I've been paying attention to the Games Developers Conference that's been going on this week in California, and some really innovative stuff is landing. By far the biggest splash I've seen was generated by OnLive, an online web service that allows one to play video games over the internet. The astounding thing about this service is that the games one plays aren't simply flash games - mainly 2d concepts that run in a tiny window of the screen - nor is one downloading a massive, high tech title that runs only poorly on an entry-level computer. At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, OnLive is an amazing work of technology because it allows the user to play any title made available to it, from the Xbox360, the PC, the Playstation 3 - at full graphics quality, by streaming it over the internet.
Take a look at this GDC expo. It's a little long, but the first few minutes hit the major key points.
The interesting thing about this is that it lowers the bar of who can play high-end videogames. An interesting example of this is the game Crisis, a game that many view to be a benchmark for gaming rigs. Designed several years ago for games of the future, there are thousand-dollar machines out there now that still must strain to the upmost to play Crisis at its highest settings. Yet OnLive service effectively cuts that $2000 pricetag down to the cost of a its own subscription fee and the cost of high-speed cable. Sitting at my entry-level laptop from two years ago, I can play Crisis at max settings over the internet, at high def, with virtually no latenence issues.
I think this is going to have a dramatic impact on the games market. Game-distribution companies like Gametap have existed for years and have not radically reshaped the way that we play games because the hottest, big-ticket items still cost large amounts of money to play through them, and only run poorly on a low-end rig. OnLive, at least on the surface, offers every game on the interet to be played instantly at max-settings, for the cost of a subscription fee. Even for $60 a month, which is what I pay for games anyway, the advantage of effectively owning every game on the OnLive server is a really, really, big deal. We may be seeing the next iteration of the new age of digital distribution, wherein games are bought and sold purely over the internet, and the death of physical CD boxes.
How exciting! Let's see what happens.
An interview with the developer can be found here.