Cloud Computing Prospectives
Despite the fact that the first in history service based on the cloud computing technology was conceived as early as in 2002, the world got aware of it only in 2009. Only recently OnLive has become one of the main subjects discussed not only by gamers but by all those who are at least a bit interested in computing industry. Americans were honoured to be the first to take part in testing this service – OnLive was launched in the USA on 17 June 2010.
Like other great things, OnLive service that was announced at last year’s Game Developer Conference operates basing on a simple and easily understood concept. According to the cloud computing technology all the calculations and data processing are performed by a remote server. The users of the service should not necessarily have a high-performance computers or video cards – it’s quite enough to have a loading device (game pad or keyboard/ mouse), screening and sound output devices (monitor/TV-set and headphones/ speakers), a simple computer (even a low-performance net book will be enough) and a rather wide internet connection (of course, stable). Everything is easy further on – we get to OnLive service, seek the game we want and it is “broadcast” to us live - it goes without saying, with maximum settings and some other “candy-box beauty”. While sound and image are being transmitted through broadband internet connection to your PC or Mac, the remote server is getting information about what keys/ buttons of your game pad have been pressed.
For those who don’t have even the simplest computer OnLive offers to purchase a TV games attachment that is sold as a unit together with game pad and headset with a microphone. The device is connected to a TV-set through HDMI, Ethernet port is used for internet connection, and there are two USB ports and one Mini USB port for connecting headphones and game pads (there can be up to 4 items) to the gadget. There is only a question about internet connection left – how wide should an internet channel be? It has turned out that requirements are quite bearable – in order to transmit image of a normal quality a channel of 1,5 megabits a second in width is quite enough, and for displaying an HD image (720p) 5 Mbit/s is ok. Thus, only dial-up connection users are left behind as well as broadband internet users whose traffic is limited. The former have practically become extinct, and the number of the latter is gradually decreasing – more and more providers offer unlimited traffic for reasonable prices.
One of the biggest advantages of OnLive, that can become its business card, is game renting. How are regular online distribution services doing? We find the game we are interested in, view its gameplay demonstrations and screenshots and then decide whether to buy it or not. As a rule, there’s no intermediate option – either we buy the project to add it to our collection or we don’t and play its demo-version. With the lapse of time we can get bored with it or we can take an instant dislike to it after playing it once, but the money has been spent and you have to put up with the unfortunate choice. While our nationals face this problem only partly, it’s more acute abroad. The reason for this is the cost of games – here it’s possible to buy a long-awaited blockbuster for $10-20 and abroad the cost of AAA- projects is often more than $50. Now you can imagine how disappointed a fan of role-playing games can get if he followed his friends’ advice and bought Far Cry 2 for $60. The publisher gets his profit but a citizen of Germany may not like it, he can only appeal to himself in this case though. Naturally it pretty often happens to our gamers but here the sums are not so round. However money is money in any part of the world and this problem shouldn’t be left out.
OnLive is far more democratic and original in this respect. Most of the available games are optionally rentable. For instance action with role-playing elements Borderlands can be purchased for $30, or you can pay $9 for 5-day playing or $6 for 3 days. Batman has something similar – it’s Arkham Asylum. You can play it for 3 days paying $5 and 7 days goes for $7. The service owners and the publisher decide how to distribute each game. For instance, Ubisoft has taken the decision to make their projects unrentable and consequently you can play Assassin’s Creed 2 and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction only after you get access to the game for $40. But you should admit that the trend itself is extremely interesting and attractive to gamers as well as to publishers and developers.
By the way, there has been a discussion about hiring out games by the major publishers for a long time, but things haven’t got forward an inch. There slipped out news not long ago that Valve together with its Steam service was thinking of game exchange. However there was a disclaimer – it’s out of the question for the time being. Meanwhile most gamers are ready for it and are sure to be happy about having such an opportunity. Instead of piling up completed games on a dusty shelf or trying to resell them at a flea market, gamers would gladly take advantage of the opportunity to exchange an old game for a new one – even if with a small additional payment.
The owners of OnLive service showed some caution about beta test – users were connected gradually after being registered on the fist days after launching the new product. In 5 days the service already switched to its constant duty – it operates smoothly 24/7 in 48 states of North America. Naturally, at the moment there are a lot more of those who are willing to take part in testing OnLive than the service creators expected initially. And most of them live in Europe where OnLive is not speeding to – Great Britain was the first to host the innovative service, but as per contract signed by British Telecommunications and OnLive owners the service will not be launched in the UK until the end of 2010. Approximately at this time it is going to be launched in Belgium.
However the popularization of OnLive all over the world is something for the future, it is much more interesting to look at the results of about half a year’s testing. As quite enough time has passed we can speak of the advantages and disadvantages of the service specifically. But before switching over to the “practical” part, we should look at its cost – because it’s what the success and popularity of OnLive are going to depend to a large extent on. At the moment the cost of a monthly subscription for OnLive is $15. You should agree that it is almost the same price as those for the subscription for the online services offered by the owners of regular consoles. It goes without saying that there are going to be different campaigns and bonuses – for example, the first 25 thousand users subscribed for OnLive will be able to use it for 3 months free of charge.
Along with the paid OnLive service there is a free OnLive Game Portal that enables users to try most of the service’s games without subscribing – on acquainting themselves with demo-versions they can decide whether it’s worth paying for the access to the service. And this is undoubtedly just a starter – there are sure to appear many various types of subscription all over the world after the official launching of OnLive – users that have subscribed for a year or two are certain to get attractive bonuses and discounts.
As far as the “practical” part of OnLive is concerned, everything’s fine according to numerous reviews by beta testers. In spite of the delay, which is inevitable while transmitting streaming video from the server to players, most of the games are handled fairly well. Curiously enough that delays don’t prevent from playing action games and RPG like Borderlands, Just Cause 2 and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction. It’s unusual and less handy to play casual games and indie projects like World of Goo in OnLive because you need accurate cursor update. The unnoticeable ingressed lug often causes failures when pyramids and other figures are being dragged over. Not that lugs cause complete failures in projects like these but gamers’ sensation of the gameplay is different from that when playing a game on a computer with a regular game mode.
Actually if you have an ideal internet connection while playing in OnLive, then it is like viewing video on YouTube with the resolution of 1280x720 – and the gap between what you do and what you see on the screen is 14 milliseconds. What does it mean in practice? Talking turkey, it means the following. You can play only singles of most games comfortably in this mode – if you play MUGs you face more drawbacks. Although there has not been much research done, we can assume that if you happen to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 or Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on the same server with players using their own machine-computers you won’t be successful in shooting off your enemies. Even a few milliseconds in multiplayer of most action games can play a decisive role – you will have to start with respawn if you were not able to turn to your enemy in time.