Monday, 26 December 2011
Interview with OnLive UK General Manager Bruce Grove
Who are the OnLive Apps aimed at?
Bruce Grove: We've said this even with the game system as well - we're not trying to replace all of the existing consoles. I still. I still have all of the consoles, I still have a very high-end PC, but when I play those games there I can't take them on the road with me, I can't take them to a hotel and carry on playing. The idea that I can play Assassin's Creed in a coffee shop somewhere on a tablet is very exciting. My gaming time is very constrained by the amount of travel I do, so this opens up a world of being able to just take the game wherever I go.
The other thing it does is reduce the friction - as a gamer you've got all the consoles, same I do, but for a lot of people who've maybe moved on, life is taking up too much time to worry about buying consoles, buying discs, getting everything for it. Just switch on your tablet, or TV; the idea that you can just get the game, and only thing you need is a controller - and in some cases you don't even need that, you've just opened it up - that's a friction-less experience. Next time you fire up OnLive on your TV the App appears alongside it, go to the marketplace, download the App and all of those games are available - you're not waiting for a download for them, or updates or any of that any more. It's just 'here's a game - I want to play it.'
You've persuaded some studios to create specific touch screen controls for existing games to work with tablets - has the participation of a high-profile developer like Rockstar with L.A. Noire helped pave the way for more?
BG: Yep, we already know it's paved the way for more.
Any that you can talk about?
BG: Rockstar's the one we can talk about right now. There's more stuff coming as well.
Will it be for existing games on the OnLive service?
BG: Both. We've some stuff that's going to be new and some stuff that's existing.
What's been the developer response?
BG: They're excited by it. They know same as we do how many millions of devices this opens their games up to. Today you have to be a gamer, you have to be that person who really wants to play L.A. Noire, but it's a very accessible game. You can now bring this to people without forcing them down into this game console route. It suddenly opens up this market to them. In their mind what they're looking at is that there's a lot of people out there that can now get access to this, who maybe couldn't have before.
Not every tablet user has a console. Not every tablet user has gone and bought a disc or even heard of the game. They may have seen the marketing but maybe haven't paid attention to it. The social aspect of gaming, if you look at it through something like Facebook - how easy it is to tell people to just play this, or go and buy a digital chicken. Well, now buying L.A.Noire is as easy as buying a digital chicken. That's quite a change to the marketplace.
What's the take-up been like on the current OnLive Viewing App?
BG: There was a lot of take-up. What we already found historically was that people love the arena aspect of the service. They bring it up, they like watching people gaming, they like using it. What we've seen is people dip in and out of it; if we bring out a new title and they happen to be somewhere they can't play it they can bring up the Viewer App just to get some shots of it. In the meantime it also gave us huge amounts of valuable data because we could very quickly gather snapshots of network characteristics, which enabled us to tune the client. A lot of the work that went into the player came from the data we gathered from the Viewer.
So it was part beta in that respect?
Sneaky. Although the Micro-Console does work with wireless dongles, the OnLive Apps are specifically for wireless devices - was a lot of work involved in ensuring a smooth experience over wireless connections?
BG: Oh yes [laughs]. When we launched this over wired back in E3 last year we didn't have wireless. We blocked wireless even from laptops and PCs. That was very deliberate. It took us a lot of work to get to a wired experience. We then started trialling the wireless stuff - the client and the back-end were continuously going through refinement, which allowed us to adjust and adapt to all these different conditions. Now we're in a world where we've gone from a laptop to these devices [iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Kindle Fire] that have very different wireless characteristics. So we had to continue to make that work and make it a good experience, because ultimately it all comes down to gameplay - if the gameplay's bad no one's going to be interested in the App.
So, yes, a huge amount of work has gone into this. A lot of development work was focussed specifically on these devices. I mentioned LTE [4G in the US]. When AT&T invested in the company, one of the things that allowed us to do was talk to the people that were developing the LTE spec. We helped create profiles that were very specific to these kinds of applications. They give us very, very low latency on a cellular level. So again that was direct feedback from 'you've created this standard that has very fast, powerful cellular broadband networks, and we have applications that can make use of that - if we sort out the latency issue'. Between us we did that and now in the US Verizon and AT&T both have LTE networks - we're running great on those. We've been trialling that for a while and it works really well.
What devices are currently LTE/4G compatible?
BG: There's a couple of tablets that are out and also a couple of high-end phones as well. I believe the Galaxy for example.
So Onlive becomes completely mobile over LTE? What sort of LTE contracts are there?
