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OnLive and MMO’s and Multiplayer and the end of the Console Era June 1, 2009

Posted by neuralvomit in Technology.
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Firstly, let me warn in advance. This will not be an OnLive specific blog. In fact, at this early stage of infancy, I’m still not quite sure what the blog will be about as a whole, other than precisely what it is labelled as ‘Neural Vomit’. Now, back to the show.

OnLive. People have been talking about it for months now, figuring that it is a great way to replace that wonderful console – or a cheap way to upgrade for those who haven’t yet. It certainly has a lot of potential to revolutionize the industry. But what about the great dinosaur the MMO? Will that have a place in OnLive’s future? The answer is a simple one, with a few conditions, and that is a ‘yes’.

MMOG’s (That’s Massively Multiplayer Online Games) have been in a bit of a non-existent space when it comes to their status on the console. Quite a few have attempted a console release, and been shot down by the giants (Sony and Microsoft). A bit of a problem when developing for a console is that it requires an entirely new binary, usually meaning that a console owner can only play in a console specific server.

Also, there is the issue of caching, MMOG’s have to often cache certain data on the clients machine, something which consoles are generally unhappy with, even in this generation. Lastly, comes the issue of remapping keys to a ‘controller’ which some MMOG’s are fine with (FreeRealms rings a bell) and some MMOG’s somewhat less so (WoW).

OnLive fixes these issues and then some. With it’s inherent connectivity between computer/mac/television – there is no real reason that players be restricted to a ‘console only’ server. They should be able to interact quite easily with a lot of the pre-existing servers. Depending on how well the OnLive servers and the games servers interact, there is no reason that OnLive subscribers couldn’t play in the same servers that non-OnLive subscribers do either.

On the topic of caching, well, this is a no-brainer. OnLive already saves the state you are in in multiple games. That requires quite a lot of data caching ability right there. OnLive certainly shouldn’t have any problems with the caching requirements for an MMOG. Lastly the ability for people to use a keyboard and mouse setup even on their television, well that is something many people have wished for on their 360’s and PS3’s.

One of the perks of an OnLive system is the ability for it to basically eliminate hacking. If a MMO gets slated for purely OnLive, then that MMO doesn’t have to worry about hacking. About the only sort of hacking available would be ‘macro’ based, and most macro programs rely on indicators sent from the parent program – an impossibility with OnLive as it is really just streaming video.

Another major perk for an MMO Developer is the ability to make one set of system specifications. If you are making an MMO specifically for the OnLive service, you don’t need to worry about having ‘advanced user settings’. You don’t need to worry about your game running on several different machine types. This drastically cuts the cost of a lot of MMO’s, and virtually eliminates client-side bugs.

So what about the downsides for an MMOG wanting to get itself onto OnLive in the first place? Well there are a few hurdles that are already present. Firstly it’s narrowed down by ‘Is your MMOG Subscription based, or a Free to Play micropayment game?’ Subscription based models should have a relatively easy time here, because an online distribution system lends itself quite well to monthly payments.

For a free to play model, Well there are some problems which will need to be addressed by both OnLive and the Free to Play company. Firstly, Free to Play games are usually very ‘messy’ install wise. It is fair to state that OnLive is going to be very particular about the setup of the game and how it runs. The second issue is payments. Will OnLive support the micropayment way of things? DLC is a big thing at the moment, and micropayment items run in a fairly similar manner to DLC.

A hurdle facing all MMOG’s is that it is not known what sort of installation base OnLive will support, or whether or not games will have to create custom installers for the OnLive service. But perhaps the most important ‘unknown’ of the OnLive service at the moment is latency. Whether or not the latency of communication from OnLive to the MMO server and back again will affect the End-User experience is still widely unknown. It’s quite possible that OnLive will suggest OnLive only servers, which will be placed in the same area’s as their server centre. Whilst this is not exactly a bad thing, It would be nice if it weren’t the case.

Ultimately it boils down to how agreeable OnLive’s marketing department is, and how easy it is to integrate installers onto the OnLive service. There is really nothing stopping people making MMO’s for OnLive – and there certainly is a large amount of perks for making one. Still almost all of the viability of a MMO comes down to what OnLive does and does not want to support.

