Inside Google’s Project Stream

written by Fyren

Google has been running a technical test on their forthcoming cloud gaming service that, for now, is titled Project Stream. Come on Google, you can do better even if it is just a code name. The service aims to use Google’s massive and likely unmatched network infrastructure to deliver the top gaming performance on today’s most demanding titles, all in your browser. That’s just the marketing pitch though. Does Project Stream actually hit that target? Is it already delivering on the promises it made earlier this year when I covered the announcement. Well, I spoke to someone on the inside to get the details on what it happening with Project Stream.

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The first question any self-respecting PC Gamer will ask is “What is the performance like?”. Cloud gaming services like this have existed for over a decade now, but none have quite made it main stream appeal. Largely due to poor to middling performance. Whether that is in framerate or network performance, the problem remains. Even with services that are currently running like Sony’s PlayStation Now, the experience is not ideal with low resolutions, buffering, and sometimes choppy framerates being a regular occurrence especially when playing over WiFi. Project Stream however, is another animal. According to our source, performance was only issue on very rare occasions and was due to hiccups in the local internet connection. Framerates stayed comfortably above the 60fps standard that most gamers look for these days and the graphical fidelity was nearly indistinguishable from playing locally. That’s good news for gamers and great news for Google. It seems they may have cracked this tough nut at last.

Moving on, the functionality of the service as a whole is extremely limited at the moment as this testing phase is very narrow in scope. There is no UI to speak of and only one game available for testing, that being Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It remains to be seen what sort of UI is implemented and if Google plans on selling or renting games via this platform. The experience is very streamlined and I wonder if it will remain so going forward. My source even went so far as to say “It truly is so easy, takes a second to start playing, it’s instant. No load up times or download times. That’s probably my favorite part of it”. That may be a selling point for people who may not be in to PC gaming because they hear us Master Race types talking about all of our options and editing .ini files or installing mods. Ease of use is something that the console market has leaned on as a large selling point over PCs up until recently as consoles become more and more complex machines.

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Controlling the game continued the trend of being simple and streamlined with no issues to be reported. Controller support is not integrated into the service itself as of today, but is game dependent just as it is on other PC platforms such as if you had purchased and played the game through Steam or uPlay. Did we mention this runs in your browser? Yeah, in a Chrome browser tab. However, the game only streams and runs while the tab is in fullscreen. If you minimize it out of fullscreen, as if you were minimizing a fullscreen YouTube video, the game halts immediately and will not resume until it is put back in to the fullscreen mode. This is a little disappointing for me, as I am someone that runs a multi-monitor setup and I am constantly multi-tasking. However, one point in favor of the multi-taskers is that the impact on system performance appears to be very minimal. The source reported running their favorite MMORPG in the background while also playing through Project Stream and suffering no loss in performance. Keep in mind this is on a pretty good gaming PC, but this should translate to low end hardware and maybe even Chromebooks being able play games through Project Stream with few issues.

Overall, this looks pretty good for Google. Project Stream is clearly not ready for release yet, but the foundation is shaping up to be incredibly solid. The success of this project going forward though, I think will be in the hands of the marketing team and in how they choose to monetize the platform. The target audience for this isn’t quite clear yet, and it never really was for cloud gaming in the past either. PC gamers usually already have their own setup that runs what they want it to and these day swapping components and building rigs is a hobby for many. People who aren’t gamers in the first place are probably going to still look towards mobile games and then consoles to get their first foray into the space. So, who is this for? The gamer on the go? What will really answer this question is the business model they come up with for this. A monthly subscription seems to be the most likely following current trends. I would also not be surprised to see some sort of tiered subscription. $10/month getting you access to the platform and nothing else. $20/month would let you stream a few select games each month for free in addition to the ones you purchase on your own. What would really tickle me though is a sort of unlimited subscription with all games on the platform included with your fee, but the library would have to be killer.

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That brings us to the end. The final point of every discussion about platforms. It’s all about the games. Show us the games. If you don’t have the latest and greatest titles then it doesn’t matter how good the experience is. The reason Steam continues to be a successful platform despite the many complaints hurled its way in the last several years is because it has the games. Not just some of them either. It has all the games. Will Project Stream be a success? It’s too early to tell, but it looks good so far. Google might want to pick up the pace though as the competition is already out there.

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