Today Google announced a new development milestone for their wide range of internet services. Dubbed “Project Stream”, the new service intends to provide gamers with an alternative to both permanently obtaining and downloading games to play them, and to purchasing higher-end gaming PCs to be able to play in the first place. Project Stream would offload running each game to a “host” server, and would then send feed of the game directly to the player via the internet.
While not an entirely new concept, game streaming as a service has long-suffered from a plague of issues that have prevented it from becoming very mainstream at all, much less taking over for dedicated PC purchase and use. The first and foremost problem is the issue of latency; even the fastest networks in the world have some kind of uptime between sending and receiving data, and occasionally stuttering or flickering datastreams as a result of general packet loss. When streaming video, even HD video, this isn’t really an issue; buffering times exist to create a pre-loaded space of video and leave the end playback looking much smoother. But in watching videos, the delay of a full second or two is meaningless–the video stays the same, regardless of the overhead time it takes to play.
In video gaming, things are different. The player is providing direct input to control the game itself, and responding to visual cues the entire time. Even milliseconds of latency between input and output are extremely noticeable in faster-paced games, and anything close to a full second is detrimental to any gaming experience. As a result, the service almost unilaterally requires a solid, reliable internet connection between the host servers and all who connect. Naturally, this can be a huge problem, especially in America where US citizens are still lagging around at tenth place on average for standard internet speed. And even then, where the average isn’t met, you’ll find a ton of rural areas or places with weaker infrastructure, resulting in higher costs and lower line quality. And while everyone understands the high price of high prices, lower line quality means more interruptions and far less stability.
As a rule, this downward trend includes America’s massively-monopolized broadband interests, as well, meaning the average consumer has little or no choice over their own locally-available services, so anything as ambitious as the planned Project Stream is going to have at least one major hurdle to overcome in many areas. It’s likely Google will expand the service to other regions, as well, but while the test is live it is currently only open to US applicants.
Another thing that stands out is the recent closure of the Google YouTube Gaming app and the reintegration of its services into a more controlled, user-friendly browser atmosphere. It seems like a coincidence until you realize both announcements have hit in under a week’s time, and how easy it would be to tie together both prospective customers for their live streaming game service and prospective watchers of those streaming the exact games available on the service, and it’s just like Google to try and put the two together.
In the past, Google has laid other ambitious plans with less-than-stellar results, including the seemingly dead-ended Google Fiber project, which has seen constant slowdowns and setbacks over the many years since its inception. Even in the debut location, Kansas City, the very first place picked by community voters to establish the foothold for Google’s planned fiber-optics network, has reported spotty access and some limited zone coverage despite the eight year gap since the founding of the project. And with Google Fiber’s expansion and progress in many areas “paused”, it’s hard to say if it’ll ever pan out.
All told, only time will tell if this is another big PR announcement for Google or if anything will actually come of the service. With a bit of luck, however, this may be the kick in the pants that Google Fiber needs to pick back up. And maybe one day the future will actually get here.