The world’s first digital streaming only videogames system finally made it’s way to the UK last week, making a grand impression with it’s debut at the popular Eurogamer Expo. While others have attempted similar services in the past, OnLive has made a name for itself by being the first device concentrating purely on videogame delivery: Sky may have previously offered on-demand games through it’s set-top boxes and there are plenty of portals online that allow you to play webgames via your television and Xbox 360 controller, should you have the required hardware available, but OnLive is just one little box in your living room now, and is all about the games.
The diminutive size of the hardware offers no guidance as to the quality of the entertainment within. Opening the packaging, you will find the Microconsole itself alongside the controller. Targetted squarely at the key gaming audience as OnLive is, this is all you need to know that the set-up of the system is perhaps the easiest of any modern console. Upon removing the Microconsole you’ll find the information guide, briefly to-the-point with suggestions of avoid water and other such predictable safety requirements, and a one-page instruction manual on slightly bigger than a business card. The lessons offered? Plug it in, turn it on.
And OnLive really is that simple. A mains outlet, HDMI and LAN cables, and you’re good to go. The controller plugs in directly via USB and automatically synchronises with the console, and system is all good to go. The package is so well designed for the modern gamer that it even includes the option of AA batteries or a rechargeable battery pack for the controller: a decision that will surely please any gamer tired of replacing those AA’s in their standard Xbox 360 wireless pads and Wii Remotes. The only issue with the initial set-up users are likely to find is that of the included LAN cable. For a product designed to be put next to your television and forgotten about, the LAN cable is shockingly short. Most modern households have their router set-up in a permanent location, and the need to move it nearer the television in order to use OnLive will surely be an unnecessary inconvenience, especially if a PC in another room takes the hardwired preference.
Once having placed and connected the Microconsole, a two-stage on-screen set-up leads you to the sign-in page. A questionable design decision comes from not being able to register through the console’s interface itself, and instead needing to visit the official OnLive website. Electronic Theatre has been informed that an upcoming update will remedy this situation, but for the time being it’s another unnecessary hurdle. Especially when it can take several hours for your account to become authenticated, which is exactly what happened with our experience.
After the initial log-in, acceptance of terms & conditions and mandatory updates, OnLive returns to its easy-going, immediate self. There’s nothing complicated about choosing, purchasing or playing a videogame through the system, and after purchase players can access the content at any station which can utilise the OnLive platform, be it Microconsole, PC or iOS device. The dashboard is presented as a cross between Wii’s windows system and the Xbox 360’s deep menus, with all the necessary information and assets provided at the top level and additional content buried deeper in the channels. It’s a well designed layout for newcomers, though as with the Xbox LIVE Marketplace’s continuous overhauls, it’ll be some time until we discover whether OnLive’s simplistic approach can maintain such a well balanced standard when demand and content begin to increase rapidly.
And that conundrum may well be the ethos of OnLive at present. It’s a welcoming little box that fits snugly alongside your current equipment, should you have the necessary means to adopt it. It’s perfectly catered towards a knowing audience, and those gamers who are likely to become the first adopters will surely have very little drawing the most out of the system. Whether or not OnLive can become the future of videogame content delivery however, depends largely on its ability to adapt and reshape itself as that future creeps ever-closer.