OnLive Support

Earlier tonight I was asked what I think of OnLive and other cloud services. What I should have said - what I think - was that it is some scary black magic from Mars, and I am in constant awe of this otherworldly witchcraft. What I actually did was complain.

Like, the fact that OnLive exists at all, and actually works to any extent at all is mind-boggling. There are people right now who have their telephones connected to supercomputers that are halfway across the world via wireless Internet, and they're using this chain of high-tech devices to play L.A. Noir. That should not be happening, and it is, and, jeez, screw the flying cars and obedient robot wives; we are living in the future right now.


First, what is wrong with me? I get to play a huge catalogue of games - EFFORTLESSLY! FOR FREE! - and I'm so entitled that I think I have a right to complain.

Second: I have more complaints.

My initial complaints were that sometimes it doesn't work, and I wish it were more convenient. Again, I'm utterly flabbergasted that it works at all, ever, but at its best, OnLive is playing games, or maybe applications like Word, and I can already do that without OnLive. It's not like my Wii has never crashed, but when it does, it's this rare, unreal event. Discounting the time I spent working as a professional game tester, I can count the number of Wii crashes I've experienced on one hand.

On the other hand there are not enough fingers to count how many times OnLive crashes while I'm playing one thirty-minute demo. I'm told the service works much better when streamed through the OnLive MicroConsole, but I already have a menagerie of reliable consoles dog-piling my TV. Getting a new piece of dedicated hardware seems counter to the seamless, invisible magic promised by cloud computing.

That takes me to convenience. Putting the OnLive service in a box that sits next to my TV is good. Putting in the computer that I already own is better, or at least it would be if it worked consistently. In other words, I'm saying that the way OnLive works right now is already better than good.


I can barely force myself to type this. It's a spoiled, arrogant demand, and I'm sickened by the thought that it's going to be expressed my very own fingers clacking on the keyboard, presented on the Internet for all to see.

Buuuuuuuuuut... I have to double-click on an icon to launch OnLive. I have to wait for it to load. I have to wait for the service to verify my name and password.

I know! You guys, I know. I am muy embarazada, but some diseased part of my brain actually believes it is actually justified in containing this thought.

I know!

Here's the thing: Gaikai.

Gaikai is poised to be OnLive's first direct competitor, and they already have top-tier cloud-based games - we're talking Rayman Origins, Mass Effect 3, and The Darkness II, to name a few - playable in a browser. I only learned this a few hours ago, but if Gaikai hadn't done it, someone else would have. It was inevitable.

I've been watching videos on my computer since 1994, if not ea rlier. The first time I saw a real, decent-quality, non-animated video playing on my computer was on a Betty Crocker CD-ROM cookbook. It blew my tiny mind. The content of the video didn't matter; the quality of the video barely mattered - it was playing on my computer. It was unreal.

Three years later, DVDs hit the market.

Progress seemed slow at the time, but it's incredible how fast technology moved in retrospect. One year I would leave the computer and dial-up running overnight in the hopes that it would finish downloading a music video the size of a postage stamp by morning. (It wouldn't, because dial-up Internet never stayed connected for that long.) The next year, I was watching Flash cartoons in a matter of minutes. Now, I get frustrated if an embedded YouTube video doesn't load within five seconds of my clicking "Play."

Streaming games will reach this point. They will. I want OnLive to do it first and reap the rewards because I like seeing hardworking innovators succeed, but the larger market doesn't share my sense of loyalty. OnLive must perfect embeddable, browser-based streaming - and market it correctly - or the company's toast.

That's a huge order. I can't stress enough that I don't understand how OnLive is even possible in its current state. From a technological standpoint, I can't begin to comprehend how they'll make it better, but someone with a less disease-riddled brain than my own will solve that riddle, and they will win all the Crunchium. (I think  this is how business works??)

A Businessman

I'm not finished. I don't think it's enough to take current OnLive and stick it in a browser. I question the OnLive business model on a fundamental level. Right now there's a PlayPack and a PlayPass, and you can buy games, and... I don't really know what those terms mean, but I do know that I haven't spent any money, and I don't intend to buy any games if "buy" means, "purchase the rights to stream a game for as long as it's available on the service; I just hope OnLive doesn't ever run into any rights conflicts, because that's never been an issue in video games, and I'll just assume that my Internet connection will never hiccup and frustratingly rob me of control of my game."

People think they want big-budget shooters like Call of Duty on OnLive, but that seems unlikely to me. Activision has no incentive to license Call of Duty to OnLive. What, are they going to make more money? They already have all the money. Moreover, who is going to be attracted to OnLive by Call of Duty? The series is a system-seller... but it already sold a system called Xbox 360.

OnLive - and cloud services in general - have the potential to compete with established consoles one day, but you don't compete by offering the same content that's available elsewhere, especially if that content is compromised or released late. It seems the people at OnLive are aware of this, and we're starting to see them push Sega classics and little-known indie games.

This is genius. I can't get anything out of an opus like Deus Ex: Human Revolution without devoting at least a dozen hours, but I can jump into Ristar and start having a blast right away. Just like YouTube found success by offering videos that were ten minutes or less, browser-based cloud games will hook us with bite-sized games that we can embed in Facebook. Then OnLive can ease us into open-world sandboxes and 60-hour RPGs.

I still won't buy those games, though. This idea of selling individual OnLive games is a trap.

You know what the last thing I watched on Netflix was? Cop-and-a-Half. The movie where police officer Burt Reynolds is paired with an eight-year-old, and they have to work together to bust a singing drug dealer. Cop-and-a-Freaking-Half. I watched it. Netflix is a paid service, and this is the dreck I get to watch because I subscribe.

I wouldn't go to a video store and pay money for Cop-and-a-Half. I will not buy the DVD. But it was there, and it was convenient, and I watched. I do wish Netflix had a better streaming selection, but it doesn't matter. I don't like Netflix because it has the best movies; I like it because it has a lot of movies and I can click in and out of them at my leisure. Netflix gives me a big stack of virtual cassettes every month and says, "Here, sort through that." There's no attempt to sell an individual streaming movie to me. It's a grab bag. At best, I discover movies I never would have seen otherwise. At worst, I discover movies I never would have seen otherwise. The joy is in the enormity of the selection.

As I see it, OnLive has two options for revenue. One is a monthly subscription, à la Netflix. Pay $5-$10, get all the games you can play. The other is ad support, à la Hulu.

Right now, when I launch a game in OnLive, I see a preview for that same game while I wait for it to load. What? Why are you advertising the very thing I've already agreed that I want to play? Put a laundry detergent commercial there! Throw in another ad every seven minutes, like TV. I don't like watching commercials, but that's outweighed by how much I like playing free games.

When OnLive was announced, we were told we could play high-end, graphically-intense games on anything with an Internet connection. That was a good sales pitch, even if the claim was a slight exaggeration, but I haven't found that to be the real appeal of this technology. The greatest benefit is that I can play games without having to buy, download, or install them. This is huge.

I played (and loved!) Alarm for Cobra 11: Nitro this week. I never would have touched that game if getting a demo meant waiting for a forty-minute download that may or may not run on my computer. I don't want to buy Comix Zone, but I'm thrilled that I finally got to play it. I tried playing this year's IGF nominees, but it was a real pain to hunt through a million different Web sites in search of big, unstable downloads... until working versions of the games were conveniently uploaded to OnLive, where I could skim through them all in a single sitting.

OnLive is the best in its field. The company is full of geniuses, the service is full of incredible games, and the future is full of potential. I'm not complaining because I'm dissatisfied. I'm complaining because I don't want to see someone else steal all the glory.

You're in first-place, OnLive. Stay there.