Video game retailers follow foot steps of Netflix

With the changing consumer demand for entertainment media-on-the-go, video game consoles are following the trend, joining Netflix and newspapers in the move to the Internet.

OnLive, an online-based, start-up video game retailer is trying to become the Netflix of the video game industry by streaming games directly to its console.

The California-based company, which launched to the public in June, offers customers three- and five-day rentals, monthly unlimited plans and the chance to buy games at a cheaper cost than at brick-and-mortar stores.

Last week, OnLive released its game system, through which users can play game demos for 30 minutes before renting or buying them. They can also buy a PlayPack plan for $9.99 a month, which includes unlimited use of more than a dozen games.

Joe Bentley, the vice president of engineering at OnLive, said the company has seen positive feedback from both customers and video game makers, both of which save money through OnLive.

“We have partnerships with virtually every game publisher out there right now,” Bentley said. “The digital distribution model offers (video-game producers) big savings over traditional sale models.”

The used-game market that video-game stores rely on eats into the sales of game publishers, Bentley said. With Internet-based sales, publishers don’t have to worry about piracy or retailers taking a massive cut of the profits, and the companies can adjust their game to the benefit of users, Bentley said.

“We have seen exponential growth,” Bentley said. “It’s skyrocketing.”

Kurt Squire, a professor of educational communications and technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said online sales in video games are essential to the future of the industry.

“Online sales are already important – consider subscriptions in (World of Warcraft) or FarmVille sales,” Squire said in an e-mail. “The trick is, how will (video-game companies) be paid.”

Will Bonesso, a junior in the College of Communication, said his use of a company like OnLive would depend on how long he got to keep the game.

“It wouldn’t really bother me not having a hard copy,” Bonesso said. “As long as I could always access the game, and nothing went haywire, I would be perfectly fine playing a game based online.”

Squire said in the near future, even more devices and companies will combine entertainment and the Internet.

“It looks like for a period of time more things will happen ‘in the cloud’ and we will use a lot of devices primarily as displays,” Squire said. “There will always be specialized devices, but there will be increasing integration, and then new discoveries (and) new gadgets, too.”