Friday, June 18, 2010

Could Cloud Computing take over videogame consoles?

There’s a fox in the henhouse at E3 this year.

As Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo promote their upcoming hardware innovations and try to extend the life cycle of this generation of consoles, a burgeoning company called OnLive sits on the show floor of the video game industry’s trade show, sending out the message that dedicated game machines could be a thing of the past.

The idea behind OnLive is simple: Games are stored and played on its centralized servers (the "cloud," in tech parlance) and pushed to users via a broadband connection. When you press a button on your controller at home, that action is transmitted virtually instantaneously to the game and reflected on screen.

On the surface, it sounds like a just another delivery method—but what makes OnLive and other upcoming cloud-based gaming services interesting is their ability to transform almost any screen into a high end gaming system.

Core PC gamers spend thousands of dollars to put together systems loaded with RAM and bleeding edge graphics cards to get the most out of their games. But with cloud gaming, a $300 netbook or low-end desktop will be able to play games just as effectively, with optimized graphical and other gameplay settings – since all the processing is done remotely. OnLive will soon launch a peripheral for television sets as well, letting you play in your living room.

The iPhone and iPad are next logical steps—and while the company hasn’t announced any formal intention to support Apple’s products, it has shown demos of the service up and running on them, indicating plans are in the works.


OnLive isn’t the only company exploring this space. Gaming industry veteran Dave Perry is working on a similar platform, called Gaikai. And privately held Otoy is working on a software solution that would accomplish the same goal.

What makes OnLive stand out is its founder—Steve Perlman—who previous led development on the technology behind QuickTime and founded WebTV. The company also has several high profile investors, including AT&T Media Holdings and Warner Bros.


The service isn’t without its hurdles, though. OnLive, which launches June 17, is untested in the open world. Still uncertain is whether games will be as responsive with subscribers as they are in controlled media demos. Many also wonder if they’ll be able to fully enjoy the service’s benefits with a typical broadband connection—or if they’ll need to pay more for faster service from their provider. And the monthly $14.95 service fee (which doesn’t include the price of games) could be offsetting to some as well.

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My take: I think these small companies better watch out and figure out how to get big FAST! In other words, they need to get started and immediately sell out to a large company like Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, or even Apple or Google. And then that large company will give it a fighting chance.

Otherwise, they're on a time clock to their own demise. It will only take the big three (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) a couple of years before they realize they need to fashion new systems in this way. And then with their muscle for peripherals, motion-controllers, and game libraries, it's all over for the small companies.


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