When it comes to home consoles a lot of the talk is always about the latest hardware and how expensive that will be to bring to the living room.
But what if console manufacturers could eschew expensive, bulky hardware in favor of more asset-light options that not only deliver the most cutting-edge games but also insure that there is absolutely no modding, piracy, or cheating whatsoever?
Meet streaming technology and Google Project Stream, an effort by the search giant to bring streaming technology to the next level when it comes to video games and hopefully, one day, deliver on the promise of a “Netflix of games.”
Streaming is not a new technology nor is it something that hasn’t been looked at for video games before in the past. On the contrary, Sony has made huge strides in building its streaming network and Microsoft is just beginning to look into more robust ways to deliver games.
What most of these efforts focus on is a combination of delivery, breadth of content, and exclusivity of access.
Google Project Stream, on the other hand, has set out to make triple-A gaming possible on any computer capable of running the Chrome web browser – a bold goal if ever there were one.
Sony and Microsoft’s efforts, for their part, still rely somewhat on having a powerful home console to do some of the processing on that side. In these models streaming video games is a two-man effort and both the server side and the console side do their part to push out the game. Of course, this system could be refined over time but in the initial offerings people are looking at a hybrid approach.
Google, on the other hand, is going all in and showing the world it can be done on almost any machine capable of running Chrome (anyone in the know will tell you that that is a feat in and of itself given Chrome’s tendency to hog memory).
Vice’s Motherboard recently examined Google’s Project Stream which is now demoing the latest Assassin’s Creed title to show off its prowess. In the article, “Google’s Video Game Console Passes the Starbucks Test,” Vice is happy to report that not only did the latest game in the series run on an old Chromebook but also it did it over public Wifi at a Starbucks. If that isn’t a robust and demonstrative test we challenge you to find another one.
What most impressed Vice about their test is that the game showed up in the highest resolution possible and ran at a crisp 60 frames per second the whole test. Not only did the game look like it was running natively on much more powerful hardware than the laptop had but the public Internet connection didn’t faze it in terms of performance and enjoyment of the experience.
And this last part is a critical issue in streaming games. With the rise of eSports, there are certain titles that cannot allow for any lag or misdirection whatsoever.
Among these titles, first-person shooters and fighting games among them, lag would not only destroy competition but also single and multiplayer gaming at home. Relying upon rapid fire button presses and the translation of that to the big screen, these titles cannot afford a delay nor can their players.
Google’s Project Stream, at least in the initial assessments of the service, seems to have overcome this nagging issue. Of course, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is not a fighting game nor is it a first-person shooter, but it is also not a graphically light nor gameplay light title to put out there as a test.
In fact, Google’s arrival in a big way has a lot of people talking about not only how this can change the way people buy and play games but it can also impact the games themselves, leading to even more experimental or technologically intensive titles because of a reduced need to pay attention to console or system requirements.
After all, opening up the world of high-end gaming to everyone that can gain access to an Internet connection of 25mb per second not only makes the potential customer base that much larger but also extends the life of console generations indefinitely.
Gone would be the days of replacing hardware to play the newest games and instead devs and consumers could focus on spending their money in more efficient ways outside of making things fit into a console’s framework.
Touting all of these benefits to the player shouldn’t obscure the fact that streaming games would eliminate the industry’s biggest issue, especially on PC, and that is piracy. Streaming games not only brings all of these players home, so to speak, but also will eventually make it impossible for gamers to steal these titles in the first place as owning physical or digital copies becomes increasingly uncommon.
Naturally this represents a huge potential windfall for publishers who have often complained of the amounts they were losing each year on piracy but it also makes for a fundamentally different video game environment.
Further, the advance of streaming should flatten the playing field between the various consoles and the PC by returning focus to content and the devs that support each platform. Even though the era of the disc and digital may be going away with the rise of streaming, it seems like the power of exclusive games will not be leaving any time soon.
One trend that has bolstered the move towards this model are the loot boxes or online slot games that dominate many “games as a service” platforms.
As more and more games positions themselves as services rather than as iterative installments in a saga, more and more publishers like the idea of keeping things in a walled off garden Apple App store style so as to control the quality of other players’ experiences.
You can’t have much of a game if someone has hacked the cash shop and things like Project Stream make that nearly impossible to do.
Whatever the future has in store for gamers we know one thing for sure: The market will determine the winner.