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Thread: Format Wars, Standards & Competition

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Games From The Cloud


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Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2009 19:34:36 +1100

News reports are coming in about a new online network which promises to alter the distribution model for the entire video gaming industry.

It is claimed that the new network, called "OnLive", will allow players to stream on-demand games at the highest quality definition, using the lowest quality computing devices.

There is much speculation and the usual chatter about the significance of this development. Is it true? Can they really deliver such a product? There is a website at wwww.onlive.com, which doesn't show much. Basically it tells us to stay tuned.

But there seems to be credible eye-witness accounts about a working system. Witnesses testify that OnLive have demonstrated a system that delivers high-quality games from "The Cloud". And even though this is "breaking news", it seems that the OnLive has been working on the project for seven years. And OnLive founder Steve Perlman is credible.

Several games developers have signed up with the new service including well-known names like Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, THQ and Atari Interactive. Games developers now have a lot influence. And for folks whose primary business is software, life could become easier if a new delivery mechanism should come along and level the playing fields for them, and at the same time make it easier to deliver product without the need to shrink-wrap it.

The crucial questions for the success of the OnLive system are Does the delivery mechanism employ Open Standards? and How susceptible is it to bandwidth limitations?. One of the financial backers of OnLive is Warner Bros. So this would be an interesting change of heart for Warner if they are endorsing a working solution that delivers high-quality video online. And it leads one to wonder whether this approach will be extended to the delivery of high-quality streaming video? Probably Warner see the opportunity to lock down the content on the server-side. Will they stop supporting DRM in that case?

To date there has been a lot of puff but not a great deal of information about the OnLive protocol. It will be delivered to workstations via a browser plug-in and it is said to be capable of running on Windows or Mac (nothing about Linux) and mention has been made of handheld devices. However if it does support open standards, and it really does work, such a system would have the potential to revolutionise the video gaming industry, to the same extent that a car that "runs on water" would revolutionise the motor vehicle industry. The impact on the gaming console market would be nothing short of devastating. The convergence potential for devices like iPhone and Android are nothing short of gargantuan! For once dear reader, your humble blogger is lost for metaphors that are big enough!

In the past, most major games developers have hog-tied their software to proprietary platforms, in the hope that this secures their revenue stream. Although, it actually puts a ball and chain around their ankles. An open delivery system offers far greater potential for expansion and encourages genuine competition. It also means that the owners of the game (the developers) might get to keep a larger share of the proceeds from the sale and the consumer saves on expensive hardware purchases. In other words everybody wins, except maybe Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, who you can be sure are following this story very closely.

Of course the most important caveat is: It must work! So we will have to wait and see if it is vapourware or the real deal.

Also today there was a far less momentous development. Just as we are recovering from the the heady rush of Dell's release of a new ultra-thin laptop (the Adamo) which they hope will compete with Apple's Mac Air, rumours of another Dell product have surfaced. According to reliable sources this will be a Dell smart phone! IMHO Apple sales staff will not be losing a lot of sleep at the prospect of a challenge to their iPhone, unless of course Dell is planning to release an Android -- Could it be that Dell really is getting smart? Maybe they should try an Ubuntu laptop?


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