Friday, 6 January 2012

The Alternative way to Mainstream Gaming

If you don’t know, OnLive is a pay-to-use based live streaming service that delivers games-on-demand through a broad-band connection. The major difference between this and the more traditional download services like Steam is that absolutely nothing is downloaded to your local machine with OnLive. This gives the advantage of being able to play the latest mainstream games ether through their dedicated proprietary TV-Box console, or on practically any PC, Mac, or even an Android 2 enabled smart-phone.
The downside of course is that you are completely reliant on your Internet connection, and any serious lag or loss of service will render the OnLive system unusable.

The fact than any purchase made is entirely virtual also initially put some people off. No program downloads are ever saved to your local device with OnLive. Instead all programs are held on central servers, and you are buying a ‘user licence’ right to play the centrally held games, a good thing for multi-player system where all players are running their game on the server machine.
To me the convenience of the service outweighs the chance that I will loose any purchases I have made if the company ever ceases trading and the servers go offline.

The pay side of the service comes in three flavours one-time purchase play forever, rental, and the ‘play-pack.’
One-Time purchase is exactly what it says on the tin. You pay a one-time cost for the game and it is available to you for as long as the OnLive service runs. Although a lot of independent and slightly older mainstream games are decent to low priced with this option, some of the big-name and newer offerings can be a bit pricey, considering that this is a ‘rights to play’ deal with no additional packaging, shipment, or other handling and storage costs involved.
Rental can have a few options but generally consists of 1, 3, or 5 day rentals. Again costs can vary from game to game. But generally go from a few pounds to around ten.
I have to confess I see little point to the rental scheme. Maybe if you are intending to finish a game within a few days and don’t want to pay the full price ether through the service or for a ‘hard copy’ from a shop. I would say that some of the big-name new releases only have the rental, or rental and purchase, options available, and can’t be obtained through the play-pack.
The last, and possibly most interesting, option is the play-pack. This is more-or-less akin to a subscription service. You can choose to pay around seven pounds on a monthly basis. With all games in the pack being available to play whilst your subscription is live. You can chose to pay or not pay at any time, with your game saves being retained from one session to another.
There are currently well over a hundred games in the play-pack and these are a mixture of all genres, including many big-name mainstream titles.

But it isn’t all pay, pay, pay with OnLive. Practically all games on the system have a free ‘demo’ mode. Unlike traditional demos this allows you to play the full version of the game for half an hour. During this time you can save your progress just as with a normal bought game.

I got the plugs-into-the-tv box for the OnLive games streaming sevice as a Christmas gift, and I’ve spent a surprising amount of time using it. I had already signed up to the OnLive site before I got the TV-Box and was already familiar with the user dashboard running through my PC, and wasn’t really sure if the TV-box would add anything. But I was wrong. It was simple to set up and the ease of use the box brings, along with the ability to play it through my larger-screened HDMI enabled TV, makes for a game-play experience more akin to a current-generation console. Using the supplied wire-free xBox-like controller also feels completely different to using OnLive through my PC.

The user dashboard is intuitive and very straightforward to use. With the game selection menu being simple to follow, allowing easy access to ether the demo-play or the various pay-to-play options available for any given game. This menu also has a useful search function, although I would have like to see it search by Developer/Publisher as well as by game title.
The ‘Arena’ option is used to view the live games of other players. This allows you to have a proper look at how the games run in a real-time real-player environment, something a pre-recorded game-play video or even a traditional demo can’t  really do.

In summary I don’t think OnLive is ready to take over from traditional shop-bought boxed games, or even from the standard type of download-based internet services, just yet. But it is a very good way to see and experience playing new games for free, and is very useful as a 'look and try before you buy' tool. Irrespective of which media you eventually purchase the game from. Or even for looking at games you may not otherwise have considered playing.
I think this type of service will open-up games to scrutiny in a way that hasn’t really been available before.
It’s also a very good showcase for the Independents, and will hopefully generate more sales in this area.
I think the current sleeping giant that is the mainstream games industry needs a bit of a wake-up call nowadays, and services like this may go a fair way to doing that.

I’d say some purchases on OnLive are very worth while, whilst others do seem a bit pricey, considering that you are only paying for a ‘rights to play’ licence.
Hopefully there will be many more cut-price sales like the (very good) one that was run over the Christmas period.
I got a game that I had wanted from OnLive for under a tenth of the price I’d seen it being sold in a traditional shop for. True, I don’t have any packaging or a disk, but I only need to switch on the TV-Box, select the game, press play, and it’s all there straight from my last save point.
I’m also a bit of a collector so this may not be an option I’d chose for every game, but it is another option. And options are good things to have.


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