Once upon a time, OnLive was The Future. Why buy physical games, they asked, when we could have tons streamed to us instantly, whether playing on a beefy PC or wimpy smart phone? It sounded too good to be true. Turns out, it was.
I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, that’s still a thing?” Well, yes. Kinda. And not for long.
OnLive, the first video game streaming service to really make waves (or at least headlines), is going to the great capital-C Cloud in the sky on April 30th. Ars Technica reports that all of the company’s patents have been sold off to Sony Computer Entertainment America, presumably for their PlayStation Now service, which is similarly focused on streaming games directly to players sans pesky intermediaries like the space-time continuum.
OnLive was always fascinating in theory, but tiny troubles followed in its wake like a bunch of black-cloak-clad ducklings. First there were doubts about its ability to deliver a lag-free experience, then business troubles led to a form of bankruptcy followed by big layoffs and a buyout, and all sorts of uncertainty after that. But still, the service—lacking in users and employees though it was—survived. It emerged under new ownership in late 2012, but lighter, with even less going for it and fewer reasons for potential users to care. In March 2014, it took what turned out to be its final rasping breath, relaunching as a companion service that helped people stream games they owned (via platforms like Steam) to other devices.
The service itself, our own Evan Narcisse wrote, showed promise, but it was all jabs, never a much-needed knockout combo. As he wrote back in 2012: “If the service is ever going to reach its full potential, it’s going to have to be a buyer that can address the problems—building a catalog, optimizing bandwidth, establishing a real foothold in living rooms and mobile platforms—that plagued OnLive’s previous incarnation. OnLive still probably points the way to video games’ future, but it’s going to an extremely bumpy ride.”
Other services have since taken up the torch. There is, of course, the aforementioned PlayStation Now (which was born of one-time OnLive pseudo-rival, Gaikai), and Nvidia also dove headlong into the streaming business with its Nvidia Grid architecture which will power its upcoming TV-based Shield micro-console. Neither company is hanging their entire hat collection on cloud-based game streaming, though. Not like OnLive.
Maybe, at this point, that’s for the better. Some think OnLive was simply too far ahead of its time. Others chalk its failure up to management that was, at best, misguided. Clearly, though, it didn’t exactly go according to plan. Someday someone will probably assemble all the puzzle pieces into The Netflix Or Hulu Or Whatever Of Video Games, but the OnLive chapter of that saga serves as a cautionary tale. Even if you’ve got an incredible idea, success is far from guaranteed.