Gaming enthusiasts the world over will be waiting for Google’s keynote speech at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco later today. It’s the first time the search engine giant has had a keynote speech at the conference and the reason for it is thought to be a major announcement. It’s expected that Google will use the presentation to unveil a major new project that announces its arrival as a serious threat to the status quo of the hugely valuable gaming market.
For some time now technology analysts have speculated that the next big evolution of the $140 billion gaming sector will be a move away from hardware-based gaming to streaming. That would mean the computing power needed to power the most advanced games provided remotely through Cloud computing and the action streamed to whatever screen the gamer wished to use via a high speed internet connection. The same way as you don’t need to have a physical download of a movie file to watch it via Netflix or any other content-streaming app.
Game-streaming would essentially mean the death of the gaming console and the traditional hardware and software sales business model. Instead of buying a powerful piece of hardware like a console, gaming PC or premium smartphone, a gaming streaming platform would simply require a screen and fast, stable internet connection. Or if hardware were required to allow the service to function, it would be something like a simple, cheap Chromecast device of the kind that conveniently allows users to stream to a television from their mobile device or laptop.
Individual games titles would also most likely no longer be bought as software but packaged like content on Netflix with subscribers able to access a whole catalogue.
In late 2018 and over January 2019 Google trialled the beta version of a product called ‘Project Stream’. A partnership with games publisher Ubisoft allowed participants in the trial to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey through just a Chrome browser tab. That successful trial is now thought to represent the precursor to today’s announcement that will detail plans for a full future roll out of a commercial service that will change the face of the gaming industry.
Google is not the first company to attempt to stream the kind of hardware-intensive premium games normally played on a console of PC. However, until now latency issues have meant that using Cloud-based rather than localised processing power hasn’t been a realistic option. The slightest lag between a gamer’s commands and their execution in the game ruins the experience.
However, Google’s network of global datacentres, built up for its fast-growing Cloud computing unit Google Cloud are believed to hold the answer. The company believes this will allow games to be streamed efficiently enough to neutralise the latency issue.
Both gamers and competitors such as Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox, the current dominant forces, will be keen to see what details are revealed by Google later today. Both are also known to have been exploring streaming as their own next evolution but now face increased pressure to come to market with their own products. Microsoft, like Google, also has a Cloud computing unit – Azure. That means the company can potentially compete with any new rival product from Google on an even footing. To do the same Sony would have to work in partnership with a major Cloud vendor such as Amazon’s AWS.