I, GAMER: Is The Future Of PC Games PC-Free?

I_GAMERAvatar_1.jpgBY ADAM BONANNI The annual GDC (Games Developer’s Conference) has come and gone, and even though it’s called Game Developer’s Conference, that didn’t stop bloggers and the press from breathing on the figurative glass window to scoop up some pretty neat stories. One of the most intriguing and unexpected bits of news comes in the form of Rearden Studio’s OnLive, a service that will theoretically allow gamers to stream any number of games from a high power server to play on any computer capable of handling at least YouTube.  Sound like the death of high-end PC’s? Great.  I just bought this $900 gaming computer I’m typing this on.

How does it work, you ask?  When you’re playing a game on your PC with OnLive, a high powered server acts as your computer, and any keystrokes inputted by the player are sent to the server where the game is being played. The images that are being generated by the server are then sent back to the player’s computer in the form of a compressed video stream.  According to Rearden Studios, the only requirement from the end user is having an Internet connection. A pretty beefy one, at that; Rearden asks 5 mbps to stream in HD (720p), and the more reasonable 1.5 mbps to stream in standard def.  Since OnLive makes it impossible to actually own any software, it onlive3_1.jpgwill become a subscription-based model, although the details are still being worked out. Many publishers have signed onto the service, such as EA, Ubisoft, WB, Epic, and Atari, and Rearden isn’t looking to mimic other subscription based game serviced by offering retro games.  They want to be what On Demand is to DVD’s, and have the same game streaming in OnLive the day it’s released for retail.

The information about onLive has been trickling out slowly, and as good as the service sounds on paper, the obstacles that face it seem daunting at best and outright devastating at worst.  The largest topic of concern is latency issues, or input lag.  In an interview with Joystiq, Rearden says the service will work as intended if the user is within 1000 miles of one of the company’s servers, but with their alleged initial “five server launch”, that’s a little unreasonable.  The demo unit set up at GDC produced favorable impressions, but the server was reported as only being 50 miles away from the event.  That’s far from the only issue facing the studio; bandwith caps from ISP’s and the quality of the video stream are important to address.  The cost to Rearden is another interesting one.  The cost of a good high end computer today for gaming would be about $800, so how will they handle the hardware cost for the thousands of potential users? It’s clear that Rearden has a lot of problems facing them as OnLive gets closer to launch, but the announcement of the service was intended to be a bit of a shock, and Rearden is pretty confident they will make this work.  I hope they succeed, but I might cry a bit when I lug my 40lb computer to a gaming event, and the guy next to me is playing on a Macbook Air.

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