OnLive Lives Again: New Feature Syncs With Steam Games

CloudLift. Very light.

Remember OnLive? The service aimed to provide streaming videogames to the world, but fell foul of confusing pricing, slow internet connections and the apparent mismanagement. The company never really shut down, avoiding bankruptcy by being bought and re-created under a new company with new management and the same name. That means it’s continued to quietly work away, providing the same service to its remaining subscribers while working on something new.

I went and saw that something new last Friday, and I’ve been messing around with its beta this week. I’ll have proper impressions later in the week, but the news: OnLive is still a subscription based streaming service for games, but it’s now pitching itself in part as a partner service to Steam. You can link your OnLive and Steam accounts, and if you own a game on Steam and that game is available through OnLive, you’ll have instant access to it within OnLive. That means you can play your Steam games while travelling without an install process or a powerful computer in your travel bag.

Previously if you wanted to play a game through OnLive, you needed to pay a small fee to buy the game. If you already owned the game elsewhere – combined with the sense that you never really own the games on a streaming service anyway – it wasn’t a great proposition.

Linking your account to Steam therefore makes perfect sense. If a game has Steam Cloud functionality, it’ll even pull down your Steam saves and allow you to continue playing while you left off.

The previous problem with OnLive was never its basic streaming tech, which was quick and functional, albeit dependent on the speed of your internet connection. The problem was that it wasn’t clear where it fit into your – or at least my – life. It was a service pitched at gamers, but most gamers already have PCs capable of running their games fine. Having a separate set of owned games trapped within a secondary service just for those occasions where you’re away from that machine doesn’t exactly make sense. By hooking it up with your existing game collection, OnLive should fit more readily into your – or again maybe just my – gaming life.

Assuming that there’s some games on the service that you want to play. So far, OnLive have struck deals and announced twenty games, which are: Batman: Arkham Asylum GOTY, Batman: Arkham City GOTY, Batman: Arkham Origins, Darksiders II, Dead Island GOTY, Dead Island: Riptide, LEGO The Lord of the Rings, Metro 2033, Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition, MX vs. ATV Reflex, Painkiller: Hell and Damnation, Red Faction: Armageddon, Saints Row IV, Scribblenauts Unlimited, Strike Suit Zero, The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles, The LEGO Movie Videogame, The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief, Truck Racer, Type: Rider.

I hope you like Batman.

That list obviously misses games from major publishers like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, though OnLive are keen to stress there are more partnerships in the works. One of those is with Gaijin Entertainment, developers of the MMOish War Thunder, and other makers of large-download multiplayer games. The idea is that instead of having to download a 20GB MMO before you can try the game, you can start playing instantly without a huge download, or while the huge download rumbles on in the background.

Of course, this all requires a monthly subscription fee. A PlayPack subscription, which includes 250 games, costs $9.99/£6.99 a month. Only you know if you travel enough, or value PC gaming on your couch enough, to make that worthwhile to you.

I’m messing around with OnLive now, trying it on both my main PC and on a tiny nettop (goodness I hate that word) hooked up to my TV. I’ll write something impression-y about its Steam integration and (supposedly improved) streaming later in the week.


  1. Smoof says:

    Could be interesting. I don’t travel as much right now at this point in my life, but it would certainly be nice to be able to hook-up a keyboard and mouse to my Nexus 7 and play some XCOM while I’m out on the road.

    • Carra says:

      Steam will already offer in-house streaming for free. It would be a small step to create an android client.

      • Moraven says:

        People already use the method the Nvidia Shield uses, streaming from their Nvidia card to any Android device.

        The difference is that is for at home, on your LAN streaming.

        On the road, OnLive servers are likely closer to you than your home along with bandwidth.

        I have played WoW (basic functions) on an Android 2.3 device on a 3G connection before. But it is by no means the most functional. Steam Streaming is made for LAN streaming, not across the globe.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        Plus I can theoretically stream from my PC for free already. (Though I’m not technical enough to know how to set up remote desktop over the net)

        But other options I’ve seen allow net streaming for as little as £3-4 a month. I’ve tried the apps over wifi with the free home network versions, and they work well. Though I admit Onlive offers both the hardware and the games for a small fee.

