I was scrolling through my social feeds when I noticed OnLive was closing its doors for good. Being honest this is of no surprise to me at all. OnLive has had plenty of financial trouble in the past, even going bankrupt at some point, and they really badly wanted to sell out to another company. Plus the service was well ahead of its time and hardly ever functioned as imagined. Streaming was terrible, multiplayer wasn’t an option, and the console they released never took off. I’m pretty sure the few people that stuck with them saw this closure coming in some way.(Sony ended up buying Gaikai instead of OnLive)
Yet it’s not the idea of them leaving that really jumped out at me, it was what they said in their announcement. According to their closure status they are removing all data servers entirely, and shutting them all down by April 30th. This includes absolutely everything regarding games, game saves, achievements, profiles, and credit card information. Everything, gone overnight and there is no way you can save it.
Looking at it from a distant perspective there could have been other options. Refunding users for recent purchases probably isn’t an option being OnLive barely stayed afloat as-is, and console refunds are probably just as absurd. So all those people are simply screwed, right? Well if you look at the reason they are shutting down it is because Sony finally purchased them. Why? Well they want their patents to use with PS Now (Sony’s own streaming service), so why didn’t Sony offer some sort of PS Now transfer? Or better yet, a discount? It works both ways as Sony advertises their service, and OnLive users get some sort of saving grace. This didn’t make the deal though, so they get nothing.
Instead the only saving grace OnLive users have is if they purchased games through STEAM. If users did that then they will keep access to the game through Steam, as those licenses don’t expire.
The problem is OnLive has been a big demonstration on the fear of digital games. A few years ago they announced a new policy that stated all retail purchases would only last 3 years. If you pay full price for a brand new game you will only have it for 3 years (minimum, if it just released) and after that point they could remove access at any time. People didn’t like the idea and questioned why they would buy a game like that when they can just buy a physical copy instead to keep it forever.
The problem was addressed with a pioneers answer though. OnLive began offering a “PlayPass” or “PlayBack” service which allowed you to rent games instead of buying them. You could either rent a game for a certain time, or buy a PlayPass and play unlimited games within a selection for as long as your subscription lasted. Basically Netflix for gamers, but just like most streaming services, it didn’t last long.
This was the issue with OnLive from the beginning. They were thinking ahead and constantly one step ahead of where technology allowed them to be. Even today PS Now is hovering around with little to no interest in it, but unlike PlayStation, OnLive has no other branch to hang on to. They had to sit and wait for digital streaming to catch on. It never did.
Instead they kept making the mis-steps we fear the big guys will make with Xbox and PlayStation. Digital is getting more and more popular with new services popping up everywhere. We now have many services such as PSN, Xbox Live, Origin, and even Steam. Some service like Gamefly’s digital service and Sony’s PS Mobile service have already seen the same fate as OnLive, shutting down abruptly. The difference seems to be they warned us ahead of time and told us to download everything fast, or lose it.
Yet what happens when a company pushes themselves as far as they can go before they simply just break? You get OnLive. An abrupt “we tried” message and an idea of everything you bought now being useless and/or gone. Their all-digital console is now nothing more than a paperweight. Their achievement system can’t even be shown off. Random games you may have returned to here and there are no longer around. All of it gone and there is nothing you can do because the company itself no longer exists.
OnLive was a pioneer and the idea that their service even exists is something truly awesome. They even tried to bridge it to cell phones, tablets, and everything we touch. The truth is their idea will live on and it will expand, just not as fast as they were trying to push it. One day we all will have “Netflix for gamers” that totally booms (Maybe it will be PS Now) and we might even be buying streaming consoles that say PlayStation or Xbox. Yet OnLive, among many other services, closing will always be something to remember.
What happens when EA wants to close Origin? What if Steam gets purchased and moved? What if Sony or Microsoft leave the console wars and slowly start to close their online networks? There are plenty of gamers out there that still play games from the 90’s, 2000’s, and 2010. What happens when they don’t exist?
It’s not that “digital games” are vanishing, but licenses are ending or services are switching hands. Companies are bought out and sold all the time. Assets switch hands, and servers crash. When all your data and your whole library is at the mercy of your wallet, it will never be safe. Luckily for us OnLive’s user base was small and the impact isn’t that large just yet, but we can always look to see what needs to be repaired for the future. It isn’t just quality and technology limitations, but protection for the end-user.
We thank OnLive for fighting as long as they did and always staying one step ahead. We got a taste of the future, but sadly we need to wait a little bit longer to see it come to life. OnLive not only showed us what the future could be like, but what the consequences can entail.
You can read about where we hope PS Now goes.