It's been just about a year since we first heard about OnLive, the video game streaming service. The service has been running in beta for a while and now the company has an official US launch date: June 17th, 2010 (for the 48 continental states). In case you missed the announcement, the basic idea behind OnLine is that they'll do all the processing for games on their computers and just pump the sound and graphics to your machine. Call it thin-client gaming. They promise a high-end (720P) experience on low-end machines. Initially the company planned to produce a "micro-console" to hook up to your television and while they say that product is still coming, for June the service will only run on personal computers (Windows or Mac, no word on Linux support) via a browser plugin. The cost will be $14.95/month just to have the service turned on. You'll get some free demos and game videos included with that price, but to play full games you'll have to pay an additional (and not yet specified) fee. There'll be rent or buy options for full games.
At launch the company estimates they'll have 15-20 games available; not much of a library considering most gamers have a favored genre and those 15-20 titles will have to cover all genres. Specific launch tiles mentioned include Mass Effect 2, Assassin's Creed II, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands and Borderlands. By the end of the year they hope to get the library up to 50-60 titles. If you're interested in testing out the service but dubious of the value in those early months, the first 25,000 people to Pre-Register will get three months of service free (meaning the monthly fee will be waived, you'll still have to pay the per-game fee, however much that turns out to be). There are still a lot of questions to be answered: how much lag/latency will there be under real-world conditions? How much will games cost beyond the month fee? (We'll learn the answer to that one during E3.) How much developer support will the service get? What about things like mods or DLC? Assuming everything works out, I still don't see the service really taking off until it's been around long enough that gamers are facing the decision to either upgrade their hardware (next generation of consoles, maybe?) or switch over to OnLive. Any gamer serious enough to be willing to pay a $15/month subscription for this service can already run today's games, and services like Steam and Direct2Drive make purchasing digital copies of games both fast and hassle free (and often cheap, given their frequent sales). OnLive needs to get established and ready to handle the next generation of games. And just to muddy the waters further, VentureBeat has a post up about Otoy, a potential competitor: Otoy says supercomputer will enable revolutionary games-on-demand service. And let's not forget David Perry's Gaikai game streaming service, which is presumably still on its way. So even assuming these companies can figure out a way to beat the lag issue (and I'll believe that when I see it) none of us are going to want to have to subscribe to different services to play different games, and you know at some point one or more of them will start bartering for "exclusives" on their service. On the other hand, that's not so different from PS3 vs Xbox 360 vs Wii, I suppose. Still, I thought these services were supposed to represent progress, not putting a new coat of paint on the same old issues we face today.