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OnLive’s Second Act: Cloud Gaming That Piggybacks On Steam

3 minute read

OnLive, the company whose cloud gaming service flamed out spectacularly in 2012, has reemerged with something new.

The company is launching CloudLift, a $15 per month service that lets you stream PC games that you already own onto laptops, Android devices and televisions. CloudLift hooks into your Steam account, and any games that Cloudlift supports will then be available for streaming.

The idea is that you no longer have to choose between local and cloud-based gaming. When you’re at home with your powerful desktop PC, you just play through Steam as usual. But when you’re on your tablet or lightweight laptop, you can stream the games instead. OnLive’s servers do all of the high-end processing, so you can play the latest PC games without having a powerful machine handy.

In theory, it’s a great idea, because it appeals to people who already have lots of PC games and don’t want to re-invest in an OnLive collection. But OnLive’s original incarnation was also theoretically great. It fell apart with the execution, and I’m skeptical about whether CloudLift can avoid the same fate.

In the past, I never had a smooth experience streaming games through OnLive. Every time I tried, the input latency became frustrating, and stutters or outright service interruptions were commonplace. A quick test on my 30 Mbps connection still felt a little laggy, but not unplayable for games that aren’t too twitch-oriented. (I plan to play around with it more over the next several days.)

OnLive will also need to ramp up its list of supported games quickly if it wants to justify that $15 per month cost. At launch, only 20 games are supported, most of them from smaller publishers. Not a single game on the list comes from Activision, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Take-Two, Bethesda, Capcom, Konami, Square Enix or Sega.

OnLive Chairman Gary Lauder told Engadget that the company has streamlined its process for adding new games, and that “dozens” more games are on the way. But we’re talking about an entity that in 2012 had to lay off more than half its staff and transfer all assets to a new company just to avoid bankruptcy. It’s hard to feel good about OnLive’s promises without explicit support from more publishers. A lack of publisher support was another big reason that OnLive faltered in the first place.

To make things even harder for OnLive, the company is no longer alone in this business. Sony recently announced PlayStation Now, which will stream PS3-and-older games to the company’s consoles and portable devices. Nvidia is building a streaming service called Grid, which the company could eventually license to game publishers or distributors. Valve is working on in-home streaming for Steam, so even if players can’t access games from outside the house, they could still play on other devices besides their main PC gaming rigs. Nvidia has already built similar functionality into its Shield gaming handheld.

As it did years ago, the technology has heaps of potential. And considering no other company has managed to put people’s existing game collections in the cloud, I’m hoping OnLive can make CloudLift work. It’s just not going to be easy.

If you’re an existing OnLive user, the company’s Netflix-style PlayPack service is sticking around, giving you a selection of older games for $10 per month. A la carte purchases and rentals are gone, but users can still access any games they’ve already bought.

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