This is the future. Not so much now, but in the future.
I believe that, within the next five years, OnLive will be the premiere way to purchase PC games. Within the next ten years it may be the ONLY way to purchase any PC games that aren’t indie productions. This will seem crazy to almost anyone out there, but just hang in there while I explain my reasoning.
PC gaming has seriously been hurt by piracy. Now I won’t go so far as to say that piracy is taking so much money away from PC game developers that they don’t feel it’s worth it to release PC games, but instead I imagine it’s the fear of piracy that permeates the business of video games. This fear causes most publishers to demand that any game they publish be heavily DRM’d, which costs a ton of money and does literally nothing. In fact, the best DRM they’ve come up with, Ubisoft’s “always need an internet connection” DRM, was cracked pretty quickly.
Publishers and developers aren’t the only problem either. It’s not just pirates that are costing the publishers and developers money, it’s the average user. How so? How much money do you suppose Ubisoft spent on their DRM service, including development, implementation, and server costs? Probably a lot more than they should have. How did the average gamer react? With fear, hate and distrust. I was one of these people, so I can’t exactly say it was an uncalled for action, but it did cost the publisher tons of money. More importantly it added to their belief that PC gaming was not a lucrative market. I mean hell, if they even try and prevent piracy their regular users will damn near riot.
So where does OnLive come into all this? OnLive is the PERFECT DRM service. If PC game publishers were smart they would be supporting OnLive with every ounce of their advertising money. Why? Think about the way OnLive works. Not only do you have to download a program, but you have to open OnLive to do anything. How is this different than Steam? I have Steam up and in the background at almost all times, but with OnLive I have to commit. The program opens full screen and immerses you in the experience a lot more than other PC game stores. Of course that’s a small part of it. Consider also the fact that it’s almost impossible to pirate a game if it was released only on OnLive. This isn’t a “you need an always on internet connection” DRM that you can hack and turn off. In fact, you have no files of the game on your PC and you never will. You would need to hack into their servers, change the files there, and somehow make sure they didn’t find out and just change it back. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I can’t see a way to pirate this on a large scale.
So we’ve effectively stopped PC piracy, given players an Always On DRM that they can’t really get mad about, and provided a great way to market a PC game, due to OnLives amazing “spectator” mode. So what’s the problem? Well first of all, no matter how good your computer is you can’t turn up the graphics. Given a big push from publishers and developers though people could learn to forgive this flaw. Would hardcore PC gamers be upset? Yes. Does any company care about hardcore gamers, let alone hardcore PC gamers? Probably not. The other problem is the lag. Now I’ve been playing OnLives free week of games (not all of them, just the ones available from there subscription service. That means mostly ‘meh’ ones right now) and I’ve rarely noticed any lag. When I do it’s usually a little choppy for a few seconds, and then I’m back to gaming. Of course I am limited as to what I can do in the background while I play. I mean I won’t be running torrents (another win for every industry), but I also won’t be downloading anything at all, which can be a serious pain.
In closing I think that, in the future, we will see OnLive or a service much like it rise up to take over mainstream PC gaming. Almost every company out there has given up on PC games in retail unless it’s a Blizzard game, so brick and mortar stores aren’t going to care. Within five years, if the industry is smart, OnLive will become the new console, turning the pain in the ass of developing for literally billions of different machines into a simple, one stop shop console experience that is almost impossible to pirate. Of course, to really kick this off they might have to work with the internet providers to possibly provide a “gamers tier” internet option where, for an extra $20 a month, you have a much better internet connection.
What’s the biggest problem with OnLive as I see it now though? Prices and selection. Their selection is alright and getting better, but their prices keep me from buying anything. They sell old games for full price, and they almost never have a sale. Even when they do it doesn’t come close to Steam’s sales. I know they don’t have the user base to be able to work those deals yet, but it really is a deal breaker for me. I mean I’m giving up my ability to play the game offline, or to change the graphics settings, and I’m ok with that. But if I’m paying full price for it, I might as well buy it from Steam with a huge discount and the ability to play offline.
What do you think? Have you tried OnLive at all? Now is the perfect time, as they are having a ‘free play’ week. Hop online and give it a shot, then tell me what you think in the comments.