Google is making a big play in the games next week, but we're still not sure what that means. For years, the company has played with the idea of getting involved in what is now the largest sector of the entertainment industry, with an estimated value of $ 138 billion until last fall. And it would make competitive sense: Amazon owns Twitch, Facebook acquired Oculus and Microsoft has Xbox. The only other major technology company without a serious gaming platform or its own investment, not counting the mobile application stores, is Apple, although it is rumored that even the iPhone manufacturer is working on its own game subscription service.
Google has always had many of the parts needed to challenge Sony and Nintendo. The Android operating system is the most widely used mobile software on smartphones around the world, while the Chrome browser and the Chromecast streaming platform have given the company an easy way to run applications in real time and access televisions. It is not difficult to imagine a game service based on Android or a browser that can allow you to play advanced software on the living room television.
But, so far, all we've seen are some solid advice on what Google might be building. That changes on Tuesday of next week, when Google plans to hold its first keynote address at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. There has been a lot of news in recent months that gives us a good idea of what is to come, but whatever Google announces could have a big impact on an industry that is transforming the way it builds, distributes and sells games. . Here is a summary of what we know so far and what we think might come next week.
It is very likely to involve games in the cloud
By making fun of his speech on the GDC, Google said it would reveal his "vision for the future of the game". Previous reports and public demonstrations of the company itself, it is very likely that the ad includes a full service of games in the cloud. More than a year ago, The Information reported for the first time on the Google Yeti Project, the code name of an internal division responsible for creating a next-generation transmission service similar to existing but limited options , like Sony PlayStation Now and GeForce Now from Nvidia. .
Even before the services of Sony and Nvidia existed, the games in the cloud had been a bit like the holy grail of the industry: an ideal out of reach that has worried to several companies like OnLive, Gaikai and others, but that never quite cracked because the infrastructure and the economy were not resolved at all.
The concept is relatively simple. What would happen if, like Netflix and Spotify, you could not only digitally distribute the games, but also transmit them over the Internet, so that players do not need expensive hardware to play in high-intensity graphic titles? It is difficult because the games, unlike other forms of media, are incredibly large in size and require the participation of players in real time. But it is feasible, connecting the necessary hardware in a data center, running the game on a remote machine, and sending the video and receiving the player's commands through the Internet.
In any case, it has been impressive how many additional companies have revealed cloud gaming services in recent years, turning what was once a niche experimental effort into an industry race to discover the future . Microsoft has released its own gaming platform, xCloud, which it plans to begin testing later this year. EA, after acquiring GameFly's cloud games and rental service, is now working on its own product called Project Atlas. Even Verizon is joining the game, with a test service running on the Nvidia Shield decoders. Earlier this week, Valve expanded its Steam Link service to turn it into a personal cloud gaming application. Amazon and Nintendo are also investigating the technology.
There have been a number of obvious signs that Google is working on technology. Most prominently, Google launched its public trial of Project Stream, an experimental game transmission technology that worked directly in its Chrome browser. Through a partnership with Ubisoft, Google allows you to play Assassin's Creed Odyssey, without having to buy the game, on almost any machine, given that you have a strong enough Internet connection.
It was an extraordinary experiment, not only because it really worked pretty well, but also because a game studio as big as Ubisoft agreed to leave one of his biggest releases of the year being a test subject. The test is over, but Google set out to collect data on what it considered a "technical test to solve some of the biggest transmission challenges," data that could help inform any product that announces next week.
There have also been many strategic hirings in the last 18 months, approximately, that suggest a great legitimate impulse in the gaming sector. Phil Harrison, a longtime Sony executive and Microsoft's Xbox team, joined Google last year as general manager and vice president, but he worked on a revealed ability. At that time, it was believed that Harrison was going to help Google build its virtual and augmented reality platforms as viable gaming businesses. But Harrison was also on the board of gambling company Gaikai, a company acquired by Sony in 2012 and instrumental for the launch of its PlayStation Now service. So it is likely that Harrison is helping Google in its similar efforts.
Later in the year, Google hired Jack Buser, who was senior director of Sony's game transmission unit and led the social efforts of the PlayStation platform before that. Soon after, Google also hired Sony's senior research engineer, Richard Marks, who helped build the PlayStation VR headset and the Move controller.
I'm excited to finally share that I joined Google as VP!
