The history of the cloud-based gaming service OnLive has been rocky. However, despite some hiccups along the way and some fairly drastic changes, the service is still going strong, is sporting some new ideas and still allows gamers to play AAA titles on the toilet.
OnLive launched to much fanfare in September 2011 here in the UK. Cloud gaming had finally arrived and promised users the chance to play games on devices that may otherwise simply not be able to run them.
To begin with, OnLive offered a micro console and controller that could plug into the TV and give players console-like access to the latest PC games on the big screen. The service was also available on PC and players were able to subscribe to the “PlayPack” which offered more than 160 games for players to instantly jump into. The launch of an OnLive branded Bluetooth controller meant that once the service launched on Android devices, playing triple-A games on a mobile device became a reality.
The concept was fairly straight forward. Whether buying a new game from the service, or playing one of the 160 PlayPack games, the game was already installed on a server somewhere out in the world, and then streamed to the players device of choice to play, totally removing any hardware restrictions for the game itself.Many people declared it to be the future of gaming.
However, the service had its problems,suggesting that maybe the future had arrived too soon. Firstly, the bandwidth required for smoothly streaming a videogame was quite high, and at the time of launch, beyond the capabilities of many players. Players were turned off by stuttering, unplayable games. They were also less than impressed by the graphical quality of games that should have, according to the technology, been running in optimal conditions, no matter what hardware the player was using. And controller lag, that time between pressing a button and the input being beamed across the internet to the server and back to the player through the stream, meant that many more precise games became that bit more difficult.
There were other problems too, little niggles that slowly chipped away at the enthusiasm of the users. The excitement of being able to play PC games on any device was dampened by limitations regarding input devices. Some games are simply designed for the keyboard and mouse, meaning they would not work properly using a controller or on a touchscreen device. Touchscreen supported games were slowly becoming available, ideal for playing on tablets when out and about, but they were few and far between.
But there were great ideas too, some which have since become more mainstream. The ability to quickly and easily watch other people playing games was impressive. Thinking of buying or playing a game? Simply watch someone else playing it and live and see what you think. And Brag Clips, they were fun. Uploading your accomplishments in a game, or any bit of gameplay that you deem interesting, for other users to watch and enjoy. The Playpack, a Netflix of videogames, was really impressive, packed with many games both old and new, all for a small monthly subscription.
Despite the problems with the service, OnLive continued to grow in both its user base and the games offered. But then, in August 2012, everything very nearly came to an end when the company was facing bankruptcy. The service was saved when the assets were acquired by a new company, although many of the staff were laid off. Things were looking grim, but the new company promised to keep the service running.
And so they did. OnLive may have gone dark for a while, with barely a peep in the last couple of years, but they kept providing the cloud gaming service for their users. And then the changes began to roll out, and OnLive seemed to rise from the ashes.
A large part of OnLive’s continued existence comes down to the way technology is moving forward. The average internet speed has increased across the UK, making the streaming of games a much more appealing prospect. And ways to play OnLive have improved, with smart TVs capable of running the service without any additional input, and a whole range of Android-based mini consoles that can run the service on TVs that are not so smart.
In June of this year, OnLive announced a partnership with WikiPad which would see the cloud gaming service optimized for use on the WikiPad 7, and to work with WikiPad’s Gamevice products.
Spending the last couple of months with the WikiPad 7, the tablet is a capable if unremarkable Android device. What distinguishes it from other Android tablets on the market is the fact that it slots into an ergonomic controller that features all of the inputs that a modern controller has. Slotting the tablet into the controller surround adds a fair amount of size to the unit, but it feels nice and comfortable in the hands, and the OnLive service works flawlessly with it. There are still games that won’t work due to input requirements, but for any game on OnLive that can be played with a controller, the WikiPad 7 will play it well. Playing games such as BioShock, Batman: Arkham City or DarkSiders II, all of which are part of the PlayPack bundle, on the WikiPad 7 are a joy. Of course, these games can be enjoyed on any Android tablet with an OnLive subscription and the addition of a controller, but with the WikiPad’s controller integration and OnLive optimization, everything is so much smoother and less complicated.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to happen with OnLive this year, other than the PlayPack growing to now offer more than 250 games, is the new CloudLift service. This new service began quite small back in March, but is growing at a fair rate. The idea of the service is that games you have already purchased on Steam can now be synced with the cloud so that they can be played anywhere with an internet connection, and on any device. Play the game on your home PC, and then continue playing somewhere else on another device, even one that doesn’t support the game natively, thanks to your save syncing with the cloud. With the CloudLift service, players are able to enjoy the best of both worlds, downloading their game onto a local PC whilst also taking advantage of instant gaming from the cloud.
It is an impressive idea and it works quite well. OnLive sell download codes for the games, so players wanting to use the CloudLift service can buy the compatible games and download them to their gaming rig for local playing before jumping onto the cloud. Players with massive Steam libraries will have to wait a while for all of their games to be supported through CloudLift, but the compatible game list is growing and now supports more than 70 games. New games are being added to CloudLift regularly, and include both older titles and more recent releases such as LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.
However, taking on the might of Sauron’s army or the evil plans of Brainiac while lying in the bath or waiting for a train come with a downside. CloudLift is a subscription service and charges a monthly fee for the privilege of streaming your own games onto other devices. The cost of the service at the moment is £4.95 each month, which is nothing to be sniffed at. However, when combined with the PlayPack subscription, which separately costs £6.95 each month, there is a sizable discount making the entire OnLive service, the OnLive Games Bundle, a quite reasonable £8.95 a month. Remember, for this you not only get access to CloudLift, allowing you to play your compatible Steam games from the cloud, but you also get to instantly play more than 250 PC games in the PlayPack. Subscriptions can be canceled at any time, and should you return after a cancellation, all of your cloud saves will still be there.
Some of the old issues still remain. A decent internet connection is still required and the unimpressive 4G roll out, along with high mobile data charges, mean that the dream of playing any game anywhere is still a way off. And there are still games that are just not suitable for a controller, limiting their appeal away from a PC. But the cloud gaming pioneer OnLive is still going strong, and has increased its appeal with the new CloudLift service allowing players to play the games they own from the cloud.
OnLive has been through a lot since the original UK launch back in 2011. despite some predictions, the service is not only still around, but it is growing and offering more services. Check out OnLive, the brilliant PlayPack and the new CloudLift service at www.onlive.co.uk to see what you are missing out on.