OnLive officially launching in UK this September

Cloud gaming service OnLive is set to launch in the UK on the 22nd of September, and to celebrate that fact, the company will be giving away its ‘MicroConsole’ base unit to attendees at the Eurogamer Expo. You don’t necessarily need one of these set-top boxes to play, OnLive is happy enough to stream games to a browser client on your Mac or Windows PC.

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Of course, UK users have already been able to access the service. I myself have been signed up (on a free account) since last year, and it’s been quite pleasing to see the roster of titles growing at a steady pace. However, trying to actually play anything on it from Blighty has been a complete nightmare, with tremendously compressed and stuttery visuals, and input lag like you just wouldn’t believe.

What I assume that OnLive really means by its announcement is that it has managed to sign a deal with BT to get its technology into data centres and exchanges over this side of the pond. Which is all to the good, as less round trip mileage means faster responses, less interference and a better play experience all round.

So, the future of games is upon us at last. Or at least, that’s what you’d think from reading OnLive’s press release:

“OnLive will utterly transform gaming in the UK,” said OnLive Founder and CEO Steve Perlman. “No discs, big downloads or specialised hardware needed. OnLive gives you the latest games instantly, anytime, anywhere on HDTV, PC, Mac, as well as iPad, Android tablets. High-performance gaming as accessible as streaming video, with unique social features such as massive spectating with voice chat and Facebook integration.”

However, lingering questions about the viability of the whole proposition are yet to be conclusively answered. Developers Wolfire pointed out some problems with the service model; namely, that latency depends to a great degree on how far in network terms you are from the data centre, and that you do not physically own any of the parts of the system yourself. In fact, the game code never even touches your computer, so you are at even more of a disadvantage in an ownership dispute than you are with digital download services such as Steam. While this might not matter to some, given an attractive enough pricing structure, it certainly gives me chills about the direction in which gaming is going.

Imagine a future in which your access to the games you love depends on the capriciousness of network operators, in which you buy a licence instead of a product, and where modding, translating and fan-patching old games is simply impossible. Also, if the current trend away from network neutrality towards bandwidth capping, metered access and prioritisation of traffic continues, a service that requires great wads of bandwidth and a constant connection to function could be one of the first targets for ISPs hungry for ways to squeeze more profit out of existing infrastructure.

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