Steam’s CEG to kill off DRM. Will it be enough to save Steam from OnLive’s video game streaming?

The folks over at Valve and Steam have announced a new update to Steamworks which sounds pretty
damned good.  In addition to allowing DLC to be available in-game which is cool in and of itself,
Steam promises to have a solution to kill DRM and Piracy in one swift blow.

“Headlining the new feature set is the Custom Executable Generation (CEG) technology that
compliments the already existing anti-piracy solution offered in Steamworks. A customer friendly approach to anti-piracy, CEG makes unique copies of games for each user allowing them to access the application on multiple machines without install limits and without having to install root kits on their PC.”

In essence, they will create a unique instance of any game you purchase.  While this instance exists
out in the land of Steam, it’s your copy.  You can play it on any compatible computer as long as
you’re only launching it once.  So install it on your four high end gaming rigs but you can only
play one copy at a time.

Seems reasonable. In fact, seems like one more reason to really, really like Steam.  No rootkits,
no calling back to the mothership with way to much info, no DRM in the form of intrusive and
unannounced programs.

This announcement comes on the same day that Onlive announced their new service which, if it works
out as they say will really eliminate the need for casual to moderately heavy gamers on PCs and
Macs to purchase any cutting edge hardware whatsoever.

So Steam is on the top of the heap with their elegant solution to DRM right now.  Is it possible
that they may not stay there for long if OnLive cuts significantly into their subscription base?
Why does OnLive look like it may be positioned to storm the PC gaming world, and more even the
console gaming world?  Well, how does instant on gaming, the latest titles, on your PC, Mac or TV
regardless of your graphics capability (as long as you have at least onboard graphics for your PC
or the OnLive box for your TV) sound?

Why buy a console when you can get PC quality graphics playing Crysis on your TV?  If you have 1.5
Mbs/second you’ll get standard res quality graphics.  With 5Mbs/second you’ll get 780p.  If this is
successfuly I’m sure there will be upgrades to this as well as the proprietary video compresion
tools are what this venture is founded on.  Heck, why upgrade your graphics card every 6 months?

How does OnLive do it?  They render the graphics and handle the AI on their own servers, which are beefed up, multi-proc, high end GPU, fire-breathing, nerd-fit inducing machines.  Yowza!

Steam has the digital distribution market pretty well sown up now.  There’s competition with Impulse
and even MS Live, which is a good thing, but Steam is out front and that’s a fact.  What will
happen to that lead if OnLive takes off?  Imagine on demand gaming.  I’m assuming (and it’s not yet
clear) that OnLive will be a subscription service where you pay a flat fee for X amount of gaming.

Want to play Crysis for 7 hours and then switch to Empire Total War?  No problem, you’ve already
paid your monthly fee.  That’s what I’m envisioning, well have to see what the reality is when
OnLive has more to say about their pricing model.

The internet is currently lighting up with reports of this generation being the last generation of
consoles and OnLive seems to be playing a significant part in this.  I can already see playing
Diablo III with my wife without having to go out and get a second gaming rig if she could use her
laptop.  I can easily see why this is significant and why Steam will either need to adjust with a
similar model, or start the slide down to 2nd place.

Here’s more from OnLive’s FAQ and it makes for a real interesting read:

What do I need to play OnLive on my TV?
All you need is your TV, an OnLive MicroConsole and a couple of cables. Power up and play!

What if I want to play OnLive on my PC or Mac-what are the minimum specs?
Since the game is running in the OnLive data center, our system requirements are pretty low. All
you need is a PC running a current version of Windows XP® or Vista®, or an Intel®-based Mac running
a current version of OS X.

How long does it take to download a game?
Trust us, it’s really fast – it’s instant, unlike anything you’ve tried.

How do I patch or update my games?
OnLive games are patched and updated automatically for you in the OnLive data center. So, games
start up the instant you click on them.

What is the difference between Onlive and other services delivering games via the network?
There isn’t anything like the OnLive system in terms of instant access to the latest games, a
media-rich experience, ease of use, and ability to play on your TV, or entry-level PC, or Mac.

How long until the newest games are available OnLive?
OnLive works with its partners to deliver the newest titles as soon as they’re released. No waiting
in lines, pre-ordering, or waiting on shipments. Just connect and play!

Can I try new games before buying?
Yes. You can play the latest and greatest demos, and even rent games to try them out. OnLive also
lets you watch the top players as a way to discover new games and learn a few new tricks.

Are the games currently listed on your website the only games available?
These are just the games we are announcing right now and showing at the 2009 Game Developers Conference. We expect to have more titles available at launch.

Does OnLive support multiplayer?
Absolutely. Even beyond normal online multiplayer action, OnLive has many social features that make
it a great place to watch your friends, join in, and record and share your highlights (or lowlights).

Of course there are a few problems I can think of off the top of my head that OnLive will need to deal with.  Such as bandwidth capping by the cable companies, or supporting a Mod community.  How can you play a Crysis mod if you don’t have a local copy of the game to install the mod to?  Overcoming the first issue is the biggest problem they may have.  They’ll certainly use the argument that it will bring more subscribers to the cable companies, thus making them more money but the big C’s are notorious for not seeing the sense in certain issues.

[tags]technology, steam,onlive, world domination[/tags]

7 thoughts on “Steam’s CEG to kill off DRM. Will it be enough to save Steam from OnLive’s video game streaming?

Add yours

  1. The obvious problem with OnLive’s solution is: latency.

    The time it takes for the signal to reach your screen, and for your button press to reach back to their servers, is going to hit your performance hard in many cases.

    You’d better have no other traffic on your line, and a short non-congested path to the nearest onlive data center.

    I also imagine there’s some serious compression involved, which, when applied to every frame, is going to take some extra time to make things appear on your screen.

    I can seriously see something like this for a game of chess, or other turn-based games. Flight simulators (see HAWX) or First person shooters (plenty)? Less so.

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  2. OnLive *claims* to have addressed these issues in such a way that with a standard cable connection FPS games will be playable without noticeable lag between the controller and the screen.

    That’s the bit that’s got the tech industry scratching their collective heads. It would be wonderful if through a combination of compression voodoo and networking magic this were true but the only way we’ll really see is to test the thing out in a real, FPS environment.

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  3. People who truly understand networking, screen refreshing, and input streams know that OnLive will work.

    OnLive uses special compression algorithms to send an entire frame in a single packet. OnLive also has made deals with all major ISPs and data-centers to allow OnLive’s data to pass through at high priority and directly, meaning no lazy routing.

    Any gamer knows that polling rate is nothing without refresh rate as your ability to move your cursor is tied down to screen refresh. For hardcore gamers this makes refresh rate the most important aspect, which is why many still use CRT displays. If you’re using an LCD you’re not hardcore. Again everything is tied down to refresh. My screen does 120Hz, which is about 10ms per frame. The round trip for a single packet on OnLive is also about 10ms.

    The key is routing.

    A lot of newbs cite the fact that the additional routing to OnLive and then to a game server adds additional lag, but they don’t realize that they’re information is not prioritized and routed much differently.

    Playing a game online normally you might get a 30ms ping, but with OnLive that ping will be 10ms.

    What this all amounts to is you might be sending information FASTER using OnLive than with a standard connection to a game server.

    The real problem with OnLive is that so far there appears to be no way to add mods, customizations, or configurations to your game AND there should be a way to install the games as an option (a la Steam). It would be great if Valve partnered with OnLive and allowed us to play Steam games using OnLive’s service.

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