Today, Dean Takahashi wrote up a new game distribution technology, called OnLive, that’s announcing at the Game Developers Conference this evening. He feels that it has the potential to destroy retail, with a new technical model of games executed on the server side, enabling gameplay (video) instantly streamed back to the player. This may be a valid threat to retailers, and it’s a danger I’ve warned retailers about for years. Specifically, I first warned of it because PS3’s cell technology seemed focused on the fast video decompression necessary to this sort of system. But, despite the breathless adoration of Venturebeat, I would point out three things:
- I saw G-Cluster demo this sort of system for Comcast a number of years ago (perhaps 2002?), and G-Cluster is running it today in a number of places for a broad variety of systems. -Including an HD iteration that OnLive lacks. If OnLive is enabling this so much better than a company that’s had a commercial product available for years, that’s most impressive. However, given that there is a functional system for this sort of thing that has not yet taken over the world, I’d also suggest that it’s far from a sure thing for success. Something that Takahashi glosses over is that the problem is getting the video to the user fast enough, not getting the user commands to the server. -User commands are trivial amounts of data. So, the solution must be largely a video compression solution, and not really game-tech specific, aside from optimizing the game on the server.
- The statement that “I’ve seen it work” is meaningless, because any demonstration of streamed content has so many variables, and it’s so very easy to simulate good functionality.
- Sony doesn’t suffer if this tech is real and significant (not certain yet), because they already have an appropriate hardware offering in the powerful and largely amortized cell technology, and streamed video has a lot of big brains working toward optimization of that side. MS similarly seems unthreatened. -If OnLive masters video compression technology beyond the numerous other entities working on that issue, that would be most impressive. The threat to Sony and MS seems more that eventually making this sort of thing work ends up being trivial, but that’s not good for OnLive either.
Lastly, it is worth noting that Infinium did not attempt to launch a similar technology, despite what Takahashi says. -They were a conventional streamed application play (along the lines of Exent, etc.) with the addition of a hardware element. Where OnLive is similar to Infinium’s Phantom is that it shares the same defensibility issue in that if it does end up being successful, its pieces are too easily reproducable using existing best of breed providers, so that as soon as it can fly, it can be surpassed by an aggregated tech offering.