OnLive Streams Xbox-Quality Games Like L.A. Noire to the iPad

OnLive, a Pandora-like service for videogames, has figured out a way to bring console-quality games to the iPad and Android tablets.

That means that high-performance games, previously only able to run on top-notch hardware, will now be able to stream over the Internet to comparatively low-end mobile devices.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company has been selling its gaming service for a little more than a year. Up until now, consumers could stream games to their TV, or to a PC or Mac. The games can be purchased, rented for a few days or paid for via a monthly subscription. The mobile version will work the same way.

The apps will be available as soon as today in both the iTunes Store and the Android Market in the U.S. and the U.K. The app will also be coming to other devices, include the Kindle Fire.

OnLive founder and CEO Steve Perlman said an iPad would never have enough memory to play a 10 gigabyte game.

But OnLive’s service works because the game runs on the company’s server and then streams a compressed version to the device. The service is so efficient, in fact, that it will work not only on Wi-Fi but also on high-speed 4G wireless networks, like AT&T’s or Verizon’s LTE. OnLive worked closely with AT&T, which is one of its investors, to ensure its service would operate seamlessly.

At launch, the mobile app will have a catalog of about 25 games, including one of this year’s top sellers, Rockstar’s L.A. Noire, which is a 1940s Hollywood crime thriller.

Perlman said three categories of games will be available on mobile devices. The first category will be games like L.A. Noire that have been adapted to use the touchscreen. The second will be games that will use a virtual controller that appears on the tablet’s screen. And the third category will require an OnLive wireless controller, because the games require too many buttons to control. The controller will cost $50.

The number of games that have been fully adapted will be limited initially, but nearly all of OnLive’s 200 titles will be playable on a mobile device in some manner.

Because OnLive’s service is stored in the cloud, users will be able to pause a game on one platform, and then pick up on a mobile device where they left off.

One inconvenience of the iPad app is that all games will have to be bought on the PC, because of Apple’s policies on in-app purchases.

Perlman said it’s unclear what the demand will be for a mobile service like this, but that it has the potential to disrupt the way console games are traditionally sold.

“Before OnLive, games were a form of software and a type of application,” he said. “They were subject to piracy and hardware requirements, but now it’s music or movies. It doesn’t matter what the performance of the device is.”


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— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik