Console gaming systems face threats


California technology firm OnLive dropped a bomb on the gaming industry a few days ago with the announcement of their revolutionary game-streaming service. The service, which will allow users to play video games from their PC or (Intel) Mac via a browser plug-in, or straight to their television via what they are dubbing the "Microconsole." The most amazing part of the service is that it streams games in 720 pixel high definition.

When you actually see the Microconsole, the fact that gamers will be using a system that is slightly larger than a deck of cards to play in high definition is even more incredible. Usually if you want high-def, your system needs to be the size of a VCR and a have a fan that sounds like a jet engine. As with everything in life, gamers are going to need to make tradeoffs, and when the OnLive service launches, gamers are going to decide if the new things the service provides are worth what they lose from traditional console gaming.

The most important and revolutionary thing the OnLive service does is level the playing field among consumers when it comes to gaming hardware. For years there has been a divide between PC or Mac users who choose to do their gaming on a console. Console hardware is updated in waves: every half decade or so, a few new systems come out that are a huge step forward from their predecessors, and then after another five or six years pass, it happens all over again. The PC as a gaming platform evolves even faster, with newer, better graphics cards coming out throughout each and every year. This can be quite an expense for the consumer, and it can also mean that gamers with more limited incomes do not get the maximum amount enjoyment out of their games because they cannot afford the best hardware. With OnLive's service, that is no longer an issue. All of the graphics and processing are done at the "OnLive Game Server Center," not on your computer or the Microconsole, which explains why the thing can fit in your pocket. This means that pretty much any computer with an Internet connection can play HD games. In addition, OnLive's graphical power will evolve the same way gaming hardware has in the past, with no upfront cost to the consumer.

What OnLive is giving us is a streamlined gaming experience, but gamers also need to think about what this service would take away. Thinking about a console that has closed pizza and has no disc drive does not save your data to anything you can see, and that it is only available when you have Internet is scary. Thinking about this service being able to pull this off makes me even more skeptical. Even online games that are rendered on your computer have server downtime: "World of Warcraft" goes down every Tuesday morning for server maintenance and Xbox Live unexpectedly went down for a few days this past summer. Does OnLive really expect the gaming community to believe that their servers are flawless pieces of computer hardware that will never crash or experience the least bit of down time? I'll believe it when I see it, but I don't believe I'll be seeing it any time soon. I am also curious as to just how ubiquitous OnLive thinks the Internet is, because making a Cablevision bill the admission ticket to your gaming experience might not go over that well. I get Internet just like everyone else does; Having to rely on both my Internet Service Provider and OnLive to be up and running when I want to do my gaming leaves a lot more areas where things can turn sour than if I have a box with one cable that plugs into my TV and one cable that plugs into the wall.

A question whose answer will be a large factor in the failure or success of the service is: are we really ready to give up physical media? I know I'm not. Games these days are up to $60 a piece, and, of course, a digital delivery system would eliminate a lot of costs: shipping — and its effects on the environment — are no longer an issue, nor will you have to spend time or gas going to your local video game retailer only to find that they do not have a copy of the game you want. What about all those pretty game cases though? This may seem trivial, but hardcore gamers are packrats when it comes to their games, and many are very proud of their collections. I know for a fact that I'll never sell my copies of the "Grand Theft Auto" trilogy on the Playstation 2, nor will I get rid of my copy of any of the "Metal Gear Solid" games. Maybe it is a bad financial decision to hold on to games I could get trade-in credit for instead of never playing them again, but there are some great games that I like to keep in my collection, and a lot of gamers feel the same. What a digital delivery service means is that gamers no longer get a nice case to show off to people taking a look at their game libraries. Not only that, but this service does not seem too friendly to those trying to get into gaming either, as instruction manuals will probably turn into some sort of in-game menu. Games often have walk-through levels to start them off, but this method of delivery can alienate people who want to be familiar with controls before getting into the game.

OnLive is a fantastic idea in theory. Never having to step foot in a Gamestop again is great. A gaming community where your hardware is not your barrier to entry is a dream come true. But I know there have been times when I could not connect to my home wireless network for one reason or another, and simply turned on my 360 to cure my boredom. If my gaming experience relies on whether I can get to an Internet connection, I'd rather just stick with the way I've been doing my gaming since the day I started.

Andrew Howard is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. He is the photography editor of The Daily Targum and feels like the man is constantly holding him down. He accepts feedback at abhoward@gmail.com.


Andrew Howard

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