In 2012, cloud gaming company OnLive abruptly laid off most of its staff, filed for a bankruptcy alternative and sold itself to investment firm Lauder Partners for $4.8 million, a pittance compared to its once-estimated $1.8 billion value.
The bizarre incident was followed by a long stretch of silence as it rebuilt under the same name without founder Steve Perlman — and with a re-hired subset of the same employees — still focused on streaming games from the cloud to a variety of devices, including the often neglected legions of low-end PCs, as well as tablets and smart TVs.
The original OnLive’s failure has been attributed to many factors, the utmost of which was its inability to convert nonpaying users into payers; many used it to demo games for free without downloading them, a valuable service for some, but few actually wanted to pay for games that lived only in the cloud.
Now OnLive is back, and announcing how it hopes to make good on its original vision from a slightly different angle.
IGN founder Mark Jung will take the reins as executive chairman, and lead investor Gary Lauder will step down to a more advisory role. The Mountain View-based company is also reshuffling its product line in what it’s calling a response to user demands.
“Users did not like making a choice between downloading and owning a game and having it in the cloud,” VP of product and marketing Rick Sanchez said.
As a result, the PlayPass service — which let users buy games from OnLive that could only be played in the cloud — will be mostly discontinued, with existing purchases left alone but no new games sold under the PlayPass banner. It will be replaced by CloudLift, a $15/month subscription service that will connect with game titles already in users’ digital libraries, and also sync saved files. So, users will be able to start a game on one device and continue their progress later on another device.
Rather than selling games as it did before, OnLive will sell download codes to obtain the games in other digital formats and stores. Steam download codes will be supported at launch, but the technology is “platform agnostic,” Sanchez said, so other game stores could partner up down the line.
However, games need not be bought through OnLive, Jung said in an interview with Re/code, as CloudLift will be able to connect with already-purchased titles. He called it a “complementary service” rather than a substitute for popular digital PC game stores like Steam. To allow for cloud syncing with supported games, OnLive will work directly with publishers to get around any digital rights management hangups.
The service will launch with 20 supported games, and purchases of any individual Steam download codes will include a seven-day free trial of the all-you-can-eat subscription.
The company is also rolling out a B2B product, OnLive Go, to speed up loading times and cross-platform compatibility for Massively Multiplayer Online games, or MMOs.
An Android, PC and smart TV app from Second Life maker Linden Labs, SL Go, will be the first product to use the cloud MMO service. OnLive Go will also make it possible for some multiplayer-intensive games — Second Life included — to add special touchscreen controls for a game originally intended to be played on the PC.
However, the company is still encouraging gamers who want the most faithful-to-the-PC experience to use a Bluetooth gamepad controller, especially when streaming to touchscreen devices. OnLive makes its own controller, but multiple alternatives exist — the only requirement, Sanchez said, is that they must have an Xinput for Windows control.
Another limitation of the original OnLive — constriction of consumers’ bandwidth as the demands they place on cloud media increase — is “not likely to be much of an issue,” Lauder claimed.
“Internet speed keeps growing,” he said. “ISPs have bandwidth caps and then they charge additional amounts beyond that. But if you calculate how much additional gameplay would cost, it’s actually not that much.”