Xbox Live needs to learn from OnLive - or risk falling behind

Opinion: Andy Robinson thinks Microsoft should go on the rob...

There are a number of convenient similarities between OnLive's Dashboard and the back-end designed for Xbox 360.

First of all, it's got the same name; the word 'Dashboard' was virtually coined by Microsoft for the original Xbox, with the always-modest logic of the Xbox launch team being that it'd share the performance of a high-end sports car.

'Marketplace' too is the destination for purchasing games on both Microsoft and OnLive's online platforms, and the latter has rightly made sure it's got all the friend lists, player profiles and chat options gamers have come to expect as well.


But it's not OnLive's strategic name borrowing that should have the Xbox team hot under the collar in my opinion - it's the abundance of genuinely impressive features here that leave Microsoft's service looking a bit less Xbox LIVE, and more Xbox 3am rerun.

Let's get the mechanics out of the way; OnLive's game streaming tech really works and is hugely impressive at home in front of the couch.

But that's almost not the point. Forget for a moment that this technology could be the future of the games industry and consider that, even if cloud gaming was a bit rubbish and stutter-filled, instantaneous Xbox Live demos would be worth Microsoft's acquisition money alone. And we're amazed it's not got its wallet out.

Being able to trial any game on the service, immediately, at the press of a button is an incredible proposition on OnLive, and we're surprised Microsoft hasn't rushed to capture the tech for its own platform.

For Xbox 360 users it'd mean investigating games they wouldn't normally try in the world of 2GB downloads, leading to more purchases for publishers and more variety for us. Everybody wins.

Arguably OnLive's next most impressive feature, and one that Microsoft must be eyeing up with envy, is the ability to watch other players' game sessions - live. That's right, if you spot your mate playing Dirt 3 after dinner this evening, with the press of an A button you can watch what he or she is up to as if they were sat in the room playing next to you.

You can even watch your chum tear round a circuit on an iPad or Android tablet if you prefer, and leave them a glistening thumbs up if you appreciate their drifting skills, or down if you don't.

You can even spectate other users who are playing games you don't own yet, offering consumers the clearest idea yet of whether they should spend cash on a new release. It's impressive stuff, and returning to Xbox Live's comparatively simple game pages after an evening's OnLive session certainly makes the 360 service feel a little lacking.


Social Issues
But there's more. What surprises us most, after all the focus Microsoft's put on social gaming in the last few years (with Twitter, Facebook and more fully integrated into Live), is that OnLive's been able to do social gaming better from the off and in a unique way that's only possible with its technology.

The OnLive game pad looks quite similar to an Xbox 360 controller - alongside the DualShock it's become the standard for console games, after all. The cloud platform's plastic joypad packs one tiny, yet crucial difference though; Play, Stop and Record buttons in between its twin analogue sticks.

Every time an OnLive player nails a perfect shot in Virtua Tennis, or manages an insane vehicle stunt in Just Cause, a press of that exciting record buttons saves the last ten seconds of gameplay and automatically uploads your 'Brag Clip' to OnLive's version of YouTube.

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