Streaming game services: InstantAction shuts down while OnLive reveals strategic partnership

When streaming game service OnLive launched, I was very surprised to find that it worked quite well. I'd been very vocal with my skepticism that a 'real' game could ever run acceptably via streaming, but the proof, as they say, was in the pudding. Sure, the hardest of the hard core gamers will gripe about the slight lag or the fact that you can't tweak all the graphics settings, but for the average casual gamer, the service works great.

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I'd wondered how many data centers OnLive was running, and where they were located, but I never could pry that info out of them before now. This week they let the cat out of the bag. It turns out that rather than running their own data centers, they've partnered with Equinix, a global provider of data center services. OnLive has been working with Equinix for four years to ensure that when they rolled out their service last June, gamers would get a first rate experience. Charile Jablonski, VP of Operations at OnLive, had this to say about the partnership:

Equinix is at the epicenter of our strategy. Having access to a large ecosystem of carriers and potential content partners has greatly expedited our rollout schedule and made scaling the service seamless and efficient. The power of Equinix’s global platform is evident every time a gamer uses OnLive to play instantly.”

When OnLive initially launched, they planned to charge both a subscription fee and a per-game fee, a business model that didn't sit well with many gamers. Once the service was up and running, OnLive was able to crunch the numbers and realized the subscription fee was unnecessary. Gamers can now sign up for OnLive for free, check out some demos, and then if they like a game, buy either full access or a multi-day pass to it. Considering that bandwidth costs had to factor heavily into that number-crunching, it says something about the Equinix partnership that they were able to ditch the subscription fees so early in their history. So is streaming gaming the future? OnLive seems to be doing OK, but balancing that out is the news that InstantAction, a site where you could play 'full' games such as The Secret of Monkey Island right in your browser, has closed its doors effective immediately. InstantAction was in the middle of testing a Facebook game, Instant Jam, that brought the Guitar Hero/Rock Band play style to the PC and Facebook quite nicely. Gone now, sadly. Both InstantAction and InstantJam sites now hold only this message:

InstantAction thanks all of its users and customers for their support over the years. While InstantAction.com is no longer available, Torquepowered.com will continue to provide downloads of InstantAction's Torque Game Engine and popular games made using Torque. Thank you, InstantAction

The Torquepowered.com site remains in operation while the company tries to find a buyer for its Torque game engine. InstantAction was formed in 2007 by GarageGames. Going way back, Garagegames itself was formed in part by ex-Dynamix employees. Anyone else remember A-10 Tank Killer? How about Tribes? It's always sad to see long-time PC game developers losing their positions and I hope everyone involved finds a new gig very soon. Now InstantAction did things a bit differently than OnLive. They streamed the actual game files to your system but allowed you to begin playing very quickly. OnLive just streams the gameplay to you. This means your machine can be quite modest and still run OnLive games well, but InstantAction required you to have a decent PC to play. Whether or not that had a significant impact in their having to shut down is anyone's guess. While all this was going down, Gaikai (another streaming game company) CEO Dave Perry (remember Earthworm Jim? MDK? That was Perry) talked to Gamasutra about 'cloud gaming'. He says OnLive is doing it all wrong, but it isn't clear to me what Gaikai's business model is going to be and how Gaikai will do things better. Personally, I like OnLive. Sometimes it's nice to just fire up the service, lean back in my office chair and put my feet up on the desk and play some games via an Xbox 360 controller connected to my PC. No downloading, no patching, no updating graphics drivers (all things I constantly do for traditional games). Just relax and play. OnLive hasn't replaced 'traditional' PC gaming for me, but it definitely supplements it. Anyone else out there an OnLive fan?

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