Joystiq had a chance to chat with OnLive CEO Steve Perlman, and he told us how the company has brought OnLive's library of PC and console titles to touchscreens everywhere (with the help of developers like Rockstar Games and a brand new controller), how OnLive and its service compares to the Xbox 360 console, and how his company would rather play nice with traditional console makers like Microsoft and Sony than disrupt their current business models.
So how did OnLive make the controls work? In three ways, says Perlman. First, OnLive has teamed up with a few different publishers to create custom touch controls made specifically for certain titles. Rockstar Games has completely redone the controls for LA Noire, so when gamers load it up on OnLive's tablet app, they'll be treated to a touch-based control scheme. Driving and running use virtual controls, says Perlman, but "all other parts of the game, on your evidence book, et cetera, are directly touchable. If you see evidence on the ground, like a gun or something with a serial number that you have to flip over, you literally flip it over. It's amazing."
Only a few games have been redone in this way, but Perlman says "these are the real exciting ones, these are the real prototypes for the future." Going forward, Perlman promises that any games in development "at a point where they can still update the controllers and release them on time will be getting touch controls to work with OnLive."
Games that don't have custom solutions will use virtual controls that emulate a mouse and keyboard or control pad. OnLive has done things like label the buttons ("Jump") for specific games, but there's more work to be done. "It's not that we don't have more games coming, but it takes time for QA to play through them," according to Perlman. "So that's why not every one will be available at launch, but there are quite a few games in that category."
For games that do require a real controller, OnLive has created its own. Users will be able to buy an official controller from the website for $49.99, with "a number of different radio protocols," according to Perlman, that will create a one-size-fits-all connection to whatever mobile device you're using. That includes Bluetooth, "but Bluetooth itself is a little higher latency than the ideal for gaming," so the controller will mix and match with your device to get it right. The controller also comes with a USB dongle, so it can also be used with a PC or Mac as a standard wireless controller.
Finally, some games on OnLive's service just won't work on the tablets. Some of the PC titles especially are too ingrained in the way of mouse and keyboard for OnLive to "feel like we can emulate a really good experience yet," says Perlman. Those titles will still load on the apps, but they just won't work.
The apps themselves are free. On Android, OnLive users will be able to buy games directly, but on iOS, because of Apple's required cut on in-app purchases, users will need to buy the games on a PC or Mac before loading them up in the app. Perlman says cellular networks are also being built out to support OnLive, in partnerships with companies like AT&T.
In talking about OnLive's growth, Perlman compares it to the Xbox 360 and that console's early days. "Xbox 360, although it's hard to remember, launched in October 2005. They launched with about 18 games, we launched with 21 games, not too dissimilar. A year later, Xbox 360 had 74 games, we have almost 200 games." Perlman says that charts well with OnLive's success so far. "If you look at our growth, it's very similar. They launched worldwide, we've only been in the US and just launched in the UK. But still, we're in the millions of subscribers, just like them, and we are growing at a similar pace."
Microsoft has one thing, however, that Perlman says OnLive does not. "I think the difference is that we just don't have that marketing budget that Xbox had," he says. "Although we're in similar positions in terms of our market right now than they were a year later, we don't have $100 million in TV ads this Christmas, so you don't see us as much."
But Perlman fully expects the service to grow (and it's not hard to predict that these tablet apps will help). In the end, Perlman wants OnLive to supplement current traditional gaming consoles and services, rather than supplant them. "We know what we're doing is massively disruptive," he says with a chuckle, "so we know we could be very threatening. But what we're trying hard to do is not take that position, and rather find ways to work together." OnLive offers free demos for most of its titles, and there's no reason, suggests Perlman, that gamers couldn't try a title on OnLive and then go buy it on a platform like Xbox Live or Steam.
And Perlman suggests that there's more to be done between console manufacturers, OnLive, and game producers in the future. "Obviously Sony Ericsson makes tablets and phones," he says. "Well guess what -- they're Sony devices that will be running OnLive. There's no stopping it, right? It should be obvious to anyone there as well as anyone else that it would work very well. But it's entirely up to the maker, whether it's a TV maker, a console maker, a PC maker or what have you, a tablet maker, if they want to include it."
These tablet apps may end up encouraging those hardware makers to consider making use of the OnLive service more natively. "Just like Netflix and Hulu didn't get on every device on day one, neither will we," says Perlman. "But nevertheless, I think it's a compelling offering and I think we're being open enough about ways to work with people. And we're not trying to muscle in on their turf, but rather we're trying to do this in a complementary way. We're optimistic it will eventually become quite ubiquitous as a destination for gaming."