea.

  15. Tworak says:

    input lag… yeah… no thanks. it might be good if my ISP hosted the thing and I’d get is gonna suuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

  16. Tworak says:

    ^ got my words eaten!

    it might be good if my ISP hosted the thing and I’d get 5ms but 50ms+ is gonna suuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

  17. Matt says:

    @Stijn

    That service is designed for lan situations where the bandwidth is 100mb

  18. Daniel Puzey says:

    Bandwidth nonwithstanding, imagine 100,000 users playing at once. Have they really got 100,000 GeForce 280s sat at the other end running all this? If not, how do they render it all for all those users at once?

    It’s not like you can just cluster a bunch of GPUs together and split the work up (as you could if this were regular CPU-bound work). So 6 million frames per second… how?

    (And I’d presume they’re aiming for more than 100k peak users, too.)

  19. kyrieee says:

    Giantbomb says the latency is 80 ms, which is terrible

  20. redrain85 says:

    Yeah, of course all the big game publishers are slobbering over this. The games as a service model in its purest form. The customer no longer owns the game. It becomes a permanent rental. An evergreen source of income. Or, so they hope.

    It’s interesting to postulate, however, that a service like this could mean the death of console gaming. Yeah, bet you never thought you’d hear that phrase. *cackles*

    For all the people who complain about how often, and expensive, it is to upgrade their PC: they could buy a dirt cheap PC and still play the games.

    And as long as publishers do still offer their games for sale at retail – with this streaming service remaining an option, for the people who really want it – what’s running on the render cloud can run locally on your PC, with the right hardware. Since the render clouds just happen to be PCs, too.

    This could potentially be a great boon to the development of PC games, depending on exactly how things unfold.

  21. framstick says:

    actually- thinking about it we use a system called logmein for work – i have used it all over the world- it works well for remote control of a pc….if they can improve the video streaming – job done- it is free to try…..it basically only uses about 70k a sec so if you used more bandwidth you could update picture more often…i think it its doable…

  22. Malcolm says:

    Hmm. Anyone with experience of using Remote desktop over the internet will probably be as sceptical as me about this.

    Online games (Team Fortress 2, Unreal Tournament, Quake etc) do a lot of work to compensate for input lag – how on earth are they planning to retrofit that?

  23. Azhrarn says:

    Sombrero 1 ms haha that bullsh*t
    It takes 30 ms for light to travel from the US east coast to the west coast and back, and packages are slower than that. Of course, you might be closer, but in 1 ms light travels 300 km, so 150 km one way, and they can’t possibly have server farms that close to everyone

    Also, 5 mbit/s isn’t enough. I mean, that’s 600kb/s which is 10kb every 1/60th of a second (each frame in the game). That’s NOTHING for an image that large. Video works with a 600kb/s connection because it’s pre-rendered, which takes a ton of CPU power and can’t be done in real time.

    Pipe dream

    With perfect routing, it’s technically possible to get really low latency over fairly long distances, however most countries don’t have anything even approaching perfect routing. The US and UK for instance both have aging infrastructure which really can’t provide fast links like that.
    Many smaller european countries have more modern digital infrastructures, but even those are far from perfect.

    1ms processing time server-side is possible, travel time will ofcourse be longer even with perfect routing, they can’t have servers within less than 1000 kilometres of every computer of the planet, now can they. ^^

  24. JJ says:

    I remember RPS reporting on a MMO working like this. Sometime last summer IIRC. Cant find it at the moment

  25. Daniel Puzey says:

    Remote Desktop doesn’t really count, because there’s an amount of hardware virtualisation going on there – if you ask a machine you’re remoted to whether it has a DirectX GPU, the answer will be “no”.

    That said, playing games over VNC is a closer example, and not one that’s any more enjoyable!

  26. Sp4rkR4t says:

    This type of crap has been around for years and will never work even when we all have fibre to the home because of latency.

  27. Matt says:

    Ok @ all the people worried about lag.

    A.) When is lag discernable?

    Take CSS for example, an average ping of 40ms on your scoreboard means that the round trip time is 80ms + however long it takes the server to process the info but we’ll assume it’s 80 as that matches the giantbomb article.

    Do you notice delay in css? Not really, I play CSS fairly competitively and 80ms delay is inperceviable in terms of when you expect a hit to register and so on.

    Apply this to UT3 as malcolm suggested. UT3 unlike CSS doesn’t actually use client side lag compensation (this being, the client predicting what it thinks will happen vs. what the server decides happens (i.e. css) ) In ut3 a delay of 40ms with no lag compensation is again undetectable.

    Using the remote desktop model. I remote in to my uni’s lab computers frequently, and there is no percivable delay from pressing a key on my keyboard and the letter appearing on the screen at the other end, and then being routed back to me. Which suggests that the delay won’t be noticable using this system either.

