Thursday, 18 August 2011

OnLive: A Beginner's Guide

OnLive founder Steve Perlman reveals all about its new cloud-based gaming system.

OnLive, the cloud gaming system that's taking the US by storm, will finally hit the UK on September 22. IGN spoke with OnLive founder Steve Perlman about how the device will change the way people game and how it'll stack up against the current – and next – generation of consoles.

IGN: What does OnLive mean to the average gamer?

Steve Perlman:
We primarily think of games as software and software needs to be installed, downloaded, updated... It runs on some platforms but doesn't on others. What OnLive does is turn games into a form of digital media, so pretty much anything you can watch a digital video on you can play OnLive with. PCs, Macs, tablets – both iPad and Android, plus TVs and Blu-ray players – we have OnLive working on all these systems. These days when we buy a game you have to consider if it'll work on your system, if you need to download an update, how long the update will take to download... All that washes away with OnLive. It doesn't matter where you are or what you're on. What we've done is take video games out of the realm of the most complex kind of application that exists into something that is purely media.

IGN: What do you need to get up and running?

Steve Perlman:
If someone just wants to give it a go then any PC or Mac is fine. We go down to about one megabit per second now, if you have a very slow speed connection, but the larger the screen you have we recommend a faster speed.

The UK has benefitted from the US being the largest beta programme in history – the whole US launch has basically been the beta for the UK! We've had tens of millions of connections at this point and what we've done is characterised all the things that can happen to an internet connection to create the most reliable experience.

UK users will be able to try OnLive on the website, plus you'll see it all over the internet in the coming months. And if you like it you can get an OnLive games system which you can hook up to any HD TV and internet connection and instantly all of the games are available to play. There are no compatibility issues, no waiting, no downloads...

IGN: What's really interesting is the ability to switch between playing at home on your television and then continuing your game on an iPad at any time...

Steve Perlman:
It's a seamless experience, but of course in all these situations, whether you're going from keyboard and mouse to controller or touch, there are going to be some games that work better with different inputs. Take first-person shooters; we have an ongoing argument about whether keyboard and mouse is better than controller. Then there's touch – sometimes there's a game that just doesn't work with touch controls but at the moment we've got about half of the games working, so if a game is amenable to touch controls then yes, it'll work seamlessly from TV to iPad or Android tablet. In fact, across all platforms you can literally stop where you are in the game and pick up where you left off on a different device.

The other nice thing about using a tablet is we have a universal game controller, so you can prop up the tablet and really play any game using the controller. You can also use the controller with the TVs and Blu-ray players that will have OnLive built in.

IGN: What have been the biggest learnings you've had from the US launch?

Steve Perlman:
There are two types of learnings. There's the technical behind-the-scenes stuff that doesn't affect the consumer but the learning that was most relevant is the way people consume games in a cloud environment, which is quite different from physical media or digital downloads. With physical media or download, there's a certain amount of time before you can begin experiencing the game and having spoken to agencies that track usage on Xbox and PlayStation 3, one thing we found was that people tend to leave them on while they do something else. They don't do that as much with OnLive. When they're playing on a console people know it takes time to load up, for the disc to boot, maybe for an update to install. With OnLive people are used to an instant-on experience so they quickly realise there's no point leaving the TV on if they can pick up exactly where they left off.

Also, people try a lot more games on OnLive. Virtually every game we have you can demo instantly. On consoles there are overheads associated with demos and you've got to think 'Am I going spend hours downloading a demo that only lasts for half an hour?', plus maybe you only have limited space on your hard drive. With OnLive you click and there's a demo, it's as simple as that.

We've also found people play games for a shorter period of time before trying something else, especially with our PlayPack bundle [OnLive's flat-rate service that lets you play every game for a set subscription]. The overheads with OnLive are extremely low and if someone decides that a certain game isn't for them they'll move onto the next much faster than they had to download it from Steam or LoveFilm or whoever.

OnLive appeals to people who have a window-shopping view of games, where they check them out quickly. Also, we've found that some users won't play for three months but then come back when a game they're interested in comes out or they have time off work.

