Could The Future of Gaming Be Console Free?

Last week's annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco gave gamers a tantalizing glimpse at things to come in the world of interactive entertainment.

While the week of talks, demonstrations and press conferences was packed with news, the biggest attention grabbers included a device that promises to deliver high-end PC gaming without the computer and Nintendo's latest upgrades to their popular populist Wii console.

OnLive is a video games on demand service that requires only a low-end computer and high-speed connection to play the most technologically advanced computer games at home.

The system, developed by Rearden, does all of the number crunching and heavy-duty processing at remote server clusters. All a gamer would need is a light-weight computer or a low-cost micro console which would handle the controller input.

The idea is that the device would send your controller input to OnLive's servers which would be running the game and would then send a video signal back to your television or computer monitor.

The big issue seems to be the potential of lag, something that is inherent in a system that sends signals over any distance. But Reardon promises any delays won't be noticeable.

If true, OnLive could take cloud computing out of the clouds.

While it's still in its testing phase, OnLive became the topic de jour at the conference, with developers imagining the impact such a device could have on the future of gaming.

The thing that excited the likes of developers Warren Spector, Will Wright and Peter Molyneux is the idea that by storing games somewhere other than on a disc or at a person's home, you could move gaming toward a universal console.

It could, Wright says, fundamentally change games, making them more like modern television.
The more immediate news coming out of last week's conference, was Nintendo's latest upgrade to the Wii.

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata told the gathered developers during his keynote that his company has now shipped more than 50 million Wii worldwide.

He also announced that Nintendo would start selling classic arcade games on the console through its online store.

The biggest hardware news, though, was Nintendo's solution for the Wii's memory storage problem. One of the issues the Wii faced when initially released was that it had a relatively tiny amount of storage space, just 512 MB of built-in flash memory.

With the ability to purchase games online, that storage space can be quickly filled up. Initially Nintendo defended their position, saying gamers should delete games when they're not using them. But last week's press conference was an unusual acknowledgment by Nintendo that they had miscalculated.

Instead of announcing an add-on hard drive, though, Iwata announced that a free system update, made available last week, would now allow gamers to store games onto SD memory cards.

While the game doesn't need to be transferred back to the Wii to be played, the console will need to have enough memory to run the game.

Nintendo's solution for the Wii's storage woes comes about eight months after the company announced an add-on for their Wii remote controllers. Wii Motion Plus, a snap-on device for the remote due out later this year, makes the controllers more accurate, answering complaints some developers had about the remotes.

Well Played is a weekly opinion column about the big news of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.