My Technologizer column this week for TIME.com is on OnLive’s new mobile versions of its cloud-gaming service. (Spoiler: I had some challenges getting it t work well, and it has some rough spots, but when it runs like it’s supposed to run it’s a lot of fun.)
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Gamestop isn’t winning any fans today for its decision to remove a free streaming OnLive copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution from the boxed PC version of the game.
Publisher Square Enix had partnered with the streaming game service OnLive on the promotion. But because OnLive is a threat to Gamestop’s retail business, company management ordered employees to throw away the vouchers before selling the game. “GameStop’s policy is that we do not promote competitive services without a formal partnership,” the company said on its Facebook page. Hundreds of angry comments followed.
OnLive made a bunch of announcements before E3, but at the show, the streaming game service was showing something new: full, working versions of OnLive on the iPad and Android tablets.
An OnLive app is already available on the iPad, but only for watching other players and seeing what games are available. The unreleased app shown at E3 can run OnLive’s full library of games using the universal controller announced last week, and one game was even adapted to the touch screen. According to Joe Bentley, OnLive’s vice president of engineering, Apple is listening.
OnLive made a couple announcements today that might help people discover and use the streaming video game service.
The biggest news is a partnership with Intel that will enable OnLive on all connected TVs, Blu-ray players and set-top boxes that use Intel’s CE4100 embedded processor. OnLive expects to land on 25 million TVs by the end of this year, according to GigaOM. A new universal controller will work on any OnLive-enabled device.
This fits nicely with the idea of video games coming directly to televisions without the help of game consoles. OnLive processes and streams high-end video games from its own servers, so it doesn’t need fancy hardware on the user’s end to play modern games like Borderlands and Bioshock.
If HTC’s Evo View 4G tablet can play modern PC games from OnLive, Sprint isn’t saying so.
OnLive was supposed to be a big feature in the HTC Flyer, the 7-inch Android tablet that Sprint is calling the Evo View 4G. The cloud gaming service gets top billing on HTC’s Flyer website, and promises to let users play PC games like Homefront and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood on their tablets.
But Sprint’s announcement of the Evo View 4G doesn’t mention OnLive, even as it promises other built-in entertainment apps such as Blockbuster On Demand and NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Gaikai, the yin to OnLive’s yang, has entered public beta with video game demos that are instantly playable in a web browser.
Like OnLive, Gaikai uses its own servers to perform the heavy graphical lifting that modern PC games require. Users play the game through highly compressed audio and video streams, which are capable of running on low-end PCs. But instead of selling games to consumers through a software client, Gaikai wants game publishers to serve instant demos on their websites or Facebook pages. All the player needs is Flash and the latest version of Java.
Demos are available for Mass Effect 2, Spore and The Sims 3. You can also play a demo of Dead Space 2 by taking a short survey. They’re all published by Electronic Arts, which entered a “multi-year” licensing agreement with Gaikai in June 2010.
HTC’s $40 million investment in OnLive is already coming to fruition, with OnLive’s streaming video game service baked into HTC’s upcoming Flyer tablet.
OnLive games, which are processed on remote servers and streamed as compressed audio and video, will be playable on the tablet using touch screen controls. In a demonstration video posted by Slashgear, OnLive Chief Executive Steve Perlman plays through a version of Virtua Tennis 2009 whose controls have been retooled for the tablet. HTC’s press release says a “variety of games” will be available including Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, NBA 2K11 and Lego Harry Potter.
The Flyer can also plug into televisions via HDMI for big-screen play with the OnLive game controller, effectively turning the tablet into a MicroConsole set-top box.
The free ride is over for OnLive PlayPack, the streaming game service’s all-you-can-play package.
PlayPack now costs $10 per month, with the first month free, and currently includes 38 games. OnLive had been giving subscription access away since December to owners of its $99 Microconsole, a small set-top box and controller for playing through televisions. Presumably, the service will now be available to PC gamers as well. If you cancel the service, OnLive will hang onto your data for a year.
OnLive’s claim to fame is its ability to instantly stream video games to low-end computers as compressed audio and video, using servers that handle all the heavy lifting remotely. (My experience was functional, but flawed.) But the subscription plan could be the most disruptive part of the package if it can gain more games on a regular basis.
First up are Vizio’s web-connected TVs. Consumers won’t need any additional hardware — I assume, or at least hope, that a controller is included — and Vizio can use the existing Marvell chips in its TVs to power the OnLive service, VentureBeat reports. Vizio will also offer OnLive through its connected Blu-ray players, tablets and smartphones. Naturally, OnLive is trying to strike deals with other companies as well.
You can’t actually play any games in the app, nor can you purchase them. For now, you can only spectate other games, send messages to friends, browse OnLive’s library and watch trailers for upcoming titles.
Of course, watching someone else play a video game is kind of like being at a rock concert without hearing the music*. OnLive does plan to have playable games on the iPad, but it’s not clear which ones will get the touch screen treatment.