Recently, an all-new game initiative has been teased by Google. The company plans to announce their “vision of future gaming” throughout a session of the Game Developers Conference which will take place in San Francisco the following week. This plan is very likely to involve some combination of hardware and cloud streaming. But whatever their deal is, Google’s new gaming service might turn up dead on arrival.
GDC 2019 trailer teaser by Google
Yesterday, in a teaser trailer which was posted on YouTube, gaming fans were invited by Google to “gather around”. This clip lasted only 37 seconds and did not exactly show any of their hardware or further details. Instead, it was a combination of scenes from many famous video games categories. Those scenarios remind watchers of games such as Tomb Raider, Call Of Duty and FIFA 19 without even mentioning any of them.
It seems like Google wants to attract the attention of the devoted gaming community as its technology is perfectly suitable for that. However, the difference here is that Google could potentially bring premium games to anyone on a variety of devices.
Project Stream was extraordinary
Recently, Google has been testing its Project Stream platform for cloud streaming on one of Ubisoft’s new games, Assassin Creed: Odyssey. A lot of people at the test said that the method worked unexpectedly well. It encountered almost no stutter or lag even with slower, older Internet connections. The games which were tested looked and ran great as well.
Google has exclusively designed that test to prove to everyone that their system was ideal for a game as demanding as Odyssey.
“Streaming media has transformed the way we consume music and video, making it easy to instantly access your favorite content,” exclaimed Catherine Hsiao, Project Stream manager, in October. She then added: “It’s a technically complex process that has come a long way in a few short years, but the next technical frontier for streaming will be much more demanding than video.”
Google is now in an exclusive position to build a game streaming platform like what Netflix does for movies. After all, it is one of those companies that possess cloud datacenters worldwide. This infrastructure allows Google to execute its game streaming services without relying on a third party such as Twitch or Amazon.
Is Google planning to create their own games?
When Sony entered the market for video games in 1994, the hardcore gaming fans found no trouble writing the company off. The market has been dominated by Sega and Nintendo for such a long time at that moment, and besides, what could Sony possibly know about video games? And then, Sony launched its first gaming device, the PlayStation. Now, Sony is just as associated with video games as Sega and Nintendo were in the 90s.
The original PlayStation from Sony
The evident lesson learned from the PlayStation incident is that one should not assume that a new organization cannot enter the gaming industry and change everything. Especially a mega company with such long reach as Google.
We are not in 1994 anymore
These days, making games are very complicated and require a lot of money. It was much easier for game manufacturers to make do 25 years in the past. Ubisoft, one of the biggest game publishers in the world, annually launches approximately three blockbuster-tier video games in addition to a few more smaller releases. They employ almost 14,000 people to accomplish that goal. Sony Interactive Entertainment has 8,000, while that number for Nintendo is 6,000.
Now, we have to acknowledge that each of these companies employs only a small fraction of Google, as it possesses nearly 100,000 employees all around the world. However, these 100,000 are busy with tens, if not hundreds, of other projects and products at the time. They create Google Search, Maps, Chrome, and Android. Can Google expand its workforce by a whole ten percent just for them to create their own video games?
Again, we should turn our attention to Sony and why they have eight thousand people working on hardware and games. The answer is simple: They did not suddenly wake up one day and decided to hire thousands of video game developers. In the 90s, a company could make a premium game with just fifty people instead of five hundred. Furthermore, Sony has had the time to expand their employment rolls along with the knowledge on how to create successful games.
Even in the case that Google does decide to employ thousands of game developers, it is very unlikely that they could match the potential output of SIE, Nintendo or Ubisoft, at the very least for a few years. Even then, they would still struggle for competition in terms of quality control.
Game making is very risky, especially when your competitors are putting out some of the best games ever such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and God of War that only a handful of other game developers can only hope to match.
The Witcher 3 - Wild Hunt: Hailed as the best game ever made
A gaming platform by Google is not going to suffice
If one were to guess why Google wanted to make games, it would be to attract the audience. Devoted gamers do not seem to care all that much about gaming platform nearly as much as their games.
We have seen how this worked for Sony. Their internal products like God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man are all blockbusters. While games released on the third-party platform such as Grand Theft Auto V and Call of Duty sell better on PlayStation 4, a lot of people still show up for the exclusives.
In the case that Google’s new gaming service turns out to be just another way to access the games which people can somewhere else, most people will simply ignore it. Such platforms already exist with Atomik, Nvidia’s GeForce Now, and more. Previously it existed in the forms of GameFly and OnLive, both of which were failed cloud streaming services that involved a lot of third-party video games.
It is also challenging getting the gaming platforms right
This does not mean gaming platforms do not matter, in fact, it is quite the opposite. While the games themselves get people to buy, it is the platform that causes people to stay and spend money for a long time.
This is the reason why Nintendo Switch is successful. It possesses some great video games, but all of them are not much superior to what the failed Nintendo Wii U console had just half a decade ago. The difference here is that people actually enjoy using the Switch. I used to unwillingly turn on the Wii U to play Super Mario Maker, now I am actually excited to build my own game library on the Switch. A major reason for that change of heart is because the new hardware proves convenient, and it was designed for games in such a way that tablets, smartphones or even gaming laptops are not.
The failed Nintendo Wii U
You do not really need hardware to create a successful gaming platform, of which Steam is a great example. However, if one were to introduce an alternative platform for Steam at the moment, they would need to satisfy other needs. Discord has managed this by building a chat and voice communication app which has hundreds of millions of accounts and is now building a store to further capitalize on that.
The newest threat to Steam is called the Epic Games Store, which is thriving and competing due to the sheer popularity of Fortnite, a rare PC exclusive PC game. Furthermore, Epic the developer is spending large sums of money to get timed exclusives from renowned game publishers such as THQ Nordic and Ubisoft on EGS.
So in the end, we are back to discussing the games themselves.
What Google could do to become larger in the gaming market
While Google is looking at significant risks and hurdles as they enter the gaming market, a lot of things can potentially be done to prevent, or at the very least, reduce them. With their money and financial prowess, Google could manufacture their own games or buy out exclusives from its development and publishing partners.
Their tech has the ability to become revolutionary and to provide billions of gamers who could not previously access a certain blockbuster with a way to their favorite game. From this, they are capable of enabling publishers to earn more income whilst charging customers less. And it is probably common knowledge that people would jump at the chance to get a product they want at a reduced price.
Google could potentially possess some extraordinary hardware which ties their strategy together. In the case Google develops something that resembles a slim Nintendo Switch but is capable of streaming high-end PC games over a stable LTE connection or Wi-Fi, then a lot of people, myself included, would want to try it instantly.
In reality, it all comes down to price, enthusiasm, and convenience sooner or later with exclusive games. If Google can hit home with at least two out of these points, it has a serious chance of success. The one thing that Google should NOT do is to give gamers just another way to play Darksiders III.
Personally, I think that is what we are supposed to get. Google could potentially surprise every one of us, but the reality is that tech companies do not want to build their own products. Not a single one in Silicon Valley desires to become a guitar player, they opt to make the guitar instead. And that impulse is understandable. Entertainment has proven to be a hard business all along, so one should not come into gaming if they do not have the willpower to handle the risk.