– Jade Raymond (@ibjade) March 12, 2019
And last week, veteran of the game industry Jade. Raymond also joined Google as vice president, although we do not know which team or division he will lead. The moment may not be casual. Raymond, who was an executive producer and co-creator of Assassin & # 39; s Creed of Ubisoft and then joined Electronic Arts, could be directing some kind of creative division on Google, or an outreach manager for developers given their connections in large studios. and publishers.
There is a hardware component, and it can involve Chromecast
We do not have much to follow regarding how this service could be, but we do know that there is a strong likelihood of that there is Google custom hardware involved. Rick Osterloh, Google's hardware chief and senior vice president of devices, tweeted a link to the GDC presentation earlier this week:
Osterloh oversees Pixel phones, Google Home devices and the myriad of other hardware products that now produces the giant of the search in house It is not clear if that means that we are obtaining a console of games in the cloud with the mark Pixel or something completely different. But it's interesting, though, to see Osterloh involved in some way. Jason Schreier, from Kotaku who corroborated many of the initial details about the upcoming Google service last summer, also reported that the hardware will be one of the three main components of the service, the other two will be streaming and a massive – internal developers division that looks a lot like what Raymond might be involved with.
If we had to speculate about the appearance of a Google game transmission platform, we do not have to look too much. That's because it could very well exist, at least in part, as Chromecast. Google's streaming device is already capable of allowing you to play Android games on your TV using the screen reflection feature of a compatible smartphone.
Now, this does not mean that this new platform of transmission of games can only be used in Chromecast. But Chromecast provides a model of how Google will perform gaming experiences on a television. On the one hand, it is a low-cost package that connects through a port and stays apart. And because cloud games, such as streaming media, do not require a ton of local processing power, the hardware can be light and cheap. However, given the amount of buzz that Google is creating here, it seems more likely to drop all new hardware specifically for games.
There might be a game controller that goes with it
You can not have console quality games (if that's what Google is looking for) without some type of peripheral. For Google, that means building your own driver. According to a patent released late last week, that could be exactly what the company has done, with images showing a Google-branded gamepad that looks like a cross between a PlayStation controller and Ouya's evil gamepad of half a decade ago. .
This, even if Google does not produce a real console, could be the reason why Osterloh's hardware division is involved. On the one hand, if Microsoft and Sony are creating competing services, Google may not want its customers to use the controllers of other companies.
And it is obvious that a service of this type would have to be, first of all, an experience centered on the controller. As it is now, any kind of cloud gaming service will probably have at least some problems with connectivity. The bar for the performance of console games is much lower than on the PC, where competitive games require the best possible connections and even milliseconds of latency are important for hardcore gamers.
In other words, it's likely that this is not launched as an experience with the mouse and keyboard, at least not at the beginning. So, while we can not get Fortnite Apex Legends or Dota 2 on the Google platform, there is a possibility that this service is a place to play. Big budget single player games like Assassin & # 39; s Creed .
Google could partner with Ubisoft and id Software for launch
If you need more proof that Google can bill your service as a destination for great single-player experiences, look at its list of early partners who will be present and hosting sessions together with the company in GDC. Google specifically calls the legendary shooters franchise Doom and its creator, Id Software, as one of its participants in the developer's day session.
In addition, Google says Ubisoft is another of its partners . The director of Uncharted Amy Hennig, who recently left EA, will also be on a panel sponsored by Google with a representative of Tomb Raider studio Crystal Dynamics and game designer Raph Koster . Now, we do not know to what this level of participation is translated; These companies could be brought to the table for Google to give a technical compliment and show a demonstration or two.
But, if Assassin & # 39; s Creed Doom and Tomb Raider are, in fact, the first titles that you can play in the Google service. It creates the impression that Google wants this to be more of a console-level competitor for single-player games, and not just an Android game streaming service. Also, those are titles that do not require you to need a perfect latency and an ultra low ping to play because you are not interacting with others online.
It is very early and we know very little to make sure what else could involve the announcement of Google games. But for a company that has spent years looking at the space of the games, it seems that now is a good time to start. All major publishers and console makers want to be the first to break the games in the cloud and enter the ground floor of what could be the biggest change in how games are developed and sold from the iPhone.
What is even more exciting is that cloud games open up all sorts of new and disruptive business models for games, including the coveted monthly subscription for everything you can play. In a world in which unit sales no longer determine success, we could see an explosion of new experiences in the style of Netflix, all reproducible in hardware of any quality and cost.