When Digital Foundry released their in-depth hardware look at OnLive, comparing the service across a bunch of ISPs at varying speeds, it proved enlightening. The realisation that my TalkTalk 8MB London-based service was probably the poorest line for plugging into the cloud for some sweet gaming was made more bearable now that someone other than this raging writer had confirmed that my ISP was utterly [insert many swears]. OnLive was unplayable on launch - the screen across all devices (microconsole, laptop, netbook) refusing to display a damn thing, a juddering, stuttering pile of noise in the background the only sign that anything was actually going on. This persisted for a couple of weeks.
Three weeks on from launch, though, and it would appear that the service is improving. Firing the microconsole up last week - and testing through the week at 10 am, 2pm, 5pm, 7pm and 10pm daily - resulted in some rather surprising results. Not only was OnLive working, but it was running absurdly smoothly. It was as if the beardy, haggard, decrepit Lazarus had gone risen and walked back out of his tomb as Cristiano Ronaldo and, aside from a little hiccup on Saturday, the service has been smooth as butter.
As Carl says, it's a service that is built for the future. To write it off immediately because of the inconsistent nature of internet provision at this point in time would be a terribly foolish thing to do. It wasn't so long ago that the notion of broadband was being laughed at. To borrow a lyric, things can only get better.
The games on offer are impressive indeed, the catalogue far larger than competitor Gaikai's and it's expanding all of the time. The decision, too, to show some indie love is wise indeed, particularly when you consider the wealth of options, both present and potential, to monetise the product line on the service. Pricing is high at the moment, but the same could be said of Steam, and as with Valve's service OnLive will surely see plenty of deals, sales, tailored discounts and so on. The PlayPack is a cracking little deal, and the initial 'Any Game For £1' offer an excellent point of entry. But the service needs itself a killer app, a towering blockbuster. It doesn't need to be exclusive at all, it just needs to be on the system. I'm talking about the multi-million copy games. A Battlefield or a COD or, particularly in this country, a FIFA would do wonders.
I had no issues with the hardware itself, although that little microconsole quickly became so warm that I had to move it away from my Xbox 360 just in case OnLive gave it any ideas. The controller is a lovely piece of kit, a gorgeous synthesis between the two leading traditional console controllers, offering the classic layout of the DualShock combined with the sturdy ergonomics of the Xbox 360's gamepad. The result is something that OnLive are no doubt hoping will please both camps. As someone with fairly large hands, there's none of the manual claustrophobia I find with the DualShock 3, indeed it fits very nicely into the hands, so long as you don't need the shoulder buttons.
There can be no doubt that OnLive as a console experience is looking to become a primary competitor. The future prospects all point that way, but so too do things like Achievements, Brag Clips and the social features already exhibited. It's clear that they understand community is key, but there's still some way to go in the backend, in terms of features, that could certainly be improved upon. More smoothly integrating play amongst friends,and the ability to form gaming parties would be nice. Having a clock on the quick menu would be a nice touch too. A little thing, and one that I didn't even realise that I'd miss until it wasn't there. A local screenshots function, perhaps with Facebook/Twitter integration would be lovely, even though the Brag Clips are a great idea, the limit of 15 is somewhat restrictive. Console gamers miss out on the advantages of a 'Print Screen' button and having one's own gallery in the cloud would be great.
There's potential too for OnLive to be a fantastic media centre, which will be necessary if they want to be a primary competitor. I want to see a union between OnLive and Spotify, I want that to happen. You'd never need to bother syncing a computer to your console ever again. Films are an obvious step, with a number of streaming services already available, and with OnLive fostering partnerships with the likes of Warner Bros., it'd make sense to explore those avenues as Microsoft and Sony roll out their ever widening nets. Diversity could be key.
But there's no getting away form the fact that much of this is 'future-speak'. In the here and now, we're presented with a promising service hamstrung in areas by an internet network full of squabbling ISPs, limited by draconian bandwidth restrictions a lot of the time because the infrastructure is too poor to support it. If the data consumption reports are to be believed, you'll be gobbling straight through that fair usage agreement in no time. OnLive is supposed to be a leveller, a way of bringing relatively cheap, easily accessible gaming to the masses. But that won't work until we have widespread, fast, reliable internet. OnLive as a service is great, but it relies heavily upon another service over which it has little control and if the two don't line up, the idea will be rejected, which would be a shame. When something launches, we expect it to work straight off the bat. Convenience in entertainment is king, especially these days, and shifting around ISPs, having two different groups of customer service reps telling you different things - OnLive blames ISP, ISP blames OnLive - all this does is speed up the draining of goodwill reserves borne out of curiosity.
Having chatted to several people, each with varying experiences in terms of the reliability of service, the broad consensus has been 'Oh, it's great when it works', swiftly followed by the word 'but'. You don't want to be gunning for that, not at all, and I can't help but feel that OnLive may have arrived here too early. The good thing, though, is that things can only really improve as far as internet provision is concerned. But the question is, will people still be interested by then. Let's hope so.
Also...playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution on an iPad is really cool.