Ever since at least the days of the NES, the games market has always tended to have only a few major competitors. That may be Nintendo, Sega and Atari, like in the era up to the SNES. It might be Nintendo, Sega and Sony, like in the early days of 3D gaming.
Or it may be the familiar trio of Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, like in the eras starting with the PS2. This means system choices have always been pretty limited, and the structure of the industry has mostly kept the same as a result.
But it seems the market may be about to get shaken up a little. That’s because according to a news site called The Information, Google might be working on a subscription-based video game streaming service, delivered over either their Chromecast devices or a new Google games console.
This service is apparently codenamed Yeti, and would work similar to services like PlayStation Now; with users paying a subscription fee to access a collection of games run on a remote device and streamed over the internet.
It’s an interesting idea, and it’s certainly something that seems like it could become a big thing in future if done correctly. However, it also raises a few important questions.
Firstly, how exactly would the whole ‘latency’ aspect be addressed here? Oh sure, it’s not the 80s any more, and we wouldn’t have to post cards with instructions like in this humourous old video by Ashens on YouTube:
But at the same time, internet connections are still not amazing either. I mean, look at the US. Much of the country apparently has very few choices in what ISPs to use, as well as connection speeds on par with some third world countries. How are they going to be able to make use of a service like this?
And what about those in London over here in the UK? At first it seems like we’d do better, since our connection speeds are ‘supposedly’ higher than those in various parts of the world.
Yet as someone who’s actually lived and worked here, that too is highly misleading. Often, providers like BT literally can’t provide good fibre internet service to various locations, either due to property issues or trouble getting permits to dig up the pavement and install the damn thing. That’s why even in central London (as in, right next to Fenchurch Street esque central London) the company I was with previously had issues getting a decent internet connection installed.
So there too, internet connections aren’t too great. And in many other parts of the world? Hah, forget it. Most of Africa, much of South America and Asia and a good chunk of Europe simply has internet speeds too low to make video game streaming viable. It really is the kind of service that seems like it’d only work in Silicon Valley, Japan and South Korea.
And things don’t improve much for Google’s odds in other areas too. After all, Google as a company has never really worked in the video game market before. They have no idea what it entails, they’ve never released any games or hardware specifically to play games and the idea of a console ecosystem is likely entirely foreign to them.
Which means that even if they do get the hardware side down, they’ve now got to figure out how to compete in one of the hardest markets in the world. I mean, this is literally the definition of a red ocean market. It’s a place where companies going under happens on an almost monthly basis and where a couple of large manufacturers have basically dominated the hardware side for decades by this point.
What’s more, it’s one that requires a different approach than Google’s normal one too. After all, what is Google’s usual strategy? How do they enter and take over markets with products like Google Search, Gmail, YouTube, etc?
Okay, forget YouTube. They bought that one and merely kept it from going bankrupt. But what about the others?
How do they tend to make their own products successful?
Well generally, I’d say it comes down to the following factors:
- A clean UI, that’s mostly free of bullshit and works in a user-friendly way (this usually goes to crap as the service goes more popular)
- The promise of said service or product being free and supported by ads (as well as collected data for said ads)
- Plus everything generally working in the web browser or across devices. Nothing they run is locked to a certain piece of hardware or software, even if Chrome is ‘highly recommended’ for certain things to work properly.
Point is, none of that really helps them when it comes to video games and consoles. There, people are quite willing to spend money on games, and the ‘subscription’ setup Google is apparently working on isn’t unique either (since Microsoft are doing the same thing with Game Pass). They’re also not in a situation where running games independently of hardware is the expected thing, and in fact exclusivity is basically the saving grace for stuff like Nintendo’s systems and what not.
Finally, the UI isn’t really much of an issue any more. It’s not perfect sure, but the PS4, Xbox One and Switch have perfectly usable interfaces that don’t leave much room for an Apple like competitor to come in and improve them.
So, Google may struggle to get attention here.
And that’s only made more of an issue by their system lacking the one thing that sells other consoles.
Exclusives. Games that people actually need to buy a console or subscribe to a service to play.
Games like the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey on Nintendo Switch. Or in recent times, Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy for the PS4.
Google won’t really have those with a service like this. No, Android doesn’t count here. No one cares enough about the average app store game to subscribe to a service to play it, and most of the good ones there are on iOS and other platforms regardless.
That’s a problem for them. Because not only do exclusives give people a reason to try your new service or system, but said results are also the only way large third-party companies will bother publishing on your systems too. Put simply, you need the Zelda type games to get people buying your system, so it becomes popular enough for the third parties to actually bother with.
Otherwise what’s the point?
Both Microsoft and Sony have alternatives to this ‘rental’ type service at likely about the same price point as Google would have. No exclusives mean no reason to try Google’s service, which means no customers on said service and no incentive to third parties to publish there.
It’s a situation Google are going to need a whole heap of luck or business nonce to get out of.
Hence because of this, I feel their chances of succeeding with the product are slim. It’s just not viable in today’s market, and seems like something that’ll struggle against the big names doing the exact same thing as them.
But what do you think?
Are you confident Google could do well with a video game streaming service? Do you think there’s a good chance they’re working on one right now?
Post your thoughts on this (and more) in the comments below or over on the Gaming Latest forums today!