BT gets exclusive rights to OnLive in UK

BT has signed a deal with revolutionary cloud-gaming firm OnLive that gives the telecoms provider exclusive rights to bundle the OnLive Game Service with its broadband packages.

The deal sees BT buying up 2.6 percent of the shares in OnLive Inc, ensuring that cable-based rival Virgin Media won’t get a look-in. However, BT’s senior media relations manager, Les King, told THINQ that PlusNet (which is owned by BT) will also be offering a similar deal, and that OnLive will be offering a direct service itself too.

Originally announced in the US in March 2009, OnLive could potentially overhaul the entire gaming hardware business model. Instead of buying a gaming PC or console packed with the latest hardware, gamers will instead get their computing power from masses of cloud-based CPUs and GPUs online. The visual result is then compressed and sent down the wire as a video stream.

We’re not just talking about a few puzzle games here, either. OnLive’s catalogue includes plenty of big-name, graphically-rich titles, such as Metro 2033, Mass Effect 2 and Borderlands.

After all, the graphical detail is irrelevant if you’re only talking about playing back a video stream. “Customers do not need high specification computers to use the service,” explains BT,” as the complex processing work is done at remote data centres.”

Gamers can access OnLive’s services in three ways – using a PC or a Mac, or even just using a basic TV via OnLive’s virtual console; a simple USB box that enables you to hook-up a game controller and interact with the service on a TV.

You will, however, need a connection that can cope with the bandwidth demands. According to King, we’re looking at 1.5Mb/sec for standard definition gaming, and 5Mb/sec for full 1080p HD resolution gaming. This will effectively rule out the use of the HD service in areas of the country that can only get a 2Mb/sec connection. On the plus side, King says that there won’t be any usage restrictions on the high-bandwidth service.

It also looks as though the service is going to offer all the major games at the same time as the big retailers. According to King, “OnLive have agreements with all the major games publishers, and when titles appear on the retail market as boxed games, they should be available on OnLive at the same time.”

After over a year of BETA testing, the service is now scheduled to be released in the US on 17 June, and the company claims that there’s no wait for games to be downloaded, as the streaming system enables games to play instantly.

Explaining the move, BT Retail’s CEO, Gavin Patterson, said that “the partnership with OnLive complements our existing BT Vision service. It’s great for our customers - they’ll have access to a huge catalogue of games, available instantly on their TV or PC without expensive hardware. And it’s great for BT - it will enhance our premium broadband position and we’ll be entering into a market that’s worth more than £2billion.”

BT hasn’t announced when the service will be available in the UK yet, but King said that “we expect to hold trials some time later this year, and we expect it to launch in fiscal year 2011, so in 2011 or 2012.”