Sonic Curmudgeon: OnLive, Get Off My Lawn

We see in the news for today that Google is – or is not – planning to become a provider of to-the-home gigabit ethernet just as fast as the computer you use to slack off at work:

Google Inc.‘s plan to provide fiber-to-the-home connections at 1Gbit/sec. speeds — that’s 100 times what most American broadband users now get — will have consumers salivating, but some experts say it’s unlikely that Google will ever become a network carrier that regularly installs and maintains fiber connections.

Instead, the announcement appears to be Google’s way of prodding federal regulators and broadband service providers like AT&T, Verizon and cable companies to do more to expand their broadband push.

The goal Google ultimately has in mind, some believe, is to make sure that networks with fat pipes are available soon, so consumers and businesses can use more bandwidth-intensive Google applications.

Of course, it is not only Google applications that would be able to take advantage of generally fatter pipes into homes. One of the major criticisms of the OnLive concept that got people oh-so-very-excited last year was that it simply wasn’t practical to push full-screen video to customers while also accepting and responding to controller input across a network connection in a timely fashion. A bigger pipe would certainly be a step in the right direction as far as games-on-demand providers would be concerned.

And now, a digression.

I don’t really care for the idea of OnLive. A subscription model is a great deal for the type of player who buys a game for full price at launch, then sells it back to GameStop a week later. Assuming a Netflix level of pricing, this sort of player would save a bucketload with a subscription to a game streaming service. I am not that type of player.

I play a game over a very long period of time, the kind of period that makes it a better deal to buy than to rent. I also quite like owning a physical library of games that I can play without a network connection, that I can return to years later, that I have control over. OnLive is another stab at removing control over a gamer’s library from the gamer.

“So what, Rob”, you reply. “If it isn’t for you, don’t subscribe.” Well, I’ll tell you so what: game companies hate selling us physical discs that they can only charge for one time. It removes their games from their control allowing, for instance, used game sales. They much prefer systems like Steam, which require each player to buy a copy of the game. That’s a lot closer to the legal reality of game purchasing, which is that you don’t actually buy the game at all but rather buy a license to use it. Server-side authentication services like Steam allow publishers a modicum of control over the use of their software, but OnLive takes that to an entirely new level: not only do you have no disc, you don’t even have any software at all. You just have a license to view video of the software running on an entirely separate computer.

If they could stop selling discs tomorrow, they would. The choice will be gone as soon as it can be removed, whenever that is.

Is this in itself an awful thing? I am probably overreacting to my gut revulsion. Maybe gaming on demand is as natural as TV on demand. Maybe I’m just being a stick in the mud. Maybe I’m seeing the end of a childish dream: a console under the TV flanked an Alexandrian library of game boxes.

I suppose the big pipe in my living room is a long way off. There’s still time to live the dream.


One thought on “Sonic Curmudgeon: OnLive, Get Off My Lawn”

  1. Totally agree with game rentals. I love that I have a pile of PS2 games waiting for me to play. Stuff that I have completed and will definitely revisit and games that I’ve never had a chance to play at all. I am afraid of how things will play out with newer games, like Xbox 360 or PS3 games which use DRM. I wonder if in 10 years after the death of the 360 if I will be able to play these old games. Considering I still play games on my Atari 2600, or Nintendo I can see myself going back to play some of these ‘older’ games in the future.

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