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OnLive Turned On

June 15, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

For Steve Perlman’s OnLive, the moment of truth arrives this week. On June 17, just after the conclusion of the E3 convention in Los Angeles, the long-awaited cloud-based gaming service will finally go live for the initial influx of OnLive subscribers.

Originally announced at Game Developers Conference 2009, some have heralded the service as an industry game-changer -- gaming on a cloud means that data is bounced back and forth between a remote server and a user’s machine. High-powered data centers handle the brunt of a PC or Mac game's system requirements, and all a gamer needs to play high-end games is a good internet connection and a screen. It can theoretically reduce the hardware barrier, at the same time providing game makers a direct link to consumers.

But there are still many who are skeptical if OnLive can deliver -- that it can change the way we receive and play games. The company has demoed the service and amassed support from prominent game makers, but onlookers want to see OnLive in the wild to see if it really works.

In the ramp-up to launch, we caught up with OnLive CEO Perlman, who doesn’t promise to change gaming as we know it, but rather expresses a somewhat cautious approach to a brand new way to deliver games, in terms of tech and business. And he’s tired of talking about lag (but he still talks about it at length anyway).

So,the launch date is June 17, and that's official.

Steve Perlman: Yes. It'll be open, I think, about an hour after E3 closes.

What kind of marketing push is OnLive putting behind the service's launch? And how are you guys getting the word out beyond the core gamer?

SP: We're starting out everything with a ramp. One thing we've learned with beta is this is different from anything else that's ever been done before.

We just got a lot of questions in the beginning. Some are really, really basic. Some people are conceptual. You know, "What's going on?" It's not something people have seen before.

Plus, we just added a boatload of new games. Any time you've got many thousands of anything hooked up together, you want to take it a little bit slow.

We had this pre-registration program, and we invited 25,000 people that subscribed. So, we finally cut off and said, "That's it." What we're going to do is let the first-come-first-serve in the pre-registration. Let's get out and get onto the service.

We're going to gradually roll that out over a series of days. The people that sign up starting on June 15th, when is when this AT&T program is set up to start, then [after] we'll begin again making it through that list of people.

So, we will be running it well below maximum capacity on June 17th when we open up the doors. It's just sort of a necessary step. We want to see if there's any systematic bugs or errors or something crept in, maybe if it was something we did, or whatever. We'd rather do that with 10,000 rather than with a 100,000 people. Then, we need to go in with ramping it up.

This is like introducing a new kind of very large jetliner in a way, and we expect the takeoff to initially have some turbulence -- you know what I mean. Just some bumpy stuff. Once we've got to cruising altitude and it's smooth -- then, at that point, we will, for example, start a larger marketing campaign with the service. As soon as we feel like things are really solid, then we'll roll out the MicroConsole [which will allow OnLive to play on televisions].

How far into the future do you expect to do this ramp-up before you get to cruising altitude?

SP: Well, I don't know. The very important qualification is it's going to depend on how things go. The other thing is what demand there is. We ended up having more people in the pre-registration [than expected]. So, we'll see.

How many people were in the beta?

SP: Well, we had hundreds of thousands of people that signed up, but not every single person got invited because we had [for example] 10 people who were on the same ISP, the exact same area, the same block, it doesn't do us much good to have multiple ones testing, you know what I mean. So, it was pretty spread across the country.

We cycled through them. For example, you have a new group of people who are updated now. I saw an email kind of fly through, "By the way, it's time for your beta, now that it's a week before launch." [laughs]

The particular configurations were something we had to bug everyone to make sure that everyone we had and were able to verify. So, it's kind of like that. The people who were nice enough to go and sign up, we have a large pool to draw from. That's what we've done.

I don't know how many thousands we've gotten in. I have to actually go through our records to figure it out. The pool is hundreds of thousands that we drew from

Different people tend to do different things at the same time. We actually have had several different, we'll call them "farms", server farms, set up. We're testing MicroConsoles, and we're testing a version of MicroConsoles.

So, we're testing Macintosh, different versions of the algorithm. The compression algorithm that we use, integrates both what in traditional terms we call "error correction" but more appropriately is "error concealment" because when you have a very, very good network connection going into a university or a business, it has packet loss for all the packets that get dropped. And certainly consumer connections have a lot.

So, most of what we've been doing over the last few years and most of the stuff that has been going on in beta has been going just through tens of thousands of homes. I don't know what the number is, but I guess at this point thousands of different models of computers going through all the different compatibility scenarios. I guess it's hundreds of ISPs. I'm pulling these numbers out of my head, a vision of where are numbers are now. Very large number of ISPs.

There are a million things that could go wrong.

SP: Yes. So, when we go live, we now have over a hundred algorithms that are actually deployed depending on the particular scenario you have. We keep adding them. We added a couple more last week, for example. It worked fine for those people; it just worked better with these tweaks. And we'll continue to evolve it.

In fact, when you're connected, for example, as soon as you start playing at 3 PM and 5 to 6 PM comes round, and a lot of people get onto your cable connection, you'll get a different algorithm for us. We swap the compression algorithm, so you probably won't notice it, but it actually is streaming differently because of course it needs to overcome different obstacles.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Ruthaniel van-den-Naar
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Talk of latency is demagogy, and lags are lags. 20ms milisecond is damn good response, which are remarkable. According to me they want from people just trying to get more investment and thus for 5 years with faster network elements that might wor. Until is this technology for few chosen with superspeed lines or maybe for turnbased stategy games.

Achilles de Flandres
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they had a really large presence at E3 this year and the service looked promising.

David Hughes
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I had totally written this off back at GDC, not because I was skeptical of the tech (which I still am to some degree), but the price point announced then. If they truly deliver on the promise (or even 80-90% of the promise), the price point is fantastic. I'll definitely check this out after they work the inevitable kinks out.

One other aspect I wish the interview had mentioned, though. I understand the focus on ISP-side latency, but I wish they had published stats on how much wireless vs. hard-line ethernet networking impacts their service. Especially for people like me still on 802.11g. (Not that I don't have a pile of cat5e cables in my basement that I could bring up.

Terence Groening
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The problem is that the 20-25ms latency that he is talking about is *not* the response time. That figure is simply added on to all the other latencies that he cites.

And Perlman appears to understand this, which is good. Hopefully they will continue to pressure hardware manufacturers and others to continue reducing latency. This is especially true of the video card makers who constantly favor throughput over latency.

andre bobbitt
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I played last night for the first time. Trine, Splinter Cell Conviction and Assassin's Creed 2. It works actually quite well. It was a late night session however but I suppose friday night is not your typical late night weekday so I think it was a fairly accurate representative of the what the service can do. I got disconnected once in a several hour play session so all in all Im very impressed. The graphical fidelity was decent as well. I didnt' try a game like unreal tournament 3 where every frame counts though so I dunno how it would handle that or something like street fighter 4 but for what its worth it looks to be off to a very promising start.