Thursday, March 26, 2009

Top 7 Reasons OnLive Won't Kill Xbox 360, Wii

A start-up recently announced a system called OnLive monday night that aims to distribute games digitally, then host these games on their own servers so that all players could use their system without having game consoles, but merely an broadband internet connection. However, there are too many reasons for OnLive's failure that we simply cannot ignore, no matter what their demonstrations seem to show. The following is an excerpt from CNET news that summarizes the OnLive announcement.

Quote from CNET:

OnLive, which was started by WebTV founder Steve Perlman and former Eidos CEO Mike McGarvey, is aiming to launch a system--seven years in the works--that will digitally distribute first-run, AAA games from publishers like Electronic Arts, Take-Two, Ubisoft, Atari, and others, all at the same time as those titles are released into retail channels. The system is designed to allow players to stream on-demand games at the highest quality onto any Intel-based Mac or PC running XP or Vista, regardless of how powerful the computer.

While they may be dreaming of a great future where all gamers can play with consoles, without expensive systems, and without having to upgrade all the time, this dream cannot and will not ascend into reality for a number of reasons. At least not at the current time. Even though they've been working on it for 7 whole years, and their demonstration looks good, there's just no way this will become viable at least for several years. And until them, they won't be making much money. Here are 7 reasons why OnLive will not be able to kill the likes of Xbox 360, Wii, and the PS3.

7. Casual Gamers can't afford the Internet usage
First off, I'll say that it won't be hardcore gamers that will like this, and why that's so will be explained in the next point.
Now, with the current state of the USA, most people will not be able to afford the cost of using this system to stream video. They claim that a 1.5 Mbps connection will be enough for the lower quality version (which they claim to not really be lower quality), yet we also know that the bandwidth required for playing high quality games with detailed graphics is massive, so even if customers could get the streaming available at those speeds, their bandwidth can't support it. The case is different for hardcore gamers that can afford higher speeds and bandwidth, but it's unlikely that hardcore gamers will want to use this system.

6. Hardcore Gamers want their own equipment
Most serious gamers would much rather have their own equipment, games, and basically stuff that's in front of them, and not located somewhere else and isn't really theirs. They probably don't want to use some system that lets them play games, but the games aren't really fully theirs because they don't have a hard copy of it in front of them. Plus, they want their own hardware to operate their games, without having to rely on somebody else. Just take a look at the criticism of Spore to understand how gamers don't want to deal with "digital" copies of games and limited installs, etc. While OnLive might offer unlimited gaming, there's no transferability, no chance of reselling, and technically they wouldn't own their games because they'd have no hard copy of the game. What will happen if the company goes bust? They won't be able to play the games anymore then.

5. Resolution Difference
They talk about Standard Definition with a speed of 1.5 Mbps, but standard definition is actually quite low when compared to PC resolutions. Most games can support HD resolutions and higher when played on PC, and gamers have gotten used to that. If 1.5 Mbps can only support 760p, then not many people will be happy about that kind of quality. Then, if gamers can spare the money for higher speeds, then they probably won't mind just buying games and getting the hardware outright. The current median download speed is about 2.3 Mbps for the US, not including dialup users. That means that to get HD, people need to download at more than 2 times faster than the national median speed.

4. Lag time on fast reaction games
With games that move with lightning fast action and require reactions of the same calibre, then there must be significant lag time for customers that are farther away from the servers. For normal FPS (First Person Shooter) games played on consoles or PC, the time difference between the button signals reaching the server and the video sent out to the systems receiving must be extremely small lest the players notice the difference. If we assume that a game can play at 60 FPS, which isn't high by most measures, then we can say that if it takes a quarter of a second for the button signals to be received by the server, and another quarter second for video to be streamed back, thats a half a second delay. At a rate of 60 FPS, with a half second delay, what you get is 30 FPS, but every 30 seconds it lags. That means that there's a delay every second, and the video will move every half second. That is really enormous lag.

3. No Internet, no Game
While most people use the Internet nowadays, the reason many people don't play exclusively on the computer and/or online games is because they just don't want to play online. Consoles are evolving to allow multiplayer gaming, but many people still play console because they may not have an internet connection, or just because they don't want to connect to the Internet. That means that many people who prefer playing solo games will not want to connect to the Internet all the time, and use up their bandwidth when they can just use their own console to play offline.

2. Multiplayer unsuitable
While it may seem easy for multiplayer to thrive with this kind of system, it really is irrational. Even if we assume that only 10,000 instances of the same game are being played at any one time, they still have hundreds of other games out there that are also being run. The biggest problem with this is that most multiplayer games have a central server to process data, with each computer creating the packets and receiving them, but here, we have one server that is doing all the work. Yes, everything is on one server, so the data doesn't have much distance to travel, but just think of 10,000 games being processed, plus the data exchanged on all of these games in various "rooms" in each game, then being transfered to the people using OnLive's system. That would require absolutely tremendous amount of processing power and ability to host perhaps more than 1,000 rooms for different players. And that's just for one game. This sounds quite ridiculous to be able to have such advanced technology at such a time. There's no way they could possibly support that kind of processing power without having extraordinary new technology, which they can't possibly have stored for 7 years without anyone knowing about it.

Now, finally, the top reason this just won't work. Perhaps this is truly the one that will say it all, all I'll just sum this one up in a sentence, then explain what I mean.

1. Run 1000+ instances of Crysis on the same computer?

I don't think much needs to be said here, but even the greatest of super-computers probably won't be able to support 1000+ instances of Crysis while having multiplayer. Even if they could, what kind of money would they need to support this vast data transfer and processing power? If you could fill up several buildings with pure servers hosting 1000+ instances of Crysis, that's still ridiculous. Plus, if you take into account the video streaming and button jamming signals, as well as how they could host this along with other games + multiplayer, and what you have is a technology that we are FAR from achieving! This is just plainly unfeasible and it won't work. Not until we get fibre-optic internet connections and/or DOCSIS 3.0 and/or the type of connection in the likes of the Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid (LCG). Obviously, we are many years away from this Internet technology, and possibly even farther away from having the processing power necessary to run everything mentioned in one server. The only way I see this could become possible, is if they use a vast cloud computing network with networking capacities of the LCG, and then combine it all together into one massive super computer that spans all of the USA.

Unless they have that kind of technology backing them up, OnLive is unlikely to kill Xbox 360, the Wii, or even PS3.

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