So who'll buy OnLive now?

Sony's acquisition of Gaikai today closes off one long-standing rumor of a cloud gaming investment, but opens up another: which rival can't afford to leave OnLive on the shelf? Whispers that Sony was eyeing a cloud specialist culminated back in May with OnLive and Gaikai presumed the most likely candidates for powering the company's long-standing "Four Screen" strategy, something Sony described as its retort to Apple's iOS, iTunes and iCloud ecosystem. That leaves OnLive potentially up for grabs, and a number of potential suitors.

Sony has been talking about its "Four Screen" strategy since late 2011, with then-CEO Howard Stringer using the phrase to describe an holistic ecosystem of PC, tablet, smartphone and TV. Sony "spent the last five years building a platform so I can compete against Steve Jobs" Stringer said at the time, a platform that was just ready to launch the chief exec insisted.

The strategy was one picked up by Stringer's replacement, Kaz Hirai, arguing that user experience and not hardware would turn Sony around. "The foundations are now firmly in place for the new management team and me to fully leverage Sony's diverse electronics product portfolio," Hirai said when he took the new position, "in conjunction with our rich entertainment assets and growing array of networked services, to engage with our customers around the world in new and exciting ways."

Sony isn't the only firm chasing "new and exciting ways" to encourage people to stick loyally to its products and services. Possible candidates for an OnLive grab include HTC, which has already invested $40m into the company back in early 2011, though has so far failed to capitalize on that bar an abortive preload on the HTC Flyer. It's also questionable whether it would go up against Sony on mobile gaming: last month, HTC became the first third-party company to sign up as a PlayStation Certified partner.

So, who else has a gap in its mobile gaming strategy? Microsoft's Windows Phone has the promise of Xbox LIVE running between it, Xbox 360, Windows and the new Surface tablets, along with Xbox SmartGlass to sew up the multi-screen gap. That's not to say a cloud gaming system like OnLive wouldn't fit in there too, and the two companies have already been working together to some extent on OnLive Desktop. A hosted desktop in the cloud might be an interesting addition to Windows RT tablets, and bypass future need to develop ARM-specific Office releases.

Then again, perhaps Samsung is a better candidate. The South Korean company has already admitted that it is relatively lacking in software "competitiveness"; more recently, its new mobile CEO reiterated that "a particular focus must be given to serving new customer experience and value by strengthening soft capabilities in software, user experience, design, and solutions." It has a cloud-based photo and video sync system, but no serious gaming option despite, like Sony, having a footprint in TV, phones, tablets and PCs.

[aquote]OnLive would turn the Nexus Q into an instant console[/aquote]

Google and Apple are the two cash-rich heavyweights, and each might be a good fit for OnLive. There'd be no shortage of server-farm space with either, certainly, and both iOS and Android could certainly benefit from an injection of cloud gaming. For Google, it would also turn new devices like the Nexus Q and existing, struggling platforms like Google TV into instant consoles; the same could be said for the Apple TV, and Apple already has AirPlay Video for using an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch as a wireless controller.

Then there's NVIDIA, though so far it's shown more interesting in supplying CUDA processing to cloud gaming companies than actually owning one itself. Back in May, in fact, it announced a deal with Gaikai to use GRID processing to power streaming game content. Where that deal stands in the aftermath of the Sony acquisition is unclear right now.

What we do know is that gaming is going to be an increasingly vital element for any company hoping to take the reins of its future in the mobile space, and the cost of acquiring OnLive would likely be quickly outweighed by its value in that ecosystem. We can already hear the rustle of checkbooks.

Who do you think would make the best fit for OnLive? Or should the company continue to go it alone? Let us know in the comments!