OnLive is Dead – What Does This Mean for Game Streaming on iOS?

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Your dream of playing console and PC games on your iPhone or iPad just took a pretty rough hit, as OnLive has announced that they’re shutting down, and Sony’s buying out all their patents. Sony, of course, bought Gaikai, whose technology powers Playstation Now, the service that streams PS3 games to other devices, and could concievably wind up streaming PS4 games as well. So Sony, now the leader in that field of internet streaming, had a vested interest in acquiring their technology. And they’ve only shown an interest in making things like their own Xperia smartphones. OnLive never made it onto iOS specifically, but a version did exist:

If you had an Android phone or tablet, you could have been playing a number of games on OnLive, either with touch controls or full gamepad support. The OnLive Desktop (Free) service was kicking around for a while, but it never got its promised $10/month tier where you could install your own Windows applications. It’s quite possible that it’s for the same reason the OnLive service never released – Apple likely took issue with the fact that there would be an outside store where they didn’t have control over what got through.

Even though the iOS app for OnLive didn’t have the ability to buy games (a pain point for Apple) there still apparently were issues with the service showing up on the App Store. It definitely wasn’t for technical reasons. They made an iOS build, our Eli Hodapp had one until the provisioning file expired. OnLive has been working on Android for years now. This is clearly a matter of Apple not wanting it. There was the SL Go app and service (Free) which worked only with Second Life, which Apple may have approved as it was for Second Life only.

This is kind of a sad day, as OnLive was one of the first game streaming services out there. And it’s quite possible that they were just ahead of their time, as gigabit internet connections and the fast cellular internet that would be needed to make this all work as well as playing a game running on a local machine is still far away from getting to that point. Though, new net neutrality policies in the US could help out with making faster internet more widespread.

Apple’s policies can be holding things back as well – it’s easy to imagine that Sony would want to do Remote Play or Playstation Now type stuff at some point, like they’re doing with the former on Android-powered Xperia smartphones, but there’s likely a pain point as far as controllers would go. Sony’s △/○/□/X face buttons are a huge part of the Playstation image, and Apple could have a problem with allowing DualShocks to connect to iOS in an official capacity. There’s nothing technically stopping this – but Apple is a harsh gatekeeper. And being Android-exclusive didn’t keep OnLive afloat. Apple is still the gatekeeper to what happens on mobile.

As such, if your dream is to someday have your iPad be the home of not just whatever mobile-specific games you like to play, but also to be a conduit toward the bigger games you like to enjoy, that dream has been deferred. What may just happen is that mobile devices will get powerful enough that they can accomodate bigger console and PC experiences; or the gaming industry will leave many of those experiences behind as mobile games become more and more important. The times are changing, and OnLive’s death is just one more sign of it.

My hope is that someday, a new service will wind up finding a home on iOS, because the technology does exist. Or hopefully Sony will be willing and able to open up Remote Play and Playstation Now onto iOS. Or Microsoft will bring Xbox One streaming to iOS. Or Nintendo will do something like that. There’s nothing technically stopping any of this, but between companies protecting their own interests, and Apple’s approvals process being restrictive, we’ll see how game streaming on iOS eventually shakes out. But it’s not looking bright.

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