Just like floppy disks gave way to CDs, then CDs to DVDs, followed by USB flash drives and SD cards, the time of game discs has an end in sight. Mind you, there's still a great need for them right now in the console and portable games world, but services like Valve's Steam on the PC (and now Mac) side have shown--in just a few years time--that the packaged game can make a graceful transition to the digital storefront.
What's more interesting, however, is the wave of new technologies that compete with Steam, and other download services like it--not only for PC games, but for console titles too. These streaming technologies, which include names like OnLive, Gaikai, Otoy , and InstantAction, promise to free us completely from the need to download software in the more traditional sense, and instead stream titles from a server cluster hundreds or even thousands of miles away from where you play them.
In a few months time (when this technology is more common) it will give you, the consumer, an alternative to buying new gaming hardware, while at the same time letting you pick up and play a new game on just about any Internet-connected device. Such a model may turn the gaming hardware industry on its head, but it opens up new avenues of utility for tablets, mobile phones, and even that 5- or 6-year-old computer that would have otherwise been hopelessly unable to run most modern-day titles.
When will it be like that? Soon, but not just yet. Many of the below services we're about to delve into are not live, or are live but aren't open to the public. Several are working on partnerships, back-end technology, and pricing. This story is to help serve as a primer for what each one promises to bring to cloud gaming, as well as some high-level detail on how it works. Read on to find out what could be taking the place of your next game console, or high-end graphics card purchase.
OnLive Availability: Limited public preview (with waiting list) Price: Free year of service as part of launch promotion, $14.95 a month afterward. Game price varies by title. Titles: <20 Platform compatibility: PC, Mac, MicroConsole TV adapter Killer app: Solid launch lineup, and both rental and purchase options.
Onlive first premiered at last year's Game Developers Conference, and opened up to a public preview a few weeks ago at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Its premise is that it lets you stream full PC games over to your PC, Mac, and, soon, TV--the last of which requires a small piece of hardware the company is calling a MicroConsole.
Unlike standard PC games, playing these titles requires no space on your hard drive, or a beefy processor and graphics processing unit. Instead, all that work is done in the company's server farm, then piped over the Internet. This lets users on just about any hardware or platform play titles--as long as they have an active connection.
Playing games on OnLive requires that users be connected to the entirety of their gaming experience. Connection also plays an important part in determining the quality of the feed that's getting piped back to the user, be it an SD or HD stream.
Using the service requires paying a monthly membership fee, although right now the company has a partnership going with AT&T to provide new users with a free year of service. The games themselves cost money on top of that, though usually at a lower price than the boxed copy, or even digital download. These "playpasses" usually come in the form of an up-front purchase that lasts as long as the game is on the service. There are also shorter playpasses that work for just a few days, and can be had for a fraction of the full price of a title.
OnLive saves game settings and progress on its own servers so you can access it from multiple computers without having to cart around save files. This information is kept even if a user's subscription has run out, so that they can come back to it at a later date.
Along with the playing of games, OnLive adds a few extra goodies on top of the experience that typical PC and console gamers don't get. The first being something called "brag clips," which is essentially a screen-recording tool that captures a segment of your gameplay and lets you share it to others on the service. OnLive also features a live performance area called the "Arena," where other OnLive users can watch you, along with several other players at once. … Read more