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Google Eyes The Future of Gaming, But is a Cloud Service Enough to Take on Microsoft And Sony?

"Gather around as we unveil Google's vision for the future of gaming,” says Google. But it will take more than just technical prowess to nail the game streaming space.

Vishal Mathur | @vishalmathur85

Updated:March 18, 2019, 11:03 AM IST
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Google Eyes The Future of Gaming, But is a Cloud Service Enough to Take on Microsoft And Sony?
Google Patents Possible Game Streaming Service Controller (image: AFP)
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Google is getting into gaming. It was always a matter of when and not if. It could very well be now. Google has teased the keynote for the upcoming Game Developers Conference 2019 with the words "Gather around as we unveil Google's vision for the future of gaming." Remember, this comes not too long after the patent which Google filed for a game controller became public knowledge just a few days ago. But why would Google want to get into gaming.

For starters, it is a big pie waiting to be gobbled up. According to the numbers of research firm Newzoo, the gaming industry is expected to grow as large as worth $180 billion by the year 2021. This includes PC, console and mobile gaming. Secondly, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are currently bossing the gaming space.

However, could this be the final step for the “Project Stream”, culminating as a gaming-on-the-cloud service. We had often heard about a Netflix-style subscription-based game streaming service, with the all-you-can-consume positioning. Google is believed to have been testing this in the US with a select bunch of users, including allowing users to play triple-A game titles such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The idea is to let you simply pick up the game controller (surely Google would want to sell you one), connect it with one of the compatible devices, and start gaming. That neatly brings us to the second question—would there be any hardware in the mix? If there is, it wouldn’t be too difficult to consider it as the much-rumoured “Yeti” console finally turning into a reality. However, it’ll be interesting to see how Google packages this cloud gaming service. Will it be a simple app that could download on all Android phones too? If yes, it’ll give Google access to a humongous user base in an instant. Add Android TV into the mix, and you have the large screen gaming experience ready in an instant.

Then there is the question of which titles will be available to stream. If the US tests are anything to go by, it should be able to host pretty much any game title, including those with extreme graphic detailing. But Google is not a game developer, and it will have to rely on game developers and publishers for flagship titles. Would they really offer better potential than Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo or even Nvidia currently can? It won’t be alone in the space though. There is the Sony PlayStation Now game streaming service, with more than 700 titles in its library. Nvidia has the GeForce Now service with about 400 titles, for instance, which works on Windows, macOS and their own Nvidia Shield console for TVs. The competition is only set to become tougher. Amazon is believed to also be working on a cloud based gaming service, while Microsoft had confirmed last well that its xCloud gaming service is already in the works. It is also believed that the company will be releasing an Xbox console this summer, which does away with the optical disc drive, making it a completely online-only experience for game downloads and gameplay.

Do we have enough internet bandwidth though for a cloud based gaming service to be successful? In the Project Stream tests, Google had recommended users have at least a 25Mbps internet line for this to work well. This in many ways does potentially take mobile out of the equation—the 3G/4G networks in most countries, including India, clearly are not robust enough for this to work.

Google needs another source of revenue, much beyond its traditional strong points of Search, Android and the products meant for enterprises. Gaming is what can perhaps be described as a low-hanging fruit. If Google gets its subscription based cloud-gaming service out of the door now, it could have a first mover advantage in many ways, even as Microsoft and Amazon are prepping their own assaults on the space.
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