OnLive interview - part 1

Founder Steve Perlman talks about the cloud gaming service as it gears up for its UK launch...
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OnLive had a lot of big announcements at E3, how are things ramping up for the UK launch?

There were a lot of big announcements made at E3, and there’s going to be a load more coming in the summer. Then we’re setting up for it launching in the UK. The UK is kind of lucky having the Americans have to go over every obstacle and add every feature.

When we launch in the UK in the Autumn we’re basically going to have every device supported, maybe 125 games, TV’s Blu-rays, the micro console, it will work is Android and iPad tablets, as well as some games specifically designed to work with OnLive, plus lots of new features. We’ll be expanding the voice chat, deeper Facebook integration, and the browser edition, which for example will give you flash on an iPad.

Think of America as the Uk’s beta test. The UK has a far more uniform internet backbone than the United States does. And we’re hooked up directly into it. So we’ll actually be able to achieve much better performance on the whole in the UK than the in the US. Different countries have different infrastructure, particularly if you’re on fibre. It will certainly work fine over DSL cables, but if you’re on fibre its almost like LAN, it’s kind of cool.

How has initial uptake been in the US? Can you give us numbers?

We’re not allowed to announce numbers because we’re fundamentally a distributor of games. I know it doesn’t seem that way. For example the publishers can announce how many games they’ve sold and so forth, but we’re a distributor.

What I can tell you is we’re growing exponentially. I think like anything people were a little bit tentative when they first tried it, and now what we’re seeing is they’re putting in more hours. People are saying ‘hey this works’. We’re accepted now as the fourth platform.

On the whole things are going extremely well for us. The strongest indication of weather or not a platform is for real is when you start to see publishers do custom things for it. For example, the fact that From Dust has touch features that are not applicable to any other platform. Because it’s much too high performance game alone to run on a tablet, so it’s designed specifically for OnLive. And you’ll be seeing more things designed specifically for OnLIve.

What’s the latest global launch dates?

For the UK we’ve announced it for this Autumn, everything is on schedule. The exact date is dependent on a lot of different factors. We also have some regulatory things, parental controls and so forth. There are a few things we don’t completely control, but so far everything’s been going fine. The micro console has to be approved for use in the UK, and there’s been no problem there, but its things like that.

We’ve been in trials with BT and people love it. That’s an indication of A it works and B it appeals to that audience. As I don’t see any reason why there would be delays. So as far as what we’re doing with other countries, what we’re doing is going country to country thereafter. Now in other countries it’s a little more difficult because of language issues of course, but OnLive doesn’t have a lot of words in it, it’s mostly the games so its not too difficult to make it work in continental Europe. And the taste in games is very similar throughout Europe as it is in the US. There a few exceptions, for example there isn’t a lot of interest in Major League Baseball in the UK or Europe, but apart form that pretty much all our games translate over.

It works in those countries, we’ve beta tested in those countries. The only thing that holds us up is again the regulatory regimes we have to follow. I’m hoping each month we’ll just add another country as we make it through the autumn to 2012.

So you haven’t come across any problems with implementing OnLive in the UK, its all been pretty smooth?

It is smooth. We will go down to about 2MB/s. Again to show you the benefit you guys will get we launched at 5MB/s when we launched, and now we’re down to 2MB/s. So that shows the improvements we’ve done. With the tablet we’ll be able to go down to about 1MB/S. The reason that the download goes down is the screen size; we don’t have to send as much as many bits down.

If you really want to play a game on a smartphone, then about 500KB/s is fine. But when we get down to the smartphone a lot of these HD games you get to the point where you cant see the maps and other small details. So probably the bottom of the road is going to be 1MB/S for playing the full library of games on a tablet.

So that’s the bottom of the barrel in terms of internet speeds, but how about in terms of PC specs? How old and slow a PC will OnLive run on?

We’ll go back to Windows XP and we work on pretty much every netbook at this point. Every time we find a netbook that doesn’t work we fix it. It’s been months since someone came and said ‘hey here’s something it doesn’t run on’. Again, it’s your own beta test, right? It is possible there is a computer out there that doesn’t run on live, but I don’t know of one. Every Macintosh that is Intel or later works –if you have an old, old power PC Mac then we don’t run on that.

So any PC that’s released in the last seven years or so is pretty safe?

Yes. So on tablets we have iPad, IPad 2. And the Samsung Galaxy Tabs an example came out Friday in the States, and we had OnLive running on it in about 20 minutes. And of course we have a relationship with HTC, and they’re building us into their tablets and it works great on their stuff. And we’ve showed it running on the Xoom.

We have other ones in the works. We have other really cool tablets that are coming out later this summer. Rest assured, we’ll be on all the major tablets.

So your basically going for every smart phone and tablet you can.

Absolutely. You have Love Film and its not quite as widely used yet as I expect it will be as Netflix is here. But here every Blu-Ray played, every set top box you can buy, every PC, Mac, and tablet everything works with Netflix. The same thing is going to be true with OnLive. If it is a connected device, it will run OnLive. It’s that simple.

With the graphical flair you’d be bringing there, you’d be presumably putting a lot of games on the App Store and other portals to shame, can you come to a position where your dominating gaming in these areas?

I think we’ve got a long road ahead of us. It takes time for people to change their way of doing things. If you’re on Xbox live you might have your achievements and other things that you might not want to walk away from. So rather, we’ve taken an approach of trying to work together with these other platforms. We’re very careful to never say ‘forget your Xbox’.

That’s not our view of the world. There are some people that use OnLive just for demos. And that’s perfectly fine. Think about it if you’re about to make a bit investment in a game wouldn’t you like to try it out before to buy it? It’s a $50 billion worldwide market for games, we’re a 200-person start up. We don’t need to dominate the world in order to ok.

In time as the years go by, we’re looking at 2005 architecture for Xbox 360 and PS3. They’re getting a bit long in the tooth. And I think what you’ll see are people saying ’you know I really want to play this very high performance game that just cant be played on a console.’ And I guess at that point we become sort of competitive, but if it was us or someone else there’s a natural movement from old game platforms to the next generation.

Could you get exclusives for OnLive?

We have ‘kind of’ exclusives. We have the exclusive PC demo for Red Faction Armageddon. That was opportunistic in the sense that it was easier for us to get that out there. The PC market of course is getting smaller over time. And it’s a whole development effort to do a specific demo. With OnLive we just give them the first 30 minutes. If they like it they can continue on. Or they can then download it from Steam or whatever. I guess we have the exclusive on Macintosh for most of these games, sort of by default, the same for tablets.

The first real exclusive in that in the sense that they actually have capability that does not exist anywhere else would be with Dust. It’s a game that if it just could have been made to work with an iPad would have been fabulous for it, but there’s just not nearly enough compui9ng power for it. We bridge that gap. So the touch version of Dust will be exclusive to OnLive. And you’ll be seeing other games this fall that we want to announce, but the publishers want to wait.

For part two of the interview, click here.

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