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OnLive drops monthly gaming fees

Cloud-based online gaming service OnLive has announced there will be no monthly fee to access its service, meaning that gamers can tap into the streaming service access game demos, spectate on in-progress marches, and manage their gamer profiles without having to pay a cent—or turn over any billing information to OnLive. Of course, gamers who want to purchase or rent a game via OnLive will still have to pay money, but by formally eliminating a monthly fee, OnLive hopes to evolve into a ubiquitous, easy-to-access service that becomes a default destination for online gamers, rather than a walled garden locked behind a membership fee.

“We’re excited because this opens the door for the OnLive Game Service to be used by everyone whenever they feel like it, whether for playing a full game on OnLive, or for just instantly playing a demo before buying a game for a console or a PC,” wrote OnLive founder and CEO Steve Perlman, in the company blog. “Or, even for people just wanting to spectate games in the Arena or friend other gamers. Whatever interests you in gaming, OnLive provides it instantly, without complexity or hassle.”

Of course, anyone who’s investigated OnLive knows the service hasn’t really had a monthly fee during its first year of operation. Although OnLive initially launched with the notion that gamers would pay $15/month to access the service, through a varied series of promotions and special deals, the company never actually charged anyone that fee. Now, after a year of operation, OnLive seems confident it can live without that revenue and has eliminated plans to charge a subscription fee.

OnLive enables gamers to play high-end titles like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Just Cause 2, Borderlands, and Assassin’s Creed II using a lightweight desktop client and streaming the game to their computers over the Internet. The service has generated generally-positive reviews, although some have noted shortcomings in OnLive’s performance and graphics quality. Others have criticized the services’ pricing on games: although many 3-day game rentals are available for $5, full passes for many available games approach the full retail price for the same title—and if a user experiences performance issues with OnLive, they’re probably better off with the full retail title. Also, if OnLive stops carrying a game, customers’ full passes disappear with it: with retail games, customers still have their discs.