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OnLive: the future is not that close October 26, 2009

Posted by Cesar in gaming me, working me.
Tags: , , , , , , ,


A while ago there was an interesting discussion about OnLive on a LinkedIn group.  And I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. I should say my religion is technology and I believe in the concept of OnLive from a theoretical point of view. That is: with a good enough connection, it will be possible to play high end games without disturbing lag. And I believe that connection exists.

That’s not to say I think OnLive will be a huge success. I think while the current connection speeds can be good enough for the service, they will often not be reliable enough, which will be a huge problem since local playing is not an option. You know those days you can’t surf all that well? You won’t be able to play either.

But that’s not all. One guy in the above mentioned discussion brought up a point that is very valid and somewhat unquestionable. While the connections are fast enough, they are not ready for that much traffic. And I am not talking just about the infrastructure, but also about the business model. Most ISPs in the US, Canada and Europe have what they call a fair share policy: there’s no written limit, but if you abuse it, they will cut you down. And according to the OnLive FAQ (and you know how these things go right?), to play with a 720 resolution at 60 fps, you need a 5Mbps connection. But unlike regular online games, where traffic happens in bursts and latency matters more, we can expect a somewhat constant data flow when playing OnLive. So…

That’s 625KB per second.

Roughly 2.2 GB per hour.

For a casual gamer that plays 7 hours a week, we are talking 63 GB per month.

Now imagine how much an avid gamer will consume. I will not even write it down. It is not doable. Not right now. Not with the current plans offered by most ISPs.  So while I believe in the technology, I don’t think the hit will be all that big. In fact, I think we’ll still see one whole generation of home consoles until the OnLive model becomes truly feasible. That is not to say it will fail blatantly either. It just won’t change the industry this winter like many have been saying. I for one intent to get it anyway, even if it is as a secondary console.

But I could be wrong. I hope I am.

See you space cowboys…



1. John McLaughlin - October 28, 2009

I’m pretty sure the OnLive people have thought this through, after all ATT is one of their investors. People have been fretting about the internet running out of bandwidth for a while, but I think this is nonsense. The providers are consistently upgrading, and even seem to be solving the last mile problem. Also note that some Asian cities are now offering 100Mbs internet lines to consumers. We seem to be a generation behind them. I’m sure reliability could be an issue, but my own home internet connection has become dramatically more reliable in the past couple years. IMHO if you’re betting against OnLive on internet bandwidth or reliability concerns, your essentially betting against Moore’s Law. My bet is on a big win for OnLive. It may not work for everybody now, but it’s just a matter of time.

Cesar - October 29, 2009

Hi John, I am more concerned about the current model, with the fair share policy, than with actual infrastructure limitations. I cannot see ISPs changing their plans overnight. I also agree OnLive is the future. I just don’t think it will happen so soon. You do have an extremely valid point when you mention Asia. As a game developer I worked a bit targetting the asian market and their mobile connections are more impressive than our land ones. We really are a generation behind them and in their generation OnLive will run way smoother. I guess looking at Asia we can see a glimpse of our future when it comes to internet connection. You know what? You are right. I still think the impact won’t be so big but OnLive will probably become popular faster then I first predicted.

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