OnLive began its life catering to hardcore PC gamers. We might forget that it was only recently that OnLive released the TV MicroConsole and tried to pit itself against other video game console manufacturers. It was even more recently that OnLive began heavily pushing the idea of its mobile device strategy signaled by HTC’s investment in the company. OnLive was kept afloat and, our sense is, still most popular with “core” gamers. The term “core” has been tossed about to describe gamers who play games seriously, keep up on gaming news and don’t at all fit in the “casual” gamer space. OnLive used more serious gamers (primarily PC) to initially test their service, and because OnLive is still a service targeted at more serious gamers, they have to continue targeting them for the time being.
So, this begs the question: if OnLive’s main current audience is hardcore, largely PC gamers, can the service continue to court these gamers without support from software giants EA and Activision? This has been a question for a while now and one that perhaps is becoming only more salient as time goes by so it’s worth revisiting. Let’s start with EA. Those of us who were with the service since the beta know that EA initially had a large presence on OnLive. The beta included games such as Crysis, Dragon Age Origins and Mass Effect 2. Upon release, these games were pulled from the service amid murky statements that they were being pulled for quality reasons, but they never returned. Since then, we have seen EA put out Mass Effect 2 as the initial game supported by Gaikai, an alternate but perhaps not competing streaming games service. We have also seen EA begin to push their own digital download store. It seems to us that EA is very aware that digital distribution is the wave of the future, but they are not ready to give a significant portion of their sales to a newcomer like OnLive. EA games like Dragon Age 2 are being sold through Steam, Valve’s digital distribution platform, but it seems perhaps only grudgingly, likely because Steam is a competitor for EA’s own service. In fact we noticed that when we pre-ordered Dragon Age 2 a couple months back, there were a number of free special edition upgrade deals at traditional retailers and at EA’s own store, but Steam did not allow pre-orders until later and without said free upgrades.
EA is actually one of the main and strongest proponents of PC gaming and they’ve said they see it becoming an even more important part of their business. Just this month EA will release Dragon Age 2 and Crysis 2, some of the PC’s strongest titles and likely to be strong console ones as well, but they are likely not coming to OnLive. One of the main remaining complaints about OnLive is toward the relevance of their software library. They run PC versions of games, which sometimes come out later than their console counterparts (see Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood), and while they’ve done an admirable job of releasing their games on the same date as the PC versions, not having one of the main big guns of PC gaming behind them can’t help their image of having a relatively slim collection of current games. Will we see a resolution to this in the near future? We’re not so sure, especially given EA’s statements about OnLive in the past. it looks like EA is hunkering down in their position by pushing their own online store and collaborating with Gaikai, which uses similar technology but EA can have the best of both worlds by having the actual sale go through their own store.
Activision is another big hitter in the PC realm. Two of Activision’s biggest properties are Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. One place that OnLive seems incredibly well suited is in multiplayer. They have just recently integrated voice chat into their service and have a number of community focused features such as brag clips and friend features. What are two of the biggest multiplayer properties in gaming currently? What do you know, Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft in particular would seem to fit well with OnLive’s mobile strategy where they are attempting to bring high end video gaming to whatever internet connected device you’re currently using. And wouldn’t it be nice to use a controller with your laptop or tablet and play a quick game of Call of Duty on the go? Well, that doesn’t look likely to happen as Activision has been completely mum on any associations with OnLive.
Some may say that OnLive doesn’t need EA or Activision to remain relevant, but given that many people’s primary complaints about OnLive is the slim choice of current, big name games having the two biggest game publishers snub the service doesn’t seem to bode well for changing that. Steam has both of the publishers on their storefront, and it’s partially this that has allowed them to be considered a one-stop-shop for PC gaming. It may be the case that EA and Activision had to concede to being on Steam because that’s where the money is, but what does that leave for OnLive, who is still trying to find its footing? Perhaps it means that it’s even more important that OnLive not concentrate on the “core” gamer crowd and begin finding other ways to attract an audience than having all the biggest and latest titles such as its mobile offering or movie service.
What do you think? Can OnLive keep gamers’ interest without a full catalog of the latest games, or is the service and the games currently lined up enough to keep people playing? Does it need to in order to be successful? Do you see any rumblings of future peace between EA, Activision and OnLive?