OnLive, as a company, a service, and a console, is being spun off from Rearden, and is run by Steve Perlman (founder & CEO) and Mike McGarvey (COO). The entire company is structured around a new way to stream video that the company has created -- "interactive video compression" -- which, according to the official line, has extremely low latency, and brings video lag down to "about a millisecond." Using that technology, the complany plans to have five servers across the country that will host your games completely, and it'll be streaming the video from the game to your Mac, PC, or television. Sound ambitious? It is.
Read on to find out more. If you're at GDC, you can check out the press conference on Tuesday evening at 7:15 p.m. PST, or give the system a spin at Booth #5128. We'd been working on this story after getting a sneak peek earlier along with a scant few other journos, but Variety broke a major embargo. Translation: you get it early.
The unique part of the company's concept is the fact that you don't need a high-powered PC gaming rig to play something like Crysis Wars, because, in effect, you're upstreaming your controller input to the company's servers, which is a tiny fraction of bandwidth, and they're streaming the game back down to you in real time. It's a strange concept, to be sure, but if an idea like this can work, imagine never having to upgrade your hardware ever again.
Once connected to the service, you fly in over a globe full of tiny video thumbnails that eventually fill the screen, peppered with real-time, streaming gameplay videos from other OnLive users. The basic userspace has a square surrounded with options: Arena (get your game on, multiplayer); Profile (pimp yourself, yo); Games (well... games); My Stuff (not sure what this is yet); Friends (you gotta have friends); Brag Clips (15 second videos you can record inside the game at the touch of a button to show off); Last Played (there's a whole menu item for this?) and Showcase (which again, sounds redundant, but who knows what's in here, as we didn't see it).
Gaming on your Mac or PC will only require you to download a browser plugin that's less than a megabyte in size.
You're probably asking, "Well, what games are in there?" OnLive doesn't want to be another GameTap, so it won't be offering a backlog of titles. It promises to have the same games (PC) that are on store shelves at that moment also available to play in OnLive. We were shown GRID and Crysis Wars, and got glimpses of Mirror's Edge, Burnout Paradise and World of Goo. Its struck deals with nine publishers: EA, Take-Two, Ubisoft, Eidos, Codemasters, Epic, Atari, WB and 2D Boy, and, according to Perlman, it only requires minor modifications on Rearden's end to get titles to run on the service.
As far as pricing goes, Rearden wasn't releasing numbers. It did mention that the microconsole will cost less than the lowest-priced dedicated console and the OnLive subscription-based service's price will likely be comparable to Xbox Live. That's just to access the service, however. Once inside you can either buy or rent games, and that price point will be left up to the developer. You can instantly demo any game on OnLive, but it's doubtful you'll be able to swap titles with a buddy once you're both done playing them. It's touting "no second sales" and no piracy, which probably means no "Hey, I'll trade you BioShock for Prince of Persia!" amongst friends. Bummer.
The microconsole will cost less than the lowest-priced dedicated console and the OnLive subscription-based service's price will likely be comparable to Xbox Live.
One downside of the latency issue is that you can't live more than 1,000 miles from a data center. Rearden's hoping its initial five-server launch will give it a large enough footprint, but we'll have to check in with someone remote to see how their mileage varies. Another downside is that it might suck up your entire bandwidth when gaming: OnLive requires 1.5 Mbps for standard def gaming, and 5 Mbps for high def. Again, it's entirely unclear how well this will work once the pieces are all fitted together. Does this keep us from wanting to try it out? Not at all. We'd welcome a portable game system that doesn't care if your computer doesn't even have a GPU.
We'll have more hands-on time with OnLive later this week, so look for more coverage as we continue spooling through GDC.