    @Daniel

    Worst case scenario lets assume it’s 1 computer for 1 game for 1 person. A nieve assumption that the computer costs £600 and people buy 10 titles a year means that the single computer will turn a profit 1/2 way through the second year.

    If 1 computer can turn a profit then it’s just a case of the scalable economics.

  28. Rich_P says:

    In THE FUTURE, when PCs have 50+ cores and applications are actually programmed to use more than one of them, I predict people subscribing to videogame services. So you could run Steam or a virtual Playstation 5 or Xbox 1800 and stream the content to your display of choice, using whatever input device best suits the game. So the actual console might live inside my bedroom PC, but I could access the service through my TV. If I wanted to play with a mouse and keyboard game, I just sit down at the PC and access whatever service provides those games, assuming people are still using KB+M for basic computing tasks.

    Either that, or we’ll all be plugged into the matrix by then.

  29. Markoff Chaney says:

    I’m sure in a perfectly controlled environment with a server farm in the next room connected via fiber this is quite enjoyable. Any other confluence of distance and/or media will lead toward this system being unusable, at least from a gamer’s perspective who depends on split second reaction times. We use a Citrix based virtualized environment at work and it can barely handle a decent number of people working, much less if they were streaming HD video constantly while still detecting and relaying input. Again, for those right next to the server farm, they have no issues. For those of us half way across the country, it’s not enjoyable at all. I shudder to see the lag from this kind of set up.

    Wet dream for devs/pubs? Absolutely. It’s the perfect licensing method where you don’t even get the 0s and 1s any more to keep/save/modify at will, only the output the code displays to your monitor. Can’t Manage your Rights Digitally much better than that. You have a right to the output, not the game.

    I prefer our current method and I’ll keep a fat client as long as I’m alive to play games on, even if it’s just Peggle. Not that I don’t like the idea of other computers carrying some of the load, but I’d rather run the load myself and know who to blame when I get killed.

  30. Colthor says:

    @Matt
    Ping is round-trip time. Ie. a ping of 40ms means a round-trip of 40ms, not 80ms.

  31. Catastrophe says:

    Ever played a game over a Serial connection? This will be slower than that. And ohmygod Serial is slow.

  32. Jetsetlemming says:

    80ms lag is imperceptible for most people when it’s lag on reporting where you are in an online game. 80ms lag for your key inputs? Fuuuck, no way. And that 80ms was reported at GDC where presumably they’re test hosting the service right there, not halfway across the country from your house on your home DSL.
    Not to mention putting online multiplayer on this service would just compound those issues indefinitely.

    Overall, I’d say even the basic concept is useless to us gamers, really, the only advantage is for the shitless publishers who would agree to anything to keep total control over their property. It’d be cheaper and way higher quality in the long run to just shell out the $700 for a decent gaming PC and actually buy games than buy their little “microconsole” for whoever much they’re selling it for, subscribe to their service (which is probably going to cost a ridiculous amount a month to support all those big name publishers with their big name console games), and play them with bad control lag and worse update lag.

  33. Max says:

    @Matt
    You are talking about network lag, which is different from input lag, although through this service, these two become one.
    The 80ms are the delay between moving your mouse, and the screen reflecting this movement. Thus the game will be as inresponsive as if you were playing it with 12.5 fps.

  34. weegosan says:

    Do you notice delay in css? Not really, I play CSS fairly competitively and 80ms delay is inperceviable in terms of when you expect a hit to register and so on.

    That’s because they use smoothing algorithms that modify the reality of the 1s and 0s as the server sees it to make it feel it is playing how we perceive it. That is result compensation. What everyone is talking about is action lag, the other side of the coin. If you’re actions are lagging behind then you get a major sense of disconnection from the game and it will be shitty to play. There is no smoothing algorithm for what the player might do in the future.

  35. DarthInsinuate says:

    I’ve just invented a free-energy device. It’s powering this computer.

  36. jph wacheski says:

    sounds like a ploy to get investor money into a vaporware project,. and it really is a dumb idea as the net is already too congested with all the hi-def video and p2p torrent usage,. who has edless bandwidth anyway,. and of course the latency would be wack,. unless your playing Myst or some sht,. .

  37. Rich_P says:

    Even if this service fails, I think it’s indicative of things to come. 30 years from now, I simply can’t imagine people still buying videogame consoles or even PC upgrades like they do today. Subscribing to videogames like you would, say, cable TV seems more reasonable. Input devices would really be the only hardware required. Games would no longer be confined to a given system spec. Compatibility would be guaranteed.

  38. danielcardigan says:

    Is this for PCs? Surely this is an application to let you play HD games on your HD TV, using your cable TV Set Top Box. Why on earth would you need a PC at all?

