Google has one of the biggest gaming platforms around, but historically it hasn’t really made games a real priority. That could all be changing soon. A few weeks ago, Google hired former Playstation and Xbox executive Phil Harrison as a vice president and general manager for its hardware division. Now The Information is claiming Google is working on a game streaming service, code named “Yeti.”
Many are speculating Google will enter the video game industry in a big way, though much of that is based on unconfirmed reports (The Information included). Thus far, Google’s taken a pretty hands-off approach to gaming on Android, but there are some good reasons why it might want to take a more active role in the game industry — here are a few.
It can finally expand Android to a wider audience in the living room
Android may be on the most smartphones and tablets, and Android apps are expanding more and more to Chromebooks as well, but the OS has still yet to make a huge push in the living room. Sure, there is Android TV and NVIDIA’s Shield TV set-top box, but there’s tons of competition for smart TVs, boxes and sticks.
If Google decides to launch a dedicated game streaming service, with exclusive high-end games rivalling or exceeding what you could play on game consoles or the PC, it could be the big push into the living room Android needs.
Google wouldn’t need to spend a lot of money to make this happen
Google already has most of the hard parts of this kind of console or service already covered. Android runs well on both Intel and ARM processors. It can work on nearly all types of hardware, including what powers high-end PCs and consoles. The Google Play Games API already offers developers plenty of support. Google’s hardware division is growing, adding more smart home products like its Google Home speakers, and it recently brought in the Nest team as well.
Launching a gaming-oriented streaming set-top box would certainly be in line with what Google is already doing to add in smart devices in the home. In a way, Google is trying what Microsoft failed to do. The folks in Redmond tried to get Windows on every device. It succeeded with the Xbox and PC, but failed in the smartphone and tablet spaces. Google has the mobile industry locked up with Android. Google Home is making inroads for its Google Assistant-based speakers. Even Chromebooks are taking away market share from Windows PCs (at least in the education market). The living room and the TV is really the only area lacking a meaningful Android presence, and a game console or service could bring it there.
Google already has the cloud server and streaming infrastructure
If Google is indeed working on a game streaming service, as The Information claims, the company’s already well positioned to do it. It is one of the biggest cloud server companies in the world, helping tons of businesses and industries with their cloud computing needs. In terms of streaming, look at the massive success of YouTube. The video streaming site has been hit in recent months over its content, but that has nothing to do with its impressive efforts at offering billions of video streams at once, 24/7.
If Google can take the lessons and technology gained from running YouTube, as well as the most recent launch of the YouTube TV live television service, and create a streaming service for games, it could truly enter the living room space Microsoft already has with the Xbox, and Apple wants to claim with the Apple TV.
Challenges for a possible Google game streaming service
There are plenty of good reasons for Google to get more involved in the video game industry, but that doesn’t mean it would be easy. There are some real obstacles to cross before launching a game-streaming service.
Previous Android game consoles have failed
Remember the Ouya? Or the Razer Forge TV? Android and Android TV-based game consoles have come and gone, and none of them gained much traction. Even the NVIDIA Shield TV, which is still available, is more of a video streaming device than a gaming console now. NVIDIA spent a lot of money porting PC games to the Shield TV, including the rebooted Tomb Raider game and more, and it still didn’t work. In fact, the company recently started selling the set-top box without its gamepad.
Attempts to bring Android-based game consoles to market haven’t had much success. This was in part due to weak marketing, but also because consoles made by Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo simply offered more of just about everything to both hardcore and casual gamers. If Google decides to bring out a game streaming service, it will not only have to compete with the Big Three consoles, but also overcome a history of failed Android products.
Current Game streaming services have also been mixed
You can stream video on set-top boxes like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and others, so why not with games? It’s a good idea that’s been very difficult to execute well. The biggest such player in this space is Sony, whose PlayStation Now service streams PS4 and PS3 games to its consoles, Windows PCs, some Blu-Ray players, and its Bravia smart TVs. Gamers can rent individual games to stream on PlayStation Now, or subscribe to the service to gain access to all of the 600 available games.
It only launched in 2015, but Sony revealed in 2017 its already shutting down Playstation Now support on every device but the PS4 and PC. Sony has not released any hard numbers on how many people have accessed PlayStation Now, but if it was a huge success, we’d probably hear about it more.
The other major game streaming service is NVIDIA GeForce Now, which streams a number of PC games to its Shield TV and Shield tablets. It currently is running betas of the same service for Mac PCs, and more recently for Windows PC. Once again, NVIDIA has not revealed just how many users have access this streaming service.
The success of these services depends mostly on the internet connection of the user, which may be why we have yet to see any achieve the kind of mass success as Netflix. Streaming games takes a lot more bandwidth. If Google is really working on such a service, it needs to understand how much of the experience is out of its control and figure out a way to account for that. As it exists now, game streaming still needs a better broadband infrastructure to really work, and we are just not there yet.
The bulk of this article is pure speculation. It’s very possible Google has some kind of skunk works project that will take the gaming industry by storm, as Microsoft did with its Xbox console (the first prototype was created inside Microsoft 20 years ago, if you can believe it), but we can’t know for sure. Hopefully we will learn what’s real and what’s just a rumor soon. Perhaps at the Game Developers Conference in March or the company’s own Google I/O conference in May.
One thing is certain, however: Google really, really wants to be wherever there are smart devices. Google Assistant is making a lot of inroads, but a game console or streaming service could be another way, especially if the company wants to keep attracting a young audience.
In the meantime we want to hear from you. What do you think about Google possibly entering the video game business in a bigger way?
Let us know in the comment’s below!