OnLive is no longer new to the world of gaming. Yet, almost three years after its release, I am still not sure the brand will be a success unless the company quickly re-evaluates its focus.
Both my interest in OnLive as well as my frustration with the brand is rooted in a desire to see it succeed. I have talked many times about the natural progression toward digital formats and OnLive alone is carrying the flag for this transition within the console gaming market.
My frustration with the value of OnLive’s brand is that the value has been placed too heavily on technology. The technology is impressive, but when it comes to content, OnLive is lacking.
Sony had a similar problem when it pioneered e-book readers that used the e-ink technology that is still used in some circles today. Sony may have been first but today Amazon’s Kindle easily eats Sony’s lunch in e-reader sales. In the world of e-books – and video games – content is king.
Amazon understood that. Sony didn’t.
I first tried OnLive to see if the technology worked. Did it ever. That was all I needed to be sold on the idea of a purely digital transition for the market.
But then I looked beyond OnLive’s technology to the content and was disappointed.
In the video game market, brand and content are the two biggest points of differentiation. PlayStation 2 was a huge success because it commanded both. PlayStation 3 had a rocky run because it commanded neither. OnLive is new to the market and still trying to develop a brand. That won’t be easy with its content so weak.
This is not to say that OnLive is not making some smart moves. There is a push that could increase OnLive’s visibility, with rumors that Sony is looking to partner with a digital game service like OnLive that would run on Sony’s PS Vita and news that OnLive is teaming with Vizio on a new set-top box. Yet, due to its limited content library, it might be putting the cart before the horse.
Technology cannot drive preference all by itself. Technology must be driven by purpose. Content provides that purpose. As it stands, OnLive has no exclusive IPO, no big deals in the works with developers, no massive additions of current generation content to its digital library, and above all else, no brand message that defines who the OnLive customers are and why they should prefer OnLive.
It’s not too late. OnLive has the ability to turn this industry on its head. From how the market views content ownership and distribution of that content to how it can increase profits to developers, OnLive could change everything.
If OnLive fails, there will be at least one more console cycle stuck with the status quo. With or without OnLive, I believe the market will eventually make this shift. It just might take longer.