OnLive: Cloud Computing Comes to Games

While it has attracted plenty of doubters, the OnLive gaming system that went public this week at GDC (Game Developers Conference) could not only turn gaming on its head but also deliver the holy grail to Mac gamers: parity with Windows and consoles. And because OnLive uses cloud computing, where applications live on servers that do all the heavy lifting, the games will be playable on literally any Intel-based Mac.

Steve Perlman, a former member of Apple's QuickTime team who is now CEO of OnLive, on Tuesday presented the service to a packed house, according to Macworld. He demonstrated Onlive on a TV, a Del laptop, and a MacBook, acknowledging that Macs "never get their fair share" of the gaming pie. (Macworld's article says that the OnLive MicroConsole is required for all three platforms, but other sources indicate that it's only necessary on a TV; Macs and PCs need just a browser plug-in.)

Of course, working on a spreadsheet via cloud computing is one thing -- playing a game is much different, considering the amount of data that must be continuously pushed down the pipe and the fact that even the slightest amount of lag can ruin the experience. According to Macworld's Chris Holt, Mr. Perlman explained that OnLive uses high-end servers, each with multiple GPUs, and employs algorithms that eschew linear video compression, which he said "is way too laggy for video games."

Mr. Perlman and Mike McGarvey, OnLive's COO, squared off in Crysis Wars and experienced no difficulties, despite having the game's hardware-intensive video settings at the highest levels. They also demonstrated the service's other features, including "brag clips" for showing off players' best moments, the ability to pause the action at any time and leave it that way indefinitely, and restrictions for kids.

Many of the industry's biggest companies, including Atari, Electronic Arts, THQ, Ubisoft, and Epic Games, are on board with the service, although, as Mr. Holt noted, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are likely not ready to bring their top franchises to OnLive and effectively kill their console businesses. However, Mr. Perlman said that developers will be very interested in OnLive because it streamlines development costs, without multiple platforms to target, and eliminates piracy.

According to a thread at a site called, the following games will initially be available through OnLive:

  • Wheelman
  • Lego Batman
  • MLB 2k9
  • Prince of Persia
  • Burnout Paradise
  • Grid
  • Fear2 Project Origin
  • Frontlines Fuel fo War
  • Tomb Raider Underworld
  • World Of Goo
  • Crysis Warhead
  • Mirrors Edge
  • The Chronicles of Riddick
  • Unreal Tournament
  • Bioshock
  • Hawx

Participants on that site are also debating the merits of the service and whether it's feasibly, given current bandwidth limitations. There's also a question mark surrounding mods, which are popular among some Windows gamers.