Over the last few days OnLive, a service that I have considered as a pioneer of its field (here's my initial review) has gone through some very tumultuous changes. Specific details are few and far between (here's a link to their pathetic statement that's supposed to clear things up), but the 'facts' seem to be:
- OnLive has sold its assets to a “new investor”
- All of its 150-200 staff have been fired (or some variation of), but some are to be hired by the new company
- The service is expected to continue un-interrupted
We don't know anything more. Will the OnLive service really continue to operate or are they just saying that because at the moment they have to? Who is the new owner? Why was OnLive sold in the first place? What is going to happen to the staff? What is going to happen to the customers? What is going to happen to the content? Will I still be able to play my purchased games?
Much of the media coverage is focussed on the plight of the employees, who genuinely do not seem to know their fate – do they still have jobs? If so, who is their employer? But what about OnLive's customers? We are victims of the same level of confusion, and we are paying money to this company. I happen to have cancelled my OnLive subscription just last week, but I still have a number of games purchased on the service which I will want to continue playing, and currently have no faith whatsoever that I will be able to do so.
It occurred to me that this situation is going to put the ownership of content under a cloud service right under the spotlight. I don't actually know what the terms and conditions say about my continued access to purchased games under scenarios such as this, but I would like to find out. If OnLive want to survive this, they will need to be crystal clear to users about what is going to happen to the content they've paid/are paying for, and they need to do this very quickly or people just won't trust them with their money anymore. The cloud is a double-edged sword: we may lose out if the company goes under, but if it doesn't and we don't like what we see, we can take our money elsewhere with just one month's notice.
Here's the other thing. Unlike subscription-only services like Spotify, if I stop paying them, I know the deal – I lose all access to the music. Fair enough. But with OnLive, alongside the subscription plan, users can also buy games on a one-off basis to be added to their account, with no monthly fees required. What happens to these games? By paying nearly full price for these games, I am no longer renting access to them as per the standard cloud model, but have paid a fixed price to be able to play them whenever I want using OnLive's service as the platform. Perhaps in hindsight this pricing model was a bit foolish as OnLive will continue to incur hosting fees etc to support these games, but are not receiving continued revenue from them.
And here's another thing! OnLive may very well wish to tell the public that all is good and the service will continue, but we now all know that this service we are paying for has no staff. And even if it does re-hire some of the existing teams, where is the loyalty from the past and new owners? How can we trust them? This is a completely ridiculous state of affairs and why should they expect any customers to endure such a farce. Whatever is going on, it is not being done in its customers' best interests and it seems to be a way for a select few, such as CEO Steve Perlman, to make a lot of money and/or exit while they can from a failing business.
My advice is simple. If you are paying OnLive, stop now. Don't waste any more time on this service until they come clean and explain what's going on.
OnLive have distributed a press release and F.A.Q. to the media, which can be found here. In summary:
- The new owner is Lauder Partners, one of OnLive's original investors
- Service and strategy will continue as normal
- About half of the staff have been re-employed, with some further consultancy positions available
The question that remains is still that of why? It seems this was a move to allow the company to survive but what was the problem, and how does the new deal resolve it? I'm sure we have enough information to figure this out, but by someone far more business-savvy than me!
I remain fully distrustful and sceptical of the service and will not be spending any more money with them for the foreseeable future. Cloud services are about trust, and OnLive has so far succeeded in completely obliterating the trust I had with them.