Onlive: the future of… everything?

E3 is dominated by console games. But a new online gaming service named Onlive may change not only how people game, but whether they ever buy another console system.

The idea behind Onlive is simple; serve games from the cloud to the gamer, no console required. The actual execution is another story, with issues like bandwidth and massive data centres making things much more complicated. 

But the cloud, video and massively-scaled computing has come a long way in the eight years since Onlive was founded, and here on the E3 floor the company demonstrated console games playable through low-end PCs, Macs and soon though the company’s own proprietary set top box for televisions. 

And from what I can tell, it works. Playing a console game through the system feels exactly like playing it on a console, minus the slab of plastic under your television. Since Onlive is tracking your controller’s input and then sending back video from the game running on its own servers, the client on your computer is very small and not resource intensive. 

This is a sea change in gaming, since gamers can now subscribe to games instead of buying them, rent them is they feel like it, and will have access to a library of games they may never have had access to before, particularly Mac users who have been the poor neglected stepsister of gaming for decades. 

Onlive rolls out today in the US, and though they wouldn’t commit to a specific date for a Canadian release, they did say they will be rolling out to other regions once they’ve deployed successfully domestically. 

On a meta level, Onlive signifies that the cloud has reached a new stage. Video games are just about the most taxing computing process possible, and if it’s now possible to stream them through the internet to home users, clearly we’ve moved forward. Even if Onlive fails, the cloud clearly is capable of success.