For many months, rumors have been swirling around Google creating a gaming platform. Most agreed that this would come in the form of some sort of Android-powered gaming box or via online game streaming. It seems the latter is the answer.
Project Stream is an effort by the search giant to get into the tricky cloud-served gaming industry. If you aren’t familiar, the idea is simple and the execution is very difficult. Most people don’t have access to well-outfitted gaming rig or don’t game enough to want to invest the money for one. I find myself in that camp. I could shell out money for a gaming PC, but I just don’t game enough to justify it.
What if, however, I could run these complex games on a powerful server and simply control it from my under-powered computer? Well, that sounds interesting, doesn’t it?
And that is the premise of game streaming. Up to this point, it has proven quite tricky to pull off, however. Most games require quick reaction and even a few milliseconds of lag between input and action make the experience not only frustrating, but basically unplayable. Imagine playing Fortnite or PUBG and there being a half second delay between your hitting the fire button and anything actually occurring on screen.
Not really the best solution, right?
Enter Google’s Massive Server Base
The issue in most of this comes down to server proximity. For obvious reasons, the farther a connection is from your physical location, the longer it takes to send and receive things. For most internet things, this isn’t an issue. We don’t mind a few seconds of buffering when a video loads and we know visiting a new website will take a couple second to load. Because of this, most of us don’t give a ton of thought to ping speeds and server locations.
However, when we start talking about gaming and the razor-thin tolerances for input lag, all these factors become very important.
I’ve tried a few game streaming services and I’ve always been very pleased with the quality of the images on my screen. That’s never been the issue. Even with a wired connection to my device, the slight lag for input methods has always been too much for me to continue playing. I like first-person/third-person shooters and fighting games, so quick response is crucial. Game streaming just hasn’t yet been up to the task for me.
Google’s advantage, then, becomes their massive scale. In the post over at The Keyword, they don’t mince words about this. They admit it is tricky and crucial that image quality be high while maintaining little to no lag on input devices. Chances are good that you live decently near a Google server if you are in the US, so utilizing this massive server scale could theoretically have a huge impact on latency for users.
I’m sure there are other, more technical things happening in the background to help this as well, but there is simply no substitute for proximity when we’re talking about ping speeds. Keep in mind, too, that this is still a project at this point that is set to last until January. This gives Google a strong test bed to figure out if they can actually pull this whole thing off or not.
No Chromecast Support
Part of the speculation around this whole effort has also included the new Bluetooth-enabled Chromecast set to be released soon. The thinking makes perfect sense: get game streaming up and running and then cast the session to a Chromecast on the big screen. All you need is input methods, and those could theoretically attach directly to the Chromecast with Bluetooth.
I’m not saying this won’t happen at some point, but if you take a look at the FAQ for Project Stream, you can see the following:
Q: How do I play this on my TV?
A: Project Stream is a test and we are focused on providing a quality streamed experience to your Chrome browser on your PC, not a TV experience.
Seems pretty cut and dry to me. If Google was planning on Chromecast support, they could have included a simple “not at this time” or not even addressed this question in the FAQ at all. While I’d love to see Project Stream work on Chromecast, I think there’s little chance it happens anytime soon. While this is a bit of a bummer, you can always plug your Chromebook, PC or Macbook into a TV via HDMI for a bigger screen experience if you want.
For now, I’m crossing my fingers for an invite so I can be a part of testing something that could, in the end, change the way we approach AAA gaming from this time forward. If Google can get this right, it will have a massive appeal and massive impact on the gaming market.
Want to sign up? Head over here to throw your name in the pot!