  2. Pich says:

    they should focus on games that aren’t impacted much by lag. like puzzle or turn-based stuff.

  3. Heliocentric says:

    During onLive’s peak I had a hobby when I was too too tired to play a game, I’d download a podcast, boot up onLive and watch people play games (mostly stealth or occasionally technical action games) and either learn ideas or laugh at how terrible they were, and then tell them what I thought if they had comments on.

    It was really quite enjoyable, probably better than a review for checking out a game too.

    • frightlever says:

      You could basically do this with Twitch TV now, I guess.

  4. Bull0 says:

    With streaming from your home machine being all the rage now, I think this might be a day late and a dollar short again, but I do wish them luck.

    • Moraven says:

      Not everyone will have a suitable machine and/or connection. Plus Steam streaming is meant for LAN streaming, within the home.

      • Bull0 says:

        Yeah, for now. Won’t be that way forever. And Valve aren’t the only ones doing it. I can already use my Vita to play my PS4 games from work. It’s awesome.

        If your connection isn’t good enough to stream from your main machine, why is it good enough for Onlive? If you don’t have a decent gaming PC, why does having access to your Steam library via Onlive help?

        Whole thing is pretty confused, and I don’t see it panning out well.

        • Wang Tang says:

          When you stream from your home machine, you need good upload speed. No problem in LAN, but a big problem for most internet connections (at least in Germany).
          When you stream from OnLive, this problem does not exist, because they will have good upload speeds, and your only concern is download (which – agin, in Germany – is not that much of a problem).

  5. Continuity says:

    So onlive is now a steam streaming service? well that suits me and my 300 game steam library just fine.

  6. Chizu says:

    Interesting thing. I never gave a shit about OnLive when it was announced and coming out. I had a decent gaming PC. I didn’t see it ever having any appeal at all.
    Thing is, now I am homeless (like, properly homeless), and all I’ve got is a very crappy laptop I managed to save, which can’t play anything any good.
    It actually makes the idea of OnLive, particularly if it synchs to steam (where I still have almost 1000 games, I’m actually glad of a digital library now, I used to always want physical) a whole lot more appealing.

    That said, this laptops so crappy it probably couldn’t even run the OnLive client properly.

  7. Duke Flipside says:

    For failing to use the headline “OnLive Lives On” I feel you ought to be hanging your head in journalistic shame…

  8. Awesumo says:

    I got the second batman game when OnLive did a desperate £1 for any game offer. It is perfect for running on a little netbook while on the road – but you’ll notice a bit of a quality dip on a big screen.

  9. huldu says:

    I really liked the concept behind OnLive but sadly the technology just isn’t there yet. If you have over 50ms latency you will notice it playing the games. Also the game graphic quality is medium at best, so don’t expect to be blown away by the quality. When the service was new it was laggy and terrible, they did fix it to some degree later on but by then OnLive barely even existed.

    Maybe in the future when latency isn’t such a big deal a service like this might actually work as intended, until then… check your connection to their service/servers first. If you have over 50ms don’t bother using it. Just a fair warning.

  10. Guvornator says:

    “It was a service pitched at gamers, but most gamers already have PCs capable of running their games fine”

    But many, such as me, rather resent having to pay through the nose every 5 years to see an increasingly incremental graphical increase. We resent having our PC choices dedicated by a very small pool of hardware manufacturers , an even tinier proportion of which are actually viable choices. For people like me, what OnLive offered was revolutionary. New PC games running smoothly on my cruddy laptop, for less than a new game a month? I’ll take that.

    Unfortunately the reality was a bit more complicated. I wasn’t bothered by the youtube-esque quality, but others were. More worrying was the lag. It made the locking picking in Alpha Protocol unplayable. And this was on a 30Mb/s connection. I could only play on weekends. Not OnLive’s fault, but that’s not really the point. The selection of games on my £15 a month connection was a little starved of gems, fair enough for a basic package but in a world of Steam sales and Humble Bundles it seemed a little steep. In the end I saved up for a new PC and quit OnLive.

    I’d love nothing more for it to work. But it’s still a great idea waiting for it’s time, and Steam integration won’t change that.

