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OnLive and Gaikai — How To Stop a Gaming Revolution 125

happierr writes "The gaming industry has been struggling in the last few months, and it is about to struggle even more when OnLive and Gaikai launch later this year. The new services are both a step in the right direction to counter piracy and provide easily-accessible gaming to people with low-end PCs. They might even do for PC gaming what the Wii did for casual gaming; greatly expand the market and draw interest from people who would not ordinarily play games. The services are a real threat for the Big Three video game companies (Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo). How will they combat these revolutionary services? There are a few steps that the Big Three are taking to combat the New Two, such as an increased reliance on peripherals and vision cameras, exclusivity deals, and more online multiplayer features, which OnLive and Gaikai will have a hard time matching."
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OnLive and Gaikai — How To Stop a Gaming Revolution

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  • Latency (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:36AM (#29001215) Journal

    Neither OnLive and Gaikai wont make any gaming revolution. Yes, they might have the power and bandwidth to run the game as streaming video off their servers, but the major issue is still latency with controller. Even 50-100ms lag will be *really* noticiable when you're just moving mouse to look around. And in some fast games when you see the enemy you'll be already dead on the server.

    OnLive shows Burnout Paradise in games catalog too, and racing games are another genre where you need fast input from the controller or you will be rolling your car down the hill pretty soon. These days latency is not gonna make it. Unlike bandwidth and power, latency is a lot harder issue to overcome in future too. Sure, it works from keyboard to pc really fast. But not when its gonna move hundreds of kilometers back and worth. It's already pushed to nice 50-100ms if theres nothing interfering with your local network or something along the way. You can talk in phones in real time too (well, with the same latency, but its not noticable in that use). But for controllers, specially for mouse, its not going to work. And more so you need to stream huge video all the time that can't be prebuffered like YouTube or other video content because its generated in real time.

    Games like Counter-Strike and other multiplayer games work because the amount of work and data is split between client and server. You're only sending small amount of information to the server, like current position, shots etc. and the server is sending the client back other players information. Not a huge streaming video, but small packet with coordinates and so on. And even then we all know how crappy it goes if latency grows and the game lags.

    What comes to removing piracy via online delivered content, the answer isn't streaming the game as video. Answer is delivering content when needed in game. Yes, that still needs lots of bandwidth and an active internet connection, and you pretty much fuck the customers over with it. But it makes piracy a lot harder if you need to authenticate to server and you only get some, but still significant amount of content during game, dynamically. However technically that way is A LOT closer possible than streaming the game as video and sending controller movements back to the game server.

    Bandwidth can grow, but latency issues aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Only things this might work with is something like chess games, but I dont know if Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are going to be so worried about that.

  • Re:Latency (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Suiggy ( 1544213 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:41AM (#29001223)
    Agreed. I'm still skeptical as to whether OnLive and Gaikai can scale their infrastructure to meet demand. It also looks like they will only be servicing certain major population centers at first, so if you live out in the boondocks, good luck with that. Furthermore, if they go out of business, you lose your ability to game (it looks like you get full access to their gaming library though for a fixed monthly fee, but if they make you purchase individual games like steam does, then once they go, you've lost all your games.)
  • Re:Latency (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:04AM (#29001275) Journal

    Here in Sweden most of our internet infrastructure is actually fiber, not copper. Thats why we have 100mbits (1gbit in largest cities) to home. But the latency is still 25-50ms and thats in your home city. Going further from that and it grows.

    I said the latency issue will not be fixed soon, not never. But it's gonna take some good time before we get there. Currently the only possible way this could work even some is to have datacenter in every city you want customers from. And you need lots of servers just sitting around idle just in case more players want to play. That is gonna be huge amount of datacenters. Hell, even Google doesn't have a datacenter in *even* every country, so theres no way they're gonna build datacenter in every larger city on the planet.

    No, this is not going to make any kind of gaming revolution anytime soon, and publishers have little to nothing to worry about.

