Saturday, 24 September 2011

Xbox Live needs to learn from OnLive or risk falling behind

There are a number of convenient similarities between OnLive's Dashboard and the back-end designed for Xbox 360.


First of all, it's got the same name; the word 'Dashboard' was virtually coined by Microsoft for the original Xbox, with the always-modest logic of the Xbox launch team being that it'd share the performance of a high-end sports car.

'Marketplace' too is the destination for purchasing games on both Microsoft and OnLive's online platforms, and the latter has rightly made sure it's got all the friend lists, player profiles and chat options gamers have come to expect as well.

But it's not OnLive's strategic name borrowing that should have the Xbox team hot under the collar in my opinion - it's the abundance of genuinely impressive features here that leave Microsoft's service looking a bit less Xbox LIVE, and more Xbox 3am rerun.

Let's get the mechanics out of the way; OnLive's game streaming tech really works and is hugely impressive at home in front of the couch.

But that's almost not the point. Forget for a moment that this technology could be the future of the games industry and consider that, even if cloud gaming was a bit rubbish and stutter-filled, instantaneous Xbox Live demos would be worth Microsoft's acquisition money alone. And we're amazed it's not got its wallet out.

Being able to trial any game on the service, immediately, at the press of a button is an incredible proposition on OnLive, and we're surprised Microsoft hasn't rushed to capture the tech for its own platform.

For Xbox 360 users it'd mean investigating games they wouldn't normally try in the world of 2GB downloads, leading to more purchases for publishers and more variety for us. Everybody wins.

Arguably OnLive's next most impressive feature, and one that Microsoft must be eyeing up with envy, is the ability to watch other players' game sessions - live. That's right, if you spot your mate playing Dirt 3 after dinner this evening, with the press of an A button you can watch what he or she is up to as if they were sat in the room playing next to you.

You can even watch your chum tear round a circuit on an iPad or Android tablet if you prefer, and leave them a glistening thumbs up if you appreciate their drifting skills, or down if you don't.

You can even spectate other users who are playing games you don't own yet, offering consumers the clearest idea yet of whether they should spend cash on a new release. It's impressive stuff, and returning to Xbox Live's comparatively simple game pages after an evening's OnLive session certainly makes the 360 service feel a little lacking.

Social Issues

But there's more. What surprises us most, after all the focus Microsoft's put on social gaming in the last few years (with Twitter, Facebook and more fully integrated into Live), is that OnLive's been able to do social gaming better from the off and in a unique way that's only possible with its technology.

The OnLive game pad looks quite similar to an Xbox 360 controller - alongside the DualShock it's become the standard for console games, after all. The cloud platform's plastic joypad packs one tiny, yet crucial difference though; Play, Stop and Record buttons in between its twin analogue sticks.

Every time an OnLive player nails a perfect shot in Virtua Tennis 2009, or manages an insane vehicle stunt in Just Cause 2, a press of that exciting record button saves the last ten seconds of gameplay and automatically uploads your 'Brag Clip' to OnLive's version of YouTube.

The Brag Clip section is even more impressive than the spectator Arena. Fire it up and you'll be greeted by a wall of videos, held together by moving bricks of gaming hilarity, l337 skills and more often than not, game crippling bugs caught on video - and you can sort it all by views, rating and record date.

At first glance, it's nothing short of a revelation in social gaming. Games like Halo, Call of Duty and Street Fighter have built thriving communities via similar video record systems implemented in their games and viewable on the internet, and I can't see OnLive having anything but the same level of success.

OnLive's broader approach must have Microsoft pondering just how big a revolution a similar service would be on the home of Halo, Gears of War and Call of Duty.

Not only would it create a better experience for users, combining the exciting possibilities of on demand gaming and the traditional, twitchy out-of-the-box experience we already love, but it'd make a more exciting environment for games publishers, sticking those ever lucrative bullet points on the Xbox Live Gold subscription benefits.

The point is it's not OnLive's fancy games on demand streaming ability that impresses me most, but its fantastic social features and brilliant interface.

OnLive's benefited from the groundwork Xbox Live - and of course PSN and other online gaming platforms - has expertly laid out. Now I think it's time Microsoft - with its gigantic money bags - borrowed some ideas back, or risk looking far the less Live-ly.

Off course it might well be that Microsoft has already tried buying OnLive and wasn't successful. Steve Perlman, the CEO of OnLive, said that he founded OnLive to be independent. And one has to consider that OnLive has investors like entertainment giant Warner Bros. and telecommunications giants AT&T, BT and Belgacom. All these big investors see OnLive's revolutionary game streaming technology as an opportunity to directly compete with the consoles and the telecoms like AT&T especially, because this is their chance to get big into the gaming industry, at the same time that their cable revenues are under pressure from streaming video services like Netflix. This is the chance for the telecoms to not only be delivery networks for services like Xbox Live and PSN, but big players in the lucrative gaming industry.

SOURCE: CVG.

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