Some people have said that OnLive will bring to a close the traditional console era. But there is still a lot of life in the console generation. Certainly, the local multiplayer aspects that the consoles bring do not appear to be able to be replaced by the OnLive service just yet. No local/single screen multiplayer shots have been released yet, nor have specifications dealing with whether or not it will even be possible.

Today’s generation of 20 and 30 somethings are very much about having a tangible item to hold. Perhaps it goes back to the days where you would be able to buy a single game with your pocket money, and so you held onto that game, and it was yours, put faithfully up on the shelf aside others. Years later, the ability to look over that same shelf and reminisce over having those items. There will, for a time at least, still be those who prefer tangible owned media, to digital content.

For the console era to finally be laid to rest, there has to be the ability for a games system like OnLive to bring out certain game types that we know and love. If you look at the RockBand/Guitar Hero franchise, with the apparent lack of local multiplayability… These games might remain the sole domain of the console. These are big franchises, and without some form of support for them on OnLive – The consoles will remain… staunch, vigilant, and ever playing.

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OnLive and the technology behind it. May 31, 2009

Posted by neuralvomit in Technology.
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For those of you who aren’t aware of what OnLive is – Let me sum it up for you – Basically OnLive is a service that runs console games on it’s servers, and streams the resulting data to your display (Television/Monitor). Your controller presses are sent via a small device directly to the server. The delay involved is apparently inperceivable to the human eye. Sounds great.

If it works.

OnLive relies on a few too many things outside of the services control to work. The gamer has to have an Internet connection within their house for a start, and a stable one at that. They also need to hope that their ISP is kind on the ‘ping’ side of things. Slow network traffic will quite probably be detrimental to an OnLive gamers experience.

Still they are doing a number of good things with their roll-out. Their idea involves multiple server centres throughout the United States, so delay ‘should’ be kept to a minimum. If this does work…well, the technology behind it can be used in quite a few interesting ways.

If you are a handheld console owner, hopefully your jaw will be agape with the next statement. You can play ANY current game, on a handheld. Certainly, the resolution would be shoddy at best, but there is no foreseeable reason why with a service that does all the computing and graphics work on its back end, that you couldn’t enjoy the wonders of a Metal Gear Solid 4, or a Fallout 3…directly to your OnLive handheld.

Of course, if OnLive works, and works well…there are a few interesting downsides. Perhaps the age of the humble computer games store, will come to an end. Of course, libraries and used book stores still exist in the age of digital reprinted media, so too, perhaps…will the game store. With digitally owned media, we will no longer have space devoted to our selection of games. But will we also feel like we are lacking something with our purchases? Ultimately, even if the OnLive service does not live up to its expectations, there are more than a few improvements able to be used by the underlying technology behind it.

Firstly, handheld/mobile devices: With a central processing server doing all the intense labour behind your queries, what use has a SmartPhone for the latest in processor or video card technology? The answer is simple…it doesn’t. With 4G looking as good as it does, Will anyone really need to worry about not having the required ‘speed’ to stream simple low-resolution video? I doubt it.

A further perk of this is of course the ability for SmartPhone applications to use far more processor power than they currently are able to. Word processors on your ‘phone’ which run as good as on a computer. Not to mention the ability to access a far wider range of applications. Further into the future there is the potential for even more innovation. Laptops that don’t require anywhere near the processing power or RAM – And due to this have expanded battery life.

Perhaps most of interest, however…Is the PADD. A nice humble star-trek invention, this technology could essentially make it happen. And at a fraction of the cost to produce over something like the IPhone. (which feasibly could be considered close to a PADD in form and function) Access to virtual libraries, encyclopedia’s, course information, personal data. All from a simple to use handheld device.

With all the potential for doing back-end on a central server and then delivering it to your customers, it’s not hard to see how far this technology could progress if it were accepted into the ‘pop tech’ as it were.

As a slight aside, members of countries who have highly inflated games prices (Australia rings a bell) should be more than excited by the prospect of a digital delivery system for all of their favorite games. Release dates will be basically static, not to mention the pricing will be based probably around the cost of a game in USD. It might not seem like a big deal to some people, but when a game like Guitar Hero: Metallica costs Australians the equivalent of $72USD (The game is $50 USD according to gamestop) then you realise that OnLive could bring savings of almost 50% to these parts of the world.

Ultimately though, as excited as I can be about the technology behind OnLive it comes back to the same three little words.

“If it works…”