Over the last couple of months, Google and Microsoft have each officially launched new game streaming services. Each is still under development; however, tech advances within each project could ultimately impact regular video streaming as well as potentially changing the nature of the gaming industry.
Google launched Stream as a “a technical test to solve some of the biggest challenges of streaming”, trialing the service with video game publisher Ubisoft to stream their next game, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
Microsoft, meanwhile, announced Project xCloud, a video game streaming service it is also currently testing, aiming for public trials next year.
Electronic Arts, the world’s largest video game developer, has also recently announced its own cloud gaming platform, Project Atlas, which will be able to stream full quality video games to mobile devices and home computers. This is also the case for the Microsoft platform and Google Stream will play via Chrome on a laptop or desktop computer; effectively threatening to eliminate the need for separate video game consoles as the server will do the heavy lifting.
The race to take cloud gaming into the mainstream is now in full throttle. Here, we will take a look at each of the video game streaming platforms in turn.
Google launched Project Stream in October, describing streaming for gaming as “the next technical frontier” following music and video. In an official blog post announcing the news, Product Manager Catherine Hsiao described how much more technically challenging this frontier is. By partnering with Ubisoft to stream a blockbuster video game, Google is pushing its streaming service to that next level.
In the post, Hsiao described the nature of that challenge, “The idea of streaming such graphically-rich content that requires near-instant interaction between the game controller and the graphics on the screen poses a number of challenges. When streaming TV or movies, consumers are comfortable with a few seconds of buffering at the start, but streaming high-quality games requires latency measured in milliseconds, with no graphic degradation.”
The test period will allow a limited number of participants to play the latest Ubisoft game via their Chrome browser on a laptop or desktop with 25mbps or higher download speed.
Ubisoft is not working exclusively with Google and isn’t locked into any kind of future exclusive deal with the tech giant. However, during a recent earnings call, the games company co-founder and CEO Yves Guillemot said the company was happy with the results of the test.
“We have been able to work very closely with Google and are very happy,” Guillemot said, adding that the first results of the test are “very interesting.”
“We can stream not only to PC or consoles, we can stream to any device including any mobile devices. Cloud gaming is going to help to reach a lot more players for our triple-A games, which is a great thing.”
In its launch of xCloud, Microsoft also signaled its goal to develop its streaming capabilities via gaming. Its focus is on the choice of device for the end-user, enabling gamers to play on whatever device they choose (including consoles, computers or mobile devices) instead of being locked into a single one.
Project xCloud will use Microsoft’s Azure cloud for the purpose of loading up servers with the components of several Xbox One consoles in order to run the games that will then be streamed to the user’s device of choice. Various titles will be on offer, including Halo, Forza Horizon and other classic console and PC big hitters. In the future, all the games available on XBox One (over 3,000) will be available across all devices on Project XCloud with no additional work.
Public trials will start next year to help the company “learn and scale with different volumes and locations.”
The company has built out custom hardware for its datacenters, including “a new customizable blade that can host the component parts of multiple Xbox One consoles, as well as the associated infrastructure supporting it”. Microsoft intends to scale those custom blades in datacenters across Azure regions over a period of time.
EA Project Atlas
Electronic Atlas, meanwhile, is in the process of making all its own most recent video games streamable to almost any mobile device, console or computer. In a blog post published to Medium late last month, EA’s CTO Ken Moss wrote about both the company’s current and future plans. The ultimate goal being a future in which games can offer “living, breathing worlds that constantly evolve” and are “the most compelling form of entertainment” that you will be able to “play with your friends anytime, anywhere and on any device”.
Moss explained that Platform Atlas will streamline game development through the provision of a unified platform for developers. Development teams at the moment spend extra time ensuring their games work on whatever platform they are working with, Moss wrote, which can involve a large amount of work. The “middleman” would be effectively cut out via cloud-based gaming services, giving developers full control of the game.
“With the unified platform of Project Atlas, game makers will have the ability to seamlessly deploy security measures including SSL certificates, configuration, appropriate encryption of data, and zero-downtime patches for every feature from a single secure source,” Moss wrote in the post. “This means that they can focus on what game makers are best at — creating the best games.”
The fact that the world’s largest video game developer is pursuing its own cloud platform speaks to the rapid nature of change within the industry. It will be interesting to see if EA also makes its games available via other streaming platforms as the tech giants build their own simultaneously.
Although details are few and far between about the new services under way, it is clear that it is an exciting time for the future of cloud gaming. Other cloud gaming streaming services are already available, including Sony’s Playstation Now and Nvidia’s GeForce Now.
Nevertheless, CSS Insights analyst Raghu Gopal said the mainstream launch of a reliable cloud-based games platform may still be several years away.
The wider application of cloud gaming is not only connected to the gaming infrastructure, but to wider latency issues, which is dependent on each user’s Internet connection.
“Based on our experience with game streaming services, we believe that a reliable cloud-based gaming platform will remain a dream for at least the next three years. The reality is that many popular fighting, racing and action games need millisecond-precise input to deliver a competitive gaming experience. This problem becomes most apparent when trying to play games online through this type of service”, said Gopal.