Google is set to take on the $140bn gaming industry as it presents its ‘vision for the future of gaming’ at the Games Developer Conference in San Francisco this week.
The Silicon Valley giant’s reveal is set to be a commercial version of ‘Project Yeti’, its cloud-gaming based subscription service that will allow users to stream blockbuster video games to multiple devices without the need for a dedicated games console or high-end PC.
Google’s reveal is part of an industry-wide push towards cloud-gaming, with several companies vying to become the ‘Netflix of gaming’.
The push is an attempt to fundamentally disrupt how video games are played, much in the same way Netflix and its streaming ilk has changed television, and broaden the medium’s already enormous audience.
The cloud-gaming revolution is not necessarily an attempt to replace the traditional gaming hardware, with both Microsoft and Sony preparing to unveil their ‘next-generation’ Xbox and PlayStation 5 respectively, but as a complement.
But the traditional gaming companies will find themselves challenged by Silicon Valley’s biggest companies, with Apple and Amazon also reportedly looking into their own gaming subscription services.
Google is set to be the first to take the public plunge, however, revealing their plans tomorrow. But while Google theoretically has the resource to upend the industry, many feel that Microsoft is in the driving seat for cloud-gaming due to its experience in the industry, widespread cloud-network ‘Azure’ and its stable of Xbox Game Studios.
Here are six things Google needs to compete if it is to take its tilt at the gaming industry seriously.
Keep hardware to a minimum
Some believe ‘Google Yeti’ is actually a gaming console. But given the company’s already proclaimed propensity for cloud-gaming, too much of a hardware presence seems unlikely.
In fact, if Google want to disrupt the gaming industry, it would do well to keep any hardware needed for Yeti to a minimum. While the death of the home console has been greatly exaggerated -with Sony’s PlayStation 4 selling over 90 million units, Microsoft’s gaming division having its ‘best year ever’ and Nintendo’s Switch topping 20 million consoles sold in short order- that particular market is already cornered.
Instead, Google will want to offer its service to the broadest possible demographic.
This will mean latching onto existing devices -smart TVs, tablets and phones- or at most leveraging Google’s own Chromecast device or Android operating system. The company has already proven that it can run blockbuster video games straight from its Chrome browser, with ‘Project Stream’ trials in 2018 running Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.
A patent for a Google-made controller was reportedly filed with USPTO, which would make sense to tie its own controller to any service. Though it will surely have to be more svelte than the patent drawings -turned into a render by a keen fan- as the current design looks decidedly amateurish.
That said, the controller could prove to be the main device of Project Yeti, with the patent suggesting it will link to Google Assistant and be able to notify users of chat requests and game updates. A link-up to Chromecast looks a likely bet.
Solve the latency problem
This is a big one. The greatest threat to streaming services success is that internet speeds around the world are simply not ready to process the biggest gaming blockbusters.
When watching TV streaming services, if your internet speed drops or is throttled, you may lose resolution or experience buffering. An irritation at worst.
But games rely on user input; button presses instantaneously providing a reaction on screen. Even the smallest delay here can be crippling, with the game feeling unresponsive and hard to control. This will unquestionably continue to be an issue for cloud gaming, however big the companies now involved are, and the biggest reason we are a many years away from it replacing traditional hardware.
Google, and its competitors, will need to find a long-term solution to this problem, leveraging its existing cloud servers to keep processing speeds at an optimum level.
There is a chance that the initial game offerings will take latency into account too. Fewer reaction-based multiplayer games and more, relatively forgiving, single-player narrative adventures.
Find the backing of major publishers
This is obvious, but Google will need existing game developer and publishers to back its initiative and put its games on whatever service it has to offer. You would think with the right model, most game companies will be keen to sign up and get their games to a wider audience.
It seems Google has already made some headway here. Ubisoft allowed Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey to be used as Project Stream’s test game and its CEO, Yves Guillemot, has been vocal in his belief of cloud gaming. The French publisher are also set to feature in a post-GDC panel, hosted by Google, along with Doom developer (and Bethesda subsidiary) id Software and Uncharted writer Amy Hennig.
Produce its own top-tier exclusives and experimental games
If there is one key takeaway from the success of Netflix, in particular, then it is that original content is king. While the TV streaming service disrupted the industry with a selection of existing TV shows and movies, once the model had been successfully adapted by the competition, Netflix turned its hand to original programming. Amazon has done the same with Prime, if not to quite the same degree.
Google will have to work the hard yards here. This is where Microsoft (or Sony, should it decide to go all in on cloud-gaming itself) are in the driving seat.
Microsoft will have its Xcloud service supported by original Xbox studios and franchises from the get-go. Exclusive games like Forza Horizon 4 and Sea of Thieves have already fronted Game Pass, with the former already demonstrated running on mobile via Xcloud.
Google will need its own range of original games in addition to the backing of major publishers if it is to prove appealing. But if recent personnel appointments are anything to go by, that may be exactly what it is doing.
Jade Raymond, who has joined Google as VP, has a history of building development teams and original franchises at Ubisoft and EA. It doesn’t seem too far a stretch for Raymond to fulfil a similar role, as well as building out developer and publisher relationships due to her standing in the industry.
One of the things that excites me most about the potential of cloud gaming is the chance for experimental games to be given their moment in the sun. A mix of original blockbusters and more imaginative or unusual games being given the green light would be the dream ticket.
Provide a substantial back-catalogue
Original content will be the way to get people to sign-up, a substantial back catalogue will be the thing that keeps them playing all year round. A meaty back-catalogue from the get-go will be essential to any streaming services long-term success.
Gaming has traditionally struggled when it comes to curation and heritage too, so if Google can find a catch-all solution to preserving games from across history without players having to dust off old consoles, they could be on to a winner.
Find the right subscription model and pricing
This is an obvious one and without knowing Google’s plans it is hard to predict. However, cloud-gaming is largely predicated on the idea that it is to open up gaming to a larger audience. As such the pricing will need to be as accessible as the service itself.
Sony’s PlayStation Now, an existing service which offers a selection of games to stream to PS4 and PC, costs a fairly chunky £12.99 per month. Xbox Game Pass, which allows subscribers to download a selection of games to Xbox One and PC, costs £7.99 per month.
Given TV services such as Netflix have also settled around the £8 mark for its subscription price, you expect Google to be aiming for that sweet spot too.
Release it soon… if it’s ready
Cloud gaming is coming, even if the time of it being widespread remains years away. Microsoft has announced that it will start public trials of Xcloud this year, with a commercial release reported for 2020 alongside its next-generation Xbox.
Google, as the first non-traditional gaming company to show its hand in the market, may want to steal a march if it has all of the above in order. Simply proving that cloud gaming works and that there is a tantalising subscription on offer could pique interest if it gets its proposition in ahead of any heavyweight competition.
Yeti will need to be ready though, as nothing will kill the appetite for cloud gaming (which is currently dubious at best) faster than the roll-out of an undercooked and technically wonky service.
What do you think Google’s big gaming reveal will be? Are you excited by the prospect of cloud gaming or do you prefer to play on native hardware?
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