Betting that game streaming platforms will transform the gaming industry and bring big wins, the omniscient tech firm has launched one of its own.
Google launched its new game streaming service, called Stadia, in November, making it the latest in a series of technology giants to do so. Microsoft recently announced new games for its xCloud service, in testing now but due to launch in 2020. Amazon is believed to be working on something similar. They will compete with players like Nvidia, whose chips are used in gaming, and games publisher Electronic Arts (EA). Also in the competition is Sony’s PlayStation Now streaming service, launched back in 2014.
With streaming, anyone can play games without having to purchase a high-end console, since the complex computing needed to run gaming software is handled by cloud servers. Consoles will not become obsolete anytime soon; rather, game streaming should enable the $150 billion gaming industry to reach people who merely own smartphones, tablets and TVs and are not yet hooked.
Catherine Gluckstein, GM and Head of Product for Microsoft’s xCloud, points out that of the 5 billion people who own smartphones, about half play mobile games. Microsoft plans to expand its xCloud testing to India, where few people own gaming consoles but more than 500 million access the web, primarily on their phones. Michael Pachter, an industry analyst at Wedbush, speculates that global expansion of streaming could triple the size of the gaming market to nearly $500 billion by 2030.
Before that happens, getting a share of the gaming market by way of streaming will involve overcoming some technological hurdles. Streaming games is far more involved than streaming movies or music. Games need to react instantly to players’ actions, which demands a solid internet connection in the very least – typically not the mobile phone’s strong suit. And as Piers Harding-Rolls, an analyst at IHS Markit points out, distributing games via physical disks or downloads is cheap, while providing high-end, game-capable computing in the cloud is not.
Can Google do it? Working in the company’s favour is its technology, specifically its global network of cloud computing data centres. The same can be said for Amazon and Microsoft. But Google does not have the gaming roots of Microsoft or Sony. It also lacks a ready customer base anything like Amazon’s 100 million Prime subscribers, whom Pachter notes could be offered games with their membership.
According to The Economist, “Stadia’s debut could have gone better.” Features have been delayed, and the service is fairly expensive. Perhaps most problematic is the low participation on the part of game publishers, at least so far. At Stadia’s launch, only 22 games were on offer. By comparison, the test version of Microsoft’s xCloud has more than 50. Amongst the more established streaming platforms, Sony’s PlayStation Now allows players to access 650 games, though some are oldies (at least in gaming industry terms).