Setting it up
Customer service is another. Upon plugging the micro console in and firing it up for the first time, I couldn't get it to connect to OnLive's server. The support section of the OnLive UK website simply forwards you on to the US site, which has some not entirely helpful FAQs and links out to networking guides on other sites. It's a bit like taking your iPhone to the Apple Store and being told that there's a bloke on the market who can sort it out for you.
I couldn't use the live text chat helpline, because it's American and they were all asleep. So I submit a question using the standard form and wait for a reply. There are also no forums on the official site, so I Google around until I find onlivefans.com, where it seems other people are having similar difficulties. No single answer presents itself and port forwarding doesn't help, so I'm reduced to the most rudimentary technical fixes I can think of.
The micro console's "no frills" approach really hurts it here, as there's no way to manually enter network settings. Eventually, after power cycling the thing for a few hours, it connects and I'm off and running. What was the problem? I guess I'll never know, but if I were a normal dad trying to get the thing working on Christmas morning, I'd probably be even more frustrated than I already was.
The next morning I finally get a response from the tech support team in the US. The paraphrased version: "Just keep trying and it'll connect eventually."
There are other curious quirks brought about by the limited functionality of the micro console, so let's get those out of the way now. A lot of functions are delegated to the website rather than the console dashboard, for example. Setting up a new user, making any changes to your gamer profile and authorising access to Facebook are all beyond the scope of the limited dashboard.
There's also no power switch or reset button... [Correction: OnLive has been in touch to inform us that there is indeed a power button on the console - quite well disguised as one of the lights on the front of the unit. Our mistake! We've removed our criticisms here.]
That's a lot of niggling irritations for a new hardware launch to shoulder, especially as the console itself is so stark and unhelpful when it comes to finding solutions. Thankfully, once it's up and running, there are more positive things to focus on.
The front end
Those positive things include the Arena, which lets you drop in and spectate on what others are playing as they play. Voice chat is supported (in a beta form, at least) and it's a great way to get a feel for a game. As well as navigating the feeds from a vast video wall, you can also find specific Arena links on the marketplace page for each game.
Similar in execution are the Brag Clips, which can be activated by hitting the "record" button on the base of the controller. This then automatically saves the last ten seconds of gameplay as a video clip, and will even post it direct to Facebook. These aren't terribly well explained from within the dashboard, but it's easy to see how having such a function applied across every game you play could lead to something worthwhile further down the line.
The marketplace itself is well laid out and refreshingly free of advertising. Just search for what you want or browse by genre and decide how to pay. Bang in your password to authorise the sale and you're away. You can go from making the purchase to playing the game in thirty seconds. It's incredibly impressive.
Choosing a game isn't quite as intuitive as you'd hope, since there's seemingly little consistency as to which games are available under which pricing schemes. Batman: Arkham Asylum, for instance, is available as a full purchase, a three-day or five-day rental, as part of the £6.99 monthly PlayPass and also has a free trial. However you want to play it, you're well catered for. THQ's Homefront, on the other hand, is just available for £29.99 with no other options - not even a free trial.
Some games won't even work on the micro console, as sold. Since OnLive is streaming PC games, some require keyboard and mouse and simply won't run with the micro console controller. It's an inherent limitation of the technology chosen, but it does make the offering a confused one.
[Editor's note: OnLive has pointed out that it's possible to plug a keyboard and mouse into the console via USB to play these games. This is true, but it's an additional purchase that may leave micro console owners wondering why they're not just playing on PC. Even stranger is that some of the games marked keyboard-only already have controller-compatible versions on the Xbox or PS3. We feel our point about the confusing proposition stands, but it is fair to clarify that the micro console is capable of running every OnLive game with the right peripherals.]