IGN: Partnerships with publishers are the key to success. Who are you already working with and who's next on your hit-list?

Steve Perlman:
We already have over 50 publishers who've signed up with OnLive and every major publisher is working with us. The thing you need to realise about publishers is that they have a big triage list of things that need to be done first. Take DiRT 2 as an example. We had the demo up but because of licensing and other stuff people weren't actually able to buy the game for another eight months.

It's hard for everyone to understand how busy these companies are but we have games that are just sitting there and sometimes we get the call that they need to go live in a week – it happens that quickly. At the end of the day publishers want to sell games and OnLive is successful and it's selling a lot of games, plus it demonstrates their games well.

The other thing is that there's no piracy with OnLive and there are no used games, so all the revenue that comes in goes to the publishers which means they're able to price them much more aggressively, so it works for everyone.

Ultimately you're going to see more and more games on OnLive, with games coming out day and date compared to the console version.

IGN: Is OnLive a direct competitor to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 or is it more complimentary?

Steve Perlman:
We position it to be very complimentary to them. Of course, some people are going to make the choice between one and the other but we have actively encouraged people to use OnLive for demos and to try games out, then if you want to buy it on Xbox or PS3 then go ahead. For example, some of the retailers we're working with have the game demo running on their site using OnLive, then you can either buy it OnLive or order it on your favourite platform. We don't care one way or another.

One example that demonstrates OnLive particularly well is Red Faction: Armageddon. There was a demo for Xbox 360 but not for PS3 or PC, but there was also one for OnLive. So we had PS3 and PC users who had no plan to buy Red Faction from us checking it out and then placing their orders for PlayStation and PC. We also had Xbox 360 users checking it out on OnLive because they didn't want the hassle of going through the download.

We've had people who haven't turned on their Xbox for months because they've gotten used to the convenience of OnLive. We turned a corner after E3 because we hit 100 games and now you're starting to see the OnLive logo next to Xbox and PlayStation on adverts, so the publishers are considering us as a major platform.

IGN: OnLive is all about accessibility and convenience. Do you think that it'll attract a more casual gamer as a result?

Steve Perlman:
It definitely will. One thing that will be there for launch in the UK is parental controls. The reason we didn't do them for the US launch is that with only 19 games there'd be exactly two for children! Now we have a larger catalogue with games specifically for children you can go onto the website and customise your experience to miss out games completely, whether it's because you don't want your kids to see them or you just don't like them.

We also have a lot of casual games in the library now. Just look at tablets: their games are made up almost entirely of casual games so we'll be bringing core games to tablets, plus enhanced versions of casual games. A simple example is LEGO Harry Potter, which is available on iPad but it's a very limited version in terms of the capabilities and graphics and so on. The OnLive version of LEGO Harry Potter on iPad and Android will be the full version and will be just as good as what you can get on a console.

IGN: If it's already on iPad then surely the next logical step is to get it on mobile phones?

Steve Perlman:
HTC is one of our investors and we already have relationships with tel-co operators and you'll be seeing not just games imported from PC and tablets to mobile, but also games on OnLive just for tablets. One example is From Dust from Ubisoft. It's a game that is much too high-performance for a tablet yet Ubisoft will be offering touch controls for OnLive. So when you play From Dust on an iPad or Android tablet it won't be an adaption of the original game but instead you'll have direct touch control over the dust ball that's central to the game.

OnLive will also be able to work over 3G and 4G, which is coming soon.

IGN: How future-proof is the technology and will it challenge the next generation of consoles?

Steve Perlman:
It's exceptionally future-proof. We already ran a test on OnLive using the Batman: Arkham City trailer with Hugo Strange, in which the faces are incredibly realistic and are created using technology used in the Harry Potter movies. So we're already able to bring cinema-quality graphics to gaming and we're able to do what is not possible on a console or even a PC. Next year you'll start seeing games that are mind-blowing and will make you question whether it's a game or a movie, but of course you're controlling the character in the game. There's no way Sony or Microsoft will be able to build a local device that can do that without it taking up an entire room.


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