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in Filmmaking
on Mar 24, 2009

I was editing the next edition of “Game Engine,” Heather Chaplin’s game column in Filmmaker, and I started wondering where I could play some of the really interesting indie games she has been writing about. Of course, they are available on PS3 or Xbox for download, but that brought up the question for me of why can’t there be a console intended for games that don’t exist as disks but as downloads or streams? Well, today, voila, just such a console was announced. At Variety, Marc Graser was the first to announce the new OnLive, created by WebTV founder Steve Perlman.

From the piece:

The OnLive Game Service, which is being shown off at this week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, will essentially turn any computer with a broadband Internet connection into a high-end console and enable users to play games instantly without the need of a download.

Service makes videogames the last form of entertainment to turn to on-demand as a future form of distribution.

CNet explains the tech:

According to Perlman, OnLive’s technology will make it possible to stream the games in such a manner — high quality, no matter what kind of system the user has — by virtue of a series of patented and patent-pending compression technologies. And instead of requiring users to download the games, OnLive will host them all and stream them from a series of the highest-end servers. Users will have only to download a 1MB plug-in to get the service up and running.

Lev Grossman at Time’s “Nerdworld” has more:

I saw a demo of this a couple of weeks ago, and I gotta say, it’s impressive. OnLive comes out of an incubator company called Rearden, which was started by Steve Perlman, the man who made zillions of 1990’s dollars off of WebTV. My first question for him was: who’s the wackjob who greenlit this project? I wouldn’t have thought it was possible: if you take my PS3 and move it to some server farm in Virginia, and leave my TV here in Brooklyn, doesn’t that introduce huge amounts of latency into the system? Especially considering how sensitive twitch gamers are to lag? But what I saw looked very real. Apparently they’ve been working on this for 7 years, and they have a raft of major publishers on board: EA, Ubisoft, Take-Two, Atari, THQ, and so on.

The consequences keep on unfolding in my head. I mean, I’m not generally a fan of turning games from a product into a service: I don’t like renting — I’m an iTunes guy, not a Rhapsody guy. I like to own my hardware and software. But think about it: all at once, OnLive could make hardware irrelevant. I played Crysis on a MacBook Air that was hooked up to OnLive, and it was spookily crisp and smooth. Something that can make a MacBook Air into a high-end gaming platform? That’s going to change the landscape. Hell, I haven’t been a PC gamer for years, because I couldn’t keep up with the relentless upgrade agenda, but OnLive takes that out of the equation — they upgrade their hardware for you. (You don’t even need a PC or a console at all: OnLive will sell you a little cigar-box-sized dongle-type object that hooks up directly to your TV, that will process their signals for you.)

This is pretty interesting on a lot of levels and I’m going to look forward to checking it out.

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