OnLive, The First Big Streaming Games Service, Is Dead

OnLive, The First Big Streaming Games Service, Is Dead

Once upon a time, OnLive was The Future. Why buy physical games, they asked, when we could have tons streamed to us instantly, whether playing on a beefy PC or wimpy smart phone? It sounded too good to be true. Turns out, it was.

I know what you're thinking: "Wait, that's still a thing?" Well, yes. Kinda. And not for long.

OnLive, the first video game streaming service to really make waves (or at least headlines), is going to the great capital-C Cloud in the sky on April 30th. Ars Technica reports that all of the company's patents have been sold off to Sony Computer Entertainment America, presumably for their PlayStation Now service, which is similarly focused on streaming games directly to players sans pesky intermediaries like the space-time continuum.

OnLive was always fascinating in theory, but tiny troubles followed in its wake like a bunch of black-cloak-clad ducklings. First there were doubts about its ability to deliver a lag-free experience, then business troubles led to a form of bankruptcy followed by big layoffs and a buyout, and all sorts of uncertainty after that. But still, the service — lacking in users and employees though it was — survived. It emerged under new ownership in late 2012, but lighter, with even less going for it and fewer reasons for potential users to care. In March 2014, it took what turned out to be its final rasping breath, relaunching as a companion service that helped people stream games they owned (via platforms like Steam) to other devices.

The service itself, our own Evan Narcisse wrote, showed promise, but it was all jabs, never a much-needed knockout combo. As he wrote back in 2012: "If the service is ever going to reach its full potential, it's going to have to be a buyer that can address the problems — building a catalogue, optimising bandwidth, establishing a real foothold in living rooms and mobile platforms — that plagued OnLive's previous incarnation. OnLive still probably points the way to video games' future, but it's going to an extremely bumpy ride."

Other services have since taken up the torch. There is, of course, the aforementioned PlayStation Now (which was born of one-time OnLive pseudo-rival, Gaikai), and Nvidia also dove headlong into the streaming business with its Nvidia Grid architecture which will power its upcoming TV-based Shield micro-console. Neither company is hanging their entire hat collection on cloud-based game streaming, though. Not like OnLive.

Maybe, at this point, that's for the better. Some think OnLive was simply too far ahead of its time. Others chalk its failure up to management that was, at best, misguided. Clearly, though, it didn't exactly go according to plan. Someday someone will probably assemble all the puzzle pieces into The Netflix Or Hulu Or Whatever Of Video Games, but the OnLive chapter of that saga serves as a cautionary tale. Even if you've got an incredible idea, success is far from guaranteed.


    Until they can fix input lag, it just won't work

    I have no idea how this could ever work (specifically in Australia) input lag on TVs is already bad enough. Add a few more milliseconds to that and it will make games pretty unresponsive.

      Just wait 10 years to when we have super-fast wireless broadband (because fuck the NBN) and we'll be sweet.

        I know you were making a joke but even with NBN style fibre we wont get good enough latency just super fast download speeds.

          That's the thing, it's about latency not speeds. You can have a 100 megabit connection, but that means nothing for a game streaming service where latency is the culprit.

          When you enter a command on your controller, the signal has to travel via your machine, down the line, then processed, then travels back then gets rendered on your TV. The TVs alone have input lag of 34 ms if you're lucky on game modes. But then there's the rest of the overhead. You'd need a server next door to make this close to viable.

    INput Lag / Data Bandwidth Caps / Annoying subscriptions... Afraid we will need to wait until the Matrix before its really feasible, the world is too busy going backwards atm!

    I guess I missed this article when it was first published.

    When the service was first announced, I said it would never work. Their sales pitch claims about latency were complete bullshit (ie. physically impossible) and I warned people that it was basically an investment scam. There was the possibility of a viable service for certain game types, but they decided to lie about their capabilities instead, and they faked demonstrations at game conventions by having servers hidden behind the booth to cut down on latency.

    I've followed the story of the company ever since, and everything I've heard has reinforced my initial assertions. I'm sad that some customers and investors got taken along for the ride with OnLive. To the people who accused me of wanting it to fail or being afraid of developing technology, you guys get a deserving 'I told you so'. I love technology and I love seeing it develop, but I'm also a realist and I hate scams. And OnLive was completely oversold and intentionally misrepresented.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now