Google, Microsoft getting closer to making streaming games a reality

Lots of potential stakeholders have plans for streaming video games but Google and Microsoft are two that are making some significant moves in the near future.

The Game Developers Conference is kicking off next week in San Francisco and Google is expected to be there to announce its Project Stream cloud gaming service. The company last month sent out a mysterious teaser about an announcement coming March 19, using the tagline “gather around.”

Google got more literal when it promised to unveil its vision for the future of gaming.

If it does indeed turn out being a Project Stream unveiling, it would be a cherry on top of some recent testing the company has done around the platform. Last year, Google announced Stream as a “technical test to solve some of the biggest challenges of streaming.” The company conducted trials by streaming the latest “Assassin’s Creed” video game to Chrome browsers.

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While Google is getting ready for a big reveal, Microsoft is making its own moves toward a cloud gaming future. Last year, Microsoft announced Project xCloud, a video game streaming service, with plans for public trials to begin in 2019. The service will work on PCs and mobile devices—along with consoles—and will allow users to play with a Bluetooth controller or on-screen controls.

This week the company officially introduced Project xCloud and provided a live demo.

Kareem Choudhry, head of gaming cloud at Xbox, said the service would work anywhere that Microsoft has a client and where a good network connection is available. He said xCloud would use a lot of same Xbox Live features like cloud saves, friends networks, identities and accounts.

“It’s the same experience just translated to a different form factor,” Choudhry said.

In the live demo, “Forza Horizon 4” is shown streaming to a smartphone connected to an Xbox controller. The game is running on Project xStream hardware in Microsoft’s data center and then streamed remotely to the device.

Choudhry reiterated that public trials would take place this year, and those early tests will likely be about reducing latency so there’s little to no lag time between the controller and on-screen action.

Microsoft this week also announced Game Stack, a collection of Microsoft’s game-development platforms, tools, and services including DirectX, Visual Studio, Xbox Live, App Center, and Havok. This also includes PlayFab, a backend service for building and operating live games.

PlayFab supports all major devices, from iOS and Android, to PC and Web, to Xbox, Sony PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch; and all major game engines, including Unity and Unreal. PlayFab will also continue to support all major clouds going forward. The service will work as part of Microsoft Azure to scale the availability of development, analytics and LiveOps services.