BG: Yep, you can take these games mobile. The contracts offer unlimited data, but they're still developing it. One thing in general: it's no good giving someone a big fat pipe if you then tell them their bandwidth's capped. In fact we've seen this even with broadband. There's a lot of resistance now to companies providing broadband caps. If you come out and say 'look at this, I can give you a really high-speed network, look at all this stuff you can do - by the way you can only use it for 20 minutes' - you kind of look a little bit stupid.
What was your response to reports that made a lot of OnLive's data usage rate?
BG: If you look at those reports... It's funny from our side. You look at them and think 'hold on a second, do you actually understand what an HD video stream does? Because if you watch LOVEFiLM or Netflix in the US, it's sucking down a lot of data. Same with BBC iPlayer. It's a video stream and the very definition of delivering high definition video means it's going to do that. The networks are there to support it. It's up to the carriers to get on board with 'we can't keep capping people if we’re going to provide these networks’. We’ve already got companies in the UK talking about 100Gbits fibre... Well if you give me 100Gbits, you better not cap me at 200GB because I’m going to go through that really quickly [laughs].
Could you see those developments bring improvements to OnLive?
BG: Oh absolutely. Today we have a target of 720p at 60 frames per second. The nature of the codec means we sometimes soften things a little bit depending on the state of the network. But if you give us a bigger pipe we can go to 1080p, do 3D. At the backend we already have the technology to do this. At the front-end it’s all down to the networks.
You’ve got a UK retail partner in Game – will we be able to buy the new controller there?
BG: We’re working on the rollout and how it’s going to work right now. We don’t want to release any of the details of that just yet, because we’ve got some good stuff coming up. We’ve announced we’re going to be working with Game but we haven’t actually gone into any of the stores yet. We’ll be going into stores very soon – it’s all in motion right now.
The Batman: Arkham City demo was a huge driver for OnLive...
BG: That was a lot of fun. Three days before Arkham City went live on OnLive and PC we got to put the demo live on the service and if you’d have been watching the arena at the time... it just exploded into a whole pile of people playing Arkham City, and that was worldwide. It was a great reaction because it showed how easy it is for us to just turn something on. It was our largest ever demo uptake in one go.
It sounds like a big milestone - millions of users have reportedly used OnLive since UK launch, but can you put that into context for us or give us any retention numbers?
BG: I can’t tell you the actual numbers right now, but what I can tell you is that we launched in the UK and anticipated demand of two-three times the US launch. It actually ended up – not just as an exaggerated number, but a real number – about ten times the US launch.
BG: No. It was about ten times the US launch [laughs]. We ended up air-shipping servers from the US to our data-centres here to beef up capacity, and we’re going to continue build that capacity. The growth-ramp is continuing in the UK; people love the service and with hindsight it should have been a little more obvious, but we had a much more complete product when we launched here. We didn’t have the OGS or the anticipation or the content [at US launch]. When we launched in the UK it was a great product offering. People have really got behind it. What we’ve seen is a lot of people telling everyone else ‘look it’s free, just go try it.’ If it works we think you’ll love it, and if it doesn’t work broadband will improve and it will work for you at some point.
We saw the service working brilliantly just ahead of launch, but in the week of launch we noticed quite a few issues such as problems logging in and queues to access games – have all those issues been ironed out?
BG: That was the bit when we were flying servers over! Quite honestly, the demand blew our socks off. Think of it as the New Year’s Eve SMS problem. We had so many people coming through the door in one go. We’d looked carefully at these numbers and talked a lot about what we thought the demand was going to be. We put in a lot of capacity and thought we’d built beyond it as well. I’d like to say it was a nice problem to have but it meant that some people were getting onto the service and not having a great experience, while others were seeing wait times, or a lesser experience. Those are the problems we’ve been addressing and we’ve got to keep building on.
Is it in a solid place now? Is the average experience how you want it to be?
BG: Yes. I don’t think we’ve seen any queues since a couple of weeks after launch. We’re continuing to build that capacity. What we don’t ever want to be is in that position.
What’s next for OnLive, both in the UK, US and beyond?
BG: We’re always looking to the next 12 months and continuing to grow the service. We’re already looking at where we’re going to go next. We already have plans for next year and where we’re going to go. 2012 is going to be another big year for us. For the UK market specifically you’ll see content coming in that will be more appropriate for people here. A lot more emphasis on the types of sports games, such as football, or racing-type games.
Will we see new publishers revealed on the service next year?
Are OnLive users continuing to spend money on the service?
BG: Yes. Absolutely. We’re seeing people coming in, trying the service, then they’ll buy a game, then another game. We’re absolutely seeing what we’d term ‘true console behaviour’.
Posted by John Anderson at 06:09