Today is an important day that I have no doubt represents a true change to how we consume games.
Itís hard to escape the conclusion that the rise of cloud computing will, in the fullness of time, come to dominate our digital lives. Browsing, working, playing Ė the cloud is a logical evolution in all of these sectors.
Two big questions remain, however. When? And How? When will the UKís somewhat feeble internet infrastructure be stable enough to cope with it? And When will the public come to accept cloud services as equals or even superiors to current technology? And How will consumers want to consume this tech?
In truth, Iím not sure the first point is as big an issue as some might believe. My Virgin Media 20MB connection is more than up to the task. And non-cable connection speeds are rapidly improving. Unless you live in the country, of course.
BTís all-you-can-eat three month OnLive offer is great news for both OnLive and consumers. How well it will sit with BTís tightly regulated data usage rationing is a bigger question. If OnLive catches on, how long until BTís network begins to groan under the pressure?
A bigger question, though is when will the public come to accept cloud computing as the norm. You have a dodgy internet connection? Then be ready to be locked out from your OnLive games until itís sorted. Again, not a problem for me Ė my home internet is rock solid. But I wouldnít fancy trying it at the office. Obviously thatís because Iím too busy working to play games. But in a hypothetical world where I do nothing all afternoon on a Friday, Iím not sure if our current internets Ė which struggle to stream a 720p video Ė are up to the task.
At the moment all of my cherished data Ė photos of my daughter, my music and movie collection, my unfinished novels Ė sit safely on my PCís hard drive. Theyíre also backed up on an external drive. Would I be prepared to entrust that information to a remote server controlled by a faceless corporation? That, as we know now better than ever, is vulnerable to hacking and cyber attacks? Hmmm.
But hereís the biggest question. How. How are consumers going to take to OnLiveís business model?
I should say here that I think OnLiveís current proposition represents genuinely good value. Membership is free, and with it access to demos for dozens of games.
The PlayPack bundle, usage of which is available via a thoroughly reasonable £6.99 per month subscription, includes a lot of very decent games including the likes of Borderlands, FEAR 3, Batman: Arkham Asylum, LEGO Batman, Homefront, the original Deus Ex, FlatOut, Just Cause 2, Tomb Raider: Underworld, Frontlines: Fuels of War, BioShock, STALKER, AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, Hitman: Blood Money, Alpha Protocol, Mini Ninjas, Saints Row 2, Aliens vs Predator Classic, World of Goo, Puzzle Quest, Virtua Tennis 2009 and Unreal Tournament III.
Premium, recent releases, however, will cost £39.99, with a 30 per cent discount for subscribers, bringing prices in line with the High Street. Roughly. This isnít quite a clear-cut as it sounds, though.
In truth I never pay £39.99 for a game. In the interests of honesty, Iím lucky enough to be in the position where I get sent a lot of games. But I do buy games as well. Which are expensive, as you might have noticed. I honestly canít remember the last time I simply paid £40 for a game without either using Gamestation store-credit or taking advantage of a supermarket promo or High Street trade-in offer.
None of which is possible with OnLive. It goes without saying that youíre never going to recoup some of that £39.99 by trading in your OnLive titles or selling them on eBay. Consumers are all too aware of this.
Arguably though that isnít even the biggest problem. That is the question of ownership. Paying £39.99 to stream a game that exists on a remote server, the only connection to which you have is down your telephone line, is very different to paying £39.99 for something your physically own Ė be that on a disc or as 1s and 0s on your HDD.
Even if the OnLive tech is completely flawless and your internet connection as solid as a cast-iron statue of an elephant plated in super-strong diamonds riding in a tank, this is the obstacle that OnLive must overcome. Are punters ready to pay premium prices to access rather than own a title?
In truth I find it hard not to come to the following conclusion: OnLive tech does represent the future, but its business model does not.
Iím really not convinced that the full price retail model is suited to this type of delivery system. And as much as the subscription market in sectors like the MMO is falling massively out of favour, in the cloud gaming field I think itís a natural fit. Imagine a £9.99 per month deal for unlimited access to all of OnLiveís games. Even £14.99 a month. Thatís a tempting offer, as long as OnLive can offer every title available on the market.
Still, thatís not the future I see for cloud gaming. OnLive is still held back by another very important factor Ė consoles. All the PC games in the world will always struggle to compete with triple-A console offerings.
Can OnLive ever hope to deliver these? Not in its current form. But what if OnLive tech were integrated into Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network? What if for an additional £10 a month or so gamers were granted access to every titles on XBL or PSN? Now weíre talking about revolutions.
Remember today. In years to come when youíre an abandoned pensioner left to rot is a poorly funded NHS retirement home and your grandchildren begrudgingly pay you a visit, you can tell them about the day cloud gaming first arrived in the UK. Then you can tell them about games consoles and discs and memory cards and VHS and petrol and pens and they can laugh at your nonsense.
The revolution will be televised. On an internet enabled TV.