  39. Downloads_Plz says:

    Didn’t Valve have a project some years back that generated a lot of interest because they claimed it would basically completely eliminate lag?

    And then they realized they couldn’t actually do it?

    OnLive will generate a ton of interest because, well, it’s a pretty damn interesting project. But at the end of the day, it will stay just a project, and quite likely never actually see release.

  40. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @Matt
    you are taking about lag between your world and the ‘server world’ syncing it’s not noticable because your world runs without the server world, what this is proposing would mean the jumping teleporting and false actions you see all the other players do in cs at 100ms would be happening with your own input too, so you turn the mouse and nothing happens for a quarter of a second and then you violently swing right and the guy your trying to shoot has run left, finally you get the crosshairs over him but he’s 200ms away from where he is on your screen (the distance between his pc and the server and the distance between your pc and the server combined) you hit fire but by the time your command gets to the server he’s just reported yet another movement making him a total of 300ms away from where you thought he was, compared with the client version where people are accurately dead reckoned most of the time you will actually end up with less that 100ms real world difference between his location and where you saw him on screen.

  41. Tei says:

    This could work for really simple games, like point and click adventures and puzzles and porn.
    But is tryiing to sell it to people that need 10 ms latency on the responsiveness of the controls, and games that are designed around that.

    won’t work

    Archive this on “try again in 10 years” departament, and make it for something else, maybe casuals and porn

  42. Tei says:

    Quake1 was the latest game with pure client – server architecture. All other games, from QuakeWorlds *need* fat clients, that emulate phisics on the clientside to make *predictions*.

    If you want to emulate “OnLive”, buy a wireless mouse that adds 300 ms to your input, and play with it Quake1 (netquake).

  43. skalpadda says:

    40-100Mbit fibre is slowly but steadily becoming the standard here in Sweden if you live in a medium or larger city and as far as I’ve heard it’s going in that direction in other European countries as well. I doubt bandwidth will be a limiting factor, at least in terms of having a decent pool of potential customers.

    I really can’t see this working on people’s wobbly DSL lines though, both in terms of latency and the actual throughput of the tech. This is not speaking as someone with in-depth tech knowledge but rather from experience of what you actually get from your broadband and latency when playing various games online. It just doesn’t seem feasible other than in a demo situation with a limited number of players.

    And how on earth are they going to get enough processing power to run this at a decent cost? As others have said, 60 full quality images per second for thousands of users that then need to be compressed, sent over the intertubes and displayed on the user’s hardware. It seems like an awful waste of resources to me.

  44. Robin says:

    The more I think about this, the stupider it sounds. It’s a classic example of a technical solution looking in vain for a commercial application.

    If you own a good enough PC to stream HD video at 60fps, you can play plenty of games on it, and you can definitely afford an Xbox 360.

    If you want to use this service for PC games, you lose nearly all the benefits of the PC as a games platform. No mods, no configurability, no playing offline, input lag, variable image quality and framerate.

    This is a service built on a myth, that there are lots of PC games that require supercomputers to run, and a “gaming PC” is a huge investment, rather than £500-odd quid for something that will run anything which uses the 360/PS3 as the target platform for the next few years.

  45. Gap Gen says:

    Well, for slower-paced games this could work fine. Probably won’t work for twitch-gaming FPSs or whatever.

  46. dsmart says:

    The last time I saw/heard about something remotely like this, it was called the Phantom console.

    Then it was DISCover or somesuch.

    There are so many reasons why this is going to fail, I simply don’t have the will to right them all up.

    If all they’re going to be doing is pushing adventure games, casual games etc – then maybe – maybe – they stand a snowball in hell’s chance. Any game that requires fast real-time response, is going to suffer as a result. Even if its on a dedicated FIOS network.

    This looks to me like more investor money down the drain.

    And listing publishers doesn’t mean squat. Phantom, DISCover and everyone else had those too.

    In fact, so far only something like Zeebo actually has something that works, has games etc. If you live in a third world country – or Brazil – and want to play generations old (Quake anyone?) games.

  47. Heliocentric says:

    This technology is already in place for browsing, the opera mini browser performs the rendering and then sends a simplified version to your phone.

    So a phone can see still versions of any site no matter how media rich. If the mobility of a device ever causes it to be underpowered you are more likely looking at mobile phoes then laptops. The new laptop cpus are pretty bloody beefy.

  48. dsmart says:

    Yah, go ahead, compare the rendering of a web page to that of a real-time game. I dare you! :)

  49. Stijn says:

    Matt: Ah I see, it changed. It used to be pretty much like this OnLive thing in concept. Guess they didn’t change it for nothing…

  50. Skurmedel says:

    Don’t really care if it’s possible or not. I’m concerned about the ownership issue. I use Steam alot, and already I’m concerned about the fact that I can’t resell my games. Not that I would do if I could, but that’s not the issue.

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