  • Re:Latency (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zwei2stein ( 782480 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:08AM (#29001285) Homepage

    It is possible that players will adapt similary: instead of reacting they will act prememptivelly. I had my share of playing on lowend machines with laggy graphics and in the end, it was matter of getting used to.

    Say, you play car racing game, since you know track, you can start streering a bit before you would if you had instant control.

    This gets, of couse, hard in multiplayer or in any other game where you actually need to react to enviroment. And is not really pleasant experinece as till now i always start with pushing effects/quality/resolution sliders to minimum - playing with blocky low res textures is preferable to having pretty slideshow. But over network, you do not get to do this kind of optimalization. Line simply has some base latency and nothing can magically improve it.

  • Utter fantasy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:31AM (#29001339)

    As as been pointed out elsewhere, measuring the video game industry on a month by month basis is idiotic. The US and the entire world is in a bit of a slump, but video game sales are still pretty solid overall. Traditional measurements don't account for things like online purchases, or whether or not any majorly anticipated games have been released. Keep in mind that videogame development takes place over *years*. So, those of us (well, at least me) who make games for a living just tend to shake our heads as people talk about monthly "slumps", etc.

    I've heard nary a whisper from any of my colleagues and friends in the videogame industry about these new services. Most that I've talked to about it believe it to be somewhere between vaporware and wishful thinking. Yes, eventually this sort of solution may make a lot of sense. But at the moment, it's far more practical for the client to have access to local data and do the job of presentation (rendering the world) for the user. The issue of latency is simply going to be a showstopper. Unless they've figured out some sort of magical solution to turn 150-300ms latency into a snappy user experience, gamers will not flock to these services. And without gamers paving the way, the service won't be going anywhere.

    You'll notice that just about every business under the sun is dying to get you to sign up for a *service* instead of purchasing *products*. This seems to be the new matra in software development of all sorts. Subscription-based services mean regular and predictable income. Everyone is looking at the cash Blizzard is raking in, and want a piece of that action. Online services also are just about the only viable protection against piracy, another bugaboo with industry execs and publishers.

    This reminds me a lot of DivX - the DVD alternative, not the video codec. It was the movie industy's wet dream. Purchasing DVDs that you didn't actually own. This strikes me as something vaguely similar - a system designed for the benefit of the publishers, not the consumers. As such, it will die a slow, ignominious death as it's largely ignored by those who insist on a top-notch gaming experience.

  • by captjc ( 453680 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:20AM (#29001525)

    As a PC Gamer, I want to BUY my games. Why is every company trying to take that away from me? I want to walk into a store, pick up a box with a DVD in it, pay at the register, go home, and play. I also want to be able to play the game, say 5 years from now. Perhaps 10? The only thing that should stop me from playing a 10+ year old game is having a 10+ year old PC or a PC emulator. Lastly, If the game is shitty, I would like to sell it and maybe recoup my lost money.

    I have cash, I want the DVD, is that so hard? Valve's games come on a DVD, but is still requires Steam to install it, so no reselling there. If steam decides to no longer support my game, oh, well. All of the games with online activation and limited installs, again no reselling and good luck playing them in 10+ years. Lastly, OnLive and Gaikai...these "revolutionary services", know what your getting into to begin with. But if this is the direction PC gaming is going to take, then I am out.

    For the record, Anti-PC gamers that complain about having to "upgrade every 6 months" is full of shit. I have a 4 year old system that runs new games fine. The only thing upgraded was the video card, and that was two years ago, with a bargain-bin 512Mb Nvidia card.

    Also, Yes, I do replay my 10+ year old games. Hell, I even buy old classics off Amazon, good luck doing that 10 years from now!

  • Re:Latency (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Sunday August 09, 2009 @08:25AM (#29001727) Journal

    Thats why we have 100mbits (1gbit in largest cities) to home.

    Sure, brag about your internet connections.

    But you guys are forced to have universal health care, which means people dropping dead in the streets and old people being forced to take lethal injections.

    I know this because that nice young man on AM-560 told me so. I'm not sure what kind of health care they have on the FM band, because the FM in my '83 Toyota pickup doesn't work.

  • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @08:58AM (#29001833)

    The closest analog today is streaming video. And let's compare and contrast.

    First, streaming pre-encoded, pre-rendered (if applicable) content is all they do. Companies trying to stream the video component of a game will require massively more amounts of computational power to do the live rendering and encoding. Also, the pre-encoding process takes advantage of both backward and forward prediction to build intermediate frames with full knowledge of what came before and what will come after a given frame. This is also something they will not have. This likely means their algorithm will not be able to compete. They say vague things like 'our algorithm is designed for gaming to get better results', but at best it sounds like they count on game output to look simplistic, which seems a poor assumption.

    Video companies achieve remotely acceptable performance by extensive buffering to compensate for dips in network performance. Generally, while watching a live stream, there is always a few seconds of buffer between you and the actual end of stream thusfar. They will not have this luxury in a gaming scenario, the alternative would be to drop frames in a network performance dip.

    I've only seen this work on the low-quality youtube videos (i.e. the buffer never getting drained). 'High-def' (often 720x480 is called high-def in streaming world btw, much much lower than consoles and pcs are pumping out for games commonly today) almost always stutters or has a very long pause up front while it builds up a sufficient buffer to not get exhausted. In other words, even with the advantage of not worrying about realtime considerations.

    As mentioned above, the standard for remote video resolution is a *lot* lower than the standard for gaming. I expect to run at 1920x1080 on a TV and better on my PC.

    Of course, as others have mentioned, simple network latency round-trip is way too high for control to feel good (I heard enough complaints about a slightly lagged TV), however this is insignificant compared to the buffering latencies that video requires to work. For video streaming, this is not an issue. The only way to mitigate this would be to have datacenters everywhere with special deals with ISPs, very much driving up costs to be even more non-competitive.

    Finally, streamed video *still* has more artifacts than buying the disc or downloading the thing in advance. Trying to fit in a realistic bandwidth footprint in a streaming video context requires much lower bitrates than are comfortable. If OnLive expects to get at Video gaming resolutions.... Well... I suspect it will look badly.

  • Re:Latency (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:22AM (#29002299) Journal

    AC shilled ...

    However, the fact that they are launching their service tells me that they somehow solved that problem and can make a profit off their service

    No, it doesn't tell you squat about whether they solved the profit problem. Just look at all the dot-com bombs. In this case, they have no choice except to launch and hope to keep investor money flowing chasing fictitious hopes of profits.

    Why anyone would bother with this service when consoles are dirt cheap, and you don't have to keep paying a monthly fee to keep renting the same game over and over is beyond me, and probably beyond most people who actually, you know, spend real money on games.

    Chasing people who are too cheap to buy a console and a game on disk is a losing market strategy - talk about loser business plans when your target market is self-selected to be too cheap to buy what you're selling. If the person can't afford a console, they most likely can't afford high-speed internet and have more pressing needs, like making their next rent payment. The ONLY market for this is the "rent-to-own" welfare/ssi/perma-debt crowd.

  • Re:Latency (Score:2, Insightful)

    by KDR_11k ( 778916 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:59PM (#29003305)

    The games industry is worrying about "piracy" when they should actually be looking at the why the piracy is going on and the lost sales are happening (but, like the record industry, they're not going to bother connecting the dots...).

    A bigger issue is all the people who neither pirate nor buy because they don't like the product on offer. New delivery methods aren't going to get those people to buy.

  • by bigngamer92 ( 1418559 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @01:31PM (#29003493) Homepage Journal
    It's not for ease of use that they want you to take a subscription. It's so you have no rights over it. 100 gamers buy a game each month for $50. That's $5,000 for the industry. The gamers then sell these games at $20 dollars to gamestop and now there are 200 gamers playing the game at an average of $25. If instead you charge them $10 a month for as many games as you want, they are ensured that for as long as you want to game they get $2000/month. And they could just stop making games.

    Actually make that quality games. If they could get this model to work game quality would sink below that of music quality from the RIAA.

C makes it easy for you to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ makes that harder, but when you do, it blows away your whole leg. -- Bjarne Stroustrup