Here's What We're Hearing About Google's Plans For Gaming

Google has set up a pop-up display area at the Moscone Center in San Francisco for this week’s Game Developers Conference. (Photo: Chris Kohler)

Tomorrow, the tech giant Google will reveal its newest plans for entering the video game world. What we’re hearing suggests that the main focus isn’t on a console, as has been speculated, but instead a streaming platform with all sorts of bells and whistles. And a fancy new controller that you can use to play it.

Google’s investment in streaming is no secret. Last fall, the company’s Project Stream beta allowed users with high-speed internet connections to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in a Chrome tab. Rather than processing the game’s graphics locally using a high-end PC or gaming console, Project Stream ran the game on Google’s servers, allowing users to play the game by downloading data on the fly - aka streaming.

It’s not a new technology, but past stabs at it have fizzled mostly because of latency issues, a problem that Google’s decision-makers think they can solve thanks to the data centres they’ve got all around the world.

The appeal, of course, is being able to play high-end games without having to dish out hundreds of dollars for gaming hardware, which Google hopes will allow it to reach hundreds of millions of people rather than the tens of millions who currently own video game consoles.

The rumours we’re hearing suggest that this streaming platform will be Google’s focus tomorrow, and that Google wants it to be playable on any hardware: PCs, Macs, phones, TVs, and so on. Buzz we’ve heard is that you’ll be able to play on a computer or Chromecast using a regular Xbox controller, and that Google will also unveil its own controller that has some sort of streaming capabilities. (We’re not sure how the controller will work, but it may allow you to use Google’s streaming platform on a television even if you don’t have any other hardware hooked up.)

We haven’t heard anything about any other hardware announcements.

It’s the platform’s bells and whistles that may be the wildest part of tomorrow’s big keynote, which takes place at the Game Developers Conference here in San Francisco at 10am Pacific Time. Google’s streaming platform won’t just allow you to play high-end games on low-end hardware. What we’ve heard from several people who have either been briefed on or heard about Google’s plans is that the platform is full of wildly ambitious ideas.

One scenario that’s been described to us by three different people (each of whom either heard about it secondhand or directly from Google), for example, might look something like this: You’re watching your favourite Twitch streamer play a game and you think it looks cool, so you buy it, and then, if the developers of the game have toggled this feature, you can download a save file that starts you off right where your streamer was playing.

Or maybe it’s a multiplayer game, and you can buy the game and immediately jump into a match with the streamer, if the developers allow it and the streamer is down.

Sounds wild, right? We’ll have to wait and see if this pans out, but it’s what game developers are buzzing about as the reveal of Google’s platform draws closer. The main selling point is the removal of traditional barriers like discs and loading screens, which may be a large part of Google’s pitch tomorrow.

Another of these bells and/or whistles is YouTube integration, as we reported last year. We’ve heard a variety of possibilities surrounding that, including ads that allow you to buy games directly, and, far more interesting, a feature that can tell where you are in a game and automatically load up the correct spot in a YouTube walkthrough if you want help.

We also know that Google has been funding its own video games, and that the company has been poaching developers and executives from all over the video game world. Phil Harrison, formerly of PlayStation and Xbox, is running the Google Yeti unit, and last week longtime game producer Jade Raymond announced that she was joining the company. We’ve also heard that Google has spent the past couple of years meeting with big publishers and developers across the world, and it’s safe to expect some of those to show up tomorrow.

What we don’t know is exactly which games we’ll see at Google’s keynote, what else might be unveiled there, and what other features the streaming platform may have. We’ll get the full picture at early tomorrow morning.


Comments

    Meh... just show me some good games. At least I can use my PS4 and handhelds when the internet is down.

    I like the concept but without adequate infrastructure it's not going to be a fun experience, and it's not likely to be good for MP games either way due to the latency. I think it'll be tolerable for single player games and would offer some significant convenience, but it might be overly ambitious. Still interested to see what they come up with.

      I think the infrastructure is going to be the easy part myself. There are enough datacentres around these days that its pretty trivial to find the server space needed.

      I expect it will come down to your connection. Good enough connection, with close enough hub (think capital cities) and the ping will be low enough for it to work. Functionally, this isn't much different to virtual desktop, or streaming 4K and we've been doing those for a good while now.

        Yeah I was referring to our local infrastructure, Google and Microsoft have the data centres to pull it off, but we don't have much on our end to take advantage of it.

        The ping may be low enough but it's not the same as streaming your desktop - people will notice input lag much more when everything is being done server-side and the client is just a 'dumb' terminal sort of input and display device. I think it'll be tolerable for SP games but unlikely for MP games. A 25ms delay (for example) might not mean much for MP games right now, but when your entire game has that delay, it might be too noticeable for people to bother with it.

          I was thinking of local infrastructure as well. AWS and friends have data centres all across Australia now, so all it takes is hosting whatever the service is in your local capital city and ping drops to 20ms or lower. No different to the US anyway.

          And for a 30 fps game, that's a 1 frame delay. Not noticeable for pretty much everyone. Anyone that thinks it is has an exceptionally low tolerance, or is just looking for excuses.

          There will be issues, its a new concept and its arrogant to think it will be perfect, but I just don't think there will be major ones given that a) the infrastructure is everywhere now, and b) the concept isn't that now.

          The only new thing is the extra layer of interaction, and even that is only new because its games rather than business use. Moving the processing from your PC to a server seems a big move, but its not THAT revolutionary.

          To put it another way, once they're hosting the games for this in Australia, we shouldn't be any different to the US where online gaming has happened for decades. Its like how WoW was instantly lag free once they has Australasian servers.

    Will 100% be focused around capitalizing on 'streamers'.

    I'm kind of surprised that game state freezing and then sharing isn't already a thing given that consoles and phones have been doing it for years now and VMs have been doing it for much longer. My guess is that it's because having access to a frozen game state would make it just that bit easier for piracy to run rampant. It would also be a little tricker to implement given that the memory and CPU usage is different on different devices so you'd have to come up with a unified storage format.

    Still, there's always save file sharing which a lot of people already do.

    So it's an Nvidia Shield TV then?

    That awesome little box already does most of that and the other "jump in game features" sounds like they'll almost never be available.

    I bought the Nvida Shield TV because after buying a new 4K TV for my new house I realized I had nothing other than my main PC that could output 4K video.
    So i started looking at parts to make a new HTPC and discovered that a $270 Nvida Shield TV ticked all the boxes and more.

    I tired playing one of the Batman games that comes for free with the Nvida Shield TV and despite having pretty great FTTP the latency back to their presumably US servers wasn't great. It was still playable but kept warning me that the connection wasn't good enough.

    I haven't had a chance to stream anything directly from my main PC yet, but that thing is getting pretty old now too.
    I have a steamlink that I never really used (though I do like that controller) but now that I have a nice projector setup I'll be looking to use that a bit more, especially with the Nvidia Shield TV.

    I wonder what Google could possibly do that Nvida hasn't done already.
    Only thing missing from the Shield is a semi decent browser.... but it does have access to the Google Play Store so you an always install something 3rd party.

    Huh, you'd think with all these resource heavy bells and whistles they would've been able to keep Google Plus.

    I just want loading screens to disappear or get shorter.

    The witcher 3 was enough to turn me off playing that game for good, die in a boss battle and it felt like 5-10 minutes just to respawn and have another go. Some games are good and some are just aweful. Even the new Soul Calibour 6 the load time in between rounds or battles is just bullshit.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now