Game Streaming - using your PC or console to connect to a high-performance farm of PCs hundreds of miles away to play games remotely - is one of those nascent gaming services that has been on the cusp of exploding for years. The potential has been there since ISP's rolled out video streaming capable internet connections and GPU manufacturers introduced real-time video encoding/decoding into graphics hardware, but logistical challenges have largely hindered its development.
NVIDIA invested heavily in game streaming through their GeForce Now program, which has matured into a robust service that gives you access to your entire Steam library for remote gameplay on even relatively low-spec hardware such as the Shield TV. Shadow is a start-up with a similar paid-for service that's a little more hardware agnostic. Sony's Playstation Now offers plenty of classics to stream, and Microsoft is believed to be investigating the technology for implementation in future consoles. Now word has come down that another behemoth is looking to enter the fray: Google.
This week the search and advertising giant sent out invites for their GDC Keynote in March, and insiders believe that Project Stream - Google's own game streaming platform - will be announced at the event. A successful roll-out would see Google finally make inroads into the lucrative gaming segment, leveraging the ubiquity of the Android OS and Chrome browser.
Game Streaming's potential lies in the fact that very low performance systems can act as a client while remote servers provide the necessary processing muscle. Internet connection latency, bandwidth and infrastructure costs are limiting factors, but that's about it. To the consumer it offers the promise of playing the latest graphically demanding titles without needing an £800+ gaming PC; a Chromebook or even smartphone could potentially be all that's required. For Google, game streaming could be a solid subscription-based revenue stream and platform for injecting advertisements and gathering user metrics.
It remains to be seen whether the market for game streaming is particularly deep, and whether platform exclusives will be necessary to tempt consumers to shift their habits. General PC and console affordability is also a factor, and so the transition from this console generation to the next will provide the greatest opportunity for each of the services.
Google's GDC Keynote will take place on March 19th, at which time the picture will become far clearer.