    • SomeDuder says:

      Oh shut the fuck up. Ive been using the same machine since 2009, and the only thing I’ve upgraded was my GPU, and that was last December (GTX 285 > GTX 760)

      10 year ago, your comment would have been valid, but we have reached a point where hardware requirements don’t change all that much. Sadly.

      • Volcanu says:

        Wow. That was uncalled for.

      • Guvornator says:

        Really classy answer. I’m very impressed by casual use of swearwords. What a manly person you are.

        Also you’ll note the point where I said “crappy laptop”. If you know an AAA playable on a GeForce 6600M let me know.

        EDIT: also you said “Ive been using the same machine since 2009, and the only thing I’ve upgraded was my GPU, and that was last December (GTX 285 > GTX 760)

        That’s, um about 5 years, isn’t it? I think my point stands. Maths, FTW!

    • LionsPhil says:

      pay through the nose every 5 years

      I’m still trucking away on a gaming machine built in 2007. The graphics card got replaced last year when it actually outright died, but that wasn’t exactly “through the nose”. I don’t really forsee a hard need to replace anything for a while yet, either; it’s still running most things on high. (The biggest reason to upgrade would be to rebuild it around an SSD, since there’s a chain of dependencies there involving a motherboard with no AHCI support. And if I do that any time soon, the graphics card stays.)

      Hooray for consoles, basically. They put the brakes on the stupid upgrade train. Just a shame they also have so little memory, since that’s prrrobably been the most crippling on actual gameplay.

      Network latency will never go away. Multiplayer games do a lot of smoke-and-mirrors to conceal it, and they can only do it because they are rendering and processing input locally.

      • Guvornator says:

        The thing was, it wasn’t so much general network latency as Virgin throttling the bandwidth. So it wasn’t even Onlive’s fault. Obviously one could upgrade one’s speed, but my objective was to save money, not spend more.

        Basically the dream that it offered (in my fevered imagination) was Cheap gaming, plus potentially never having to upgrade your machine again. Which is pretty tempting if you’re living in London on less than £18000 a year.

  11. MkMax says:

    The event where i might want to play those games outside my home, have only a crappy computer (but with control options good enough to play) and have a suitable Internet connection at the same time seem so unlikely im tempted to dismiss this article as a joke, maybe its just my country, shrug

    those extremely rare events are the perfect situation to fire up one of those gog games i rarely play or reading a book/ebook, or firing up one of those android games i get from bundles and never use

    for years computing chased power, now that chase is mostly over, the objective today is price, size and energy efficiency for mobile applications

    let me present you two scenarios :

    1-the way we use electronics today ended, we all carry around dumb terminals, with about as much processing power as we have today or less, we gave up all ownership and privacy concerns and decided to use humongous, widely available and extremely fast, almost 0ms ping, information services (that do not exist or are even close in the horizon today) connected to humongous server farms, bowing to our corporate overlords and paying enormous prices for the service to the one provider available since huge initial investment required quickly turned the whole thing into a monopoly or oligopoly (note that since these companies would be the only users of powerful processors they would also have to develop and make them themselves pushing the investment higher and higher, and i wonder what would entice them into providing a good quality service in that situation)

    2- we carry around very efficient and cheap devices that could give today’s high end pcs a run for they money and keep using slightly improved versions of everything that exist today, information services got a lot better but there has not been any ground breaking discovery to totally eliminate ping times, while its coverage is growing quite fast, is not available everywhere due to costs/benefit analyses against it, energy requirements, lack of resources, political issues and just plain laziness from companies without competition

    which is more likely in the near future ?, i look at nvidia’s new mobile chipset or us residents complaining about their shitty internet oligopoly being beaten by half the world and the second scenario seems to be the one, yet cloud computing apologists keep heralding the coming of the first scenario, i cant see it

  12. bill says:

    Pitching it as a demo platform would seem a better business idea to me. (one of OnLIve’s competitors did that, but I think they got bought by Sony or something).

    I think you’d do much better if you pitched is as a way to try out games instantly, without having to download gigabytes of data, etc..
    I’m not sure how you’d monetize it, but if they can integrate with steam then they could probably get commission on anyone buying a game after demoing it on OnLive.

  13. sophof says:

    The problem is, when you travel you actually never have a good online connection (At least I never have). I don’t think that market actually exists for onlive…