Is OnLive Doing Enough for Indie Gamers?

onlive logoThe Cloud Gaming service Onlive looked an extremely promising platform for Indie Games to thrive on, is it living up to expectation?

This fall of 2011, cloud-based gaming service Onlive added five highly-rated independent games to their offerings.  ‘Limbo’, ‘Orcs Must Die’, ‘Bastion’, SpaceChem and ‘Magicka’ add to the other popular titles that the service holds, that include Braid, Trine, World of Goo and The Maw. 

OnLive most definitely has the capability to be a huge figure in the indie gaming market, and their own John Spinale led gamers into believing that the company would be providing a new direction in how indie games were delivered to customers:

We have long been a supporter of independent publishers.  Simply put, they’re making some really great, innovative games these days.”

What started out as a promising new distribution platform for the smaller companies in September 2010, when OnLive sponsored several indie gaming events (Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Conference) and also held a 75% discount sale of its indie games in the hope of luring potential customers from Steam and others, has since proved to be rather stagnant – only recently delivering any sort of proof to this early show of intent.

They’ve sponsored two or three indie bundles” said one OnLive fan, “But the sponsorship has never actually [culminated] in more indie games on the service.  As a matter of fact, the community at OnLiveFans.com has been more directly responsible for more indie games showing up on Onlive.”

As of now, Steam must surely be considered a far better provider of independent games, offering a far greater and more up-to-date selection, and fabulous deals of the week (for example $2.50 for Magicka) to customers.

The signals were positive when Onlive sponsored IGF 2011

OnLive, or rather cloud gaming as a medium, has an incredible amount of potential to reach more PC and Mac gamers, so it is at times easy to be frustrated with the turtle pace at which the service is moving to bring games on board.  OnLive makes it exceptionally easy for independent developers of all shapes and sizes to get their games in front of dedicated gamers on an exciting and emergent platform that does, indeed, offer some unique features: The instantaneous nature of it, for starters, that allows a certain platform independence as well as the ability to ‘drop in’ on others users’ playtime.  Add to which, the ability for OnLive to “rent” games for short periods, even just a day, means that you can pay-as-you-go and effectively turn almost any game into a try-before-you-buy scenario, perhaps helping to curb piracy along the way.

The recent addition of popular indie games to OnLive’s library is a positive step in the right direction, but it is only the first signal of what fans hope will be a long road towards the company showing a lot more love to indie gamers and developers alike.  Titles like Limbo and Bastion being enrolled was good news to both OnLive users and indie game fans, however both games have been on Xbox Live, Steam, Windows and in Limbo’s case Mac OSX since July/August of this year.  OnLive’s asset is the speed at which it allows users to access games, so why not be a pioneer in the introduction of new titles from lesser known developers, rather than consistently lag behind Steam and its competitors?

Bastion is a great addition to the Onlive service

Only very recently has the intent to innovate in this way been evident, with Spiderweb Studios’ Avadon:  The Black Fortress being sought out by Onlive to add to its service.  Jeff Vogel, Spiderweb’s President said of working with OnLive:

It was really painless.  I handed them a build.  They made it work.  Real life ought to work that way.”

Vogel also made it clear that Spiderweb would like to add other titles to the service in the future.  It has been interactions such as these with independent developers that have been painfully absent from OnLive’s existence thus far.

Recently OnLive has experienced a huge hike in its membership, particularly due to their recent successful UK launch.  After the relatively disappointing first year in terms of a selection of indie titles, gamers can be somewhat more positive during the next twelve months that we will start to see the green shoots of exciting developments springing from what has the potential to be a revolutionary service for how we absorb the latest offerings from independent developers. In the meantime, the question remains – what’s the hold up?

2 thoughts on “Is OnLive Doing Enough for Indie Gamers?

  1. I can tell you part of the answer . . . likely the biggest culprit even, if I had to guess. And it took me months to figure this out myself. But I’ve been going over almost every interview given in the past nine months with a fine tooth comb, and have begun to piece together a hypothesis based on what was said; and even what was not said.

    OnLive does not have enough employees.

    For the longest time I, and many others, operated under the thought that the game’s developer optimized the OnLive APIs into their game code, and tested it themselves, until the games got cert from OnLive. But in more and more interviews (even the one you quoted from Jeff Vogel), it would appear that OnLive themselves do all out the API optimization.

    But that is not OnLive’s engineers only responsibility. They run and upkeep everything. Every six months, they refresh all of the hardware running the games. They develop and test every new feature coming to the service. They are responsible for new data centers going up in global regions they will be launching. They are responsible for getting OnLive’s enterprise virtual desktop solution up and running for it’s 2012 launch. They have to oversee OnLive’s implementation in embedded devices (HDTVs, blu-ray players, settop boxes) goes correctly. They are constantly improving the core proprietary tech that powers the entire service. And apparently so much more. All this, and they have to optimize every game, patch and DLC that is submitted to the service for distribution.

    From the sound of it, you would think this was a huge operation run by a legion of people – companies that work on this scale tend to hire thousands of employees. Last check a few months back, OnLive only had around 200 people working for them. Not a typo, but only two-hundred or so people responsible for making the whole thing work.

    I think it is more a case where the company is growing much faster than anyone, even the company itself, had anticipated that it would. Based on interviews, I know they are getting deluged with game submissions – especially following E3 2011. Every publisher, large and small, suddenly seemed to take them seriously following E3. Now following the UK launch, they are getting equally deluged with new customers. According to interviews, their customer count is in the millions (plural) now.

    If all true, the all in all, that is a helluva lot of work for only a mere 200, or so people. Something is bound to get pushed unto the back burner to compensate. I know a lot of new features that were promised, like the OnLive browser, the iOS and Android player apps, mod support, the universal controller, and a ton of other new features talked about prior to E3 that were slated for release this fall, are all MIA. And I suspect that support for indie games got pushed to the back burner as well. It’s all still coming, I suspect the company just got caught off guard with the speed of their own expansion into the market.

    There is good news, however. I heard recently, that the company has been hiring like crazy. If so, I suspect that half of what they were planning to do in terms of new features, indie support, and even further launches into more regions, just got pushed back for about six months, while the company plays catch up.

  2. Invader Phlem, Wow 200 people is such a small amount, especially with their humungous recent advertising campaign I’m sure you’ve seen!

    I can only talk for the UK, but here they are in a partnership with British Telecom, who employee, I imagine, around 100,000 people, who will do the engineering, network nitty-gritty, leaving the Onlive Staff (I wonder if they have a European base now) to work on improving the quality of games provided by the service.

    Very interesting comment, though!

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