Playing "Assassin's Creed: Odyssey" in my browser made me realize that streaming video games will soon be as easy as popping open Netflix.
- Google's ProjectStream lets you play blockbuster video games with your internet browser, if you've got a strong enough internet connection.
- Using ProjectStream, the visuals and controls of "Assassin's Creed: Odyssey" match the look and feel of playing the game on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.
- If ProjectStream and other cloud gaming platforms can provide a streaming experience that feels consistent with playing on console, they can lower the price of entry for high-end video games by hundreds of dollars.
- Cloud gaming will eventually kill consoles if it can provide gamers with a healthy library of streaming games at the right price.
Earlier this month Google rolled out a closed beta test for ProjectStream, a video game streaming service that lets you play high-quality video games via the Chrome browser. The beta test includes just one game, the recently released "Assassin's Creed: Odyssey."
Developed by Ubisoft, "Assassin's Creed" is the sort of blockbuster game that would traditionally require a $400 console or gaming computer to play. ProjectStream significantly reduces that barrier to entry; the sole requirement is a 25 mbps or faster internet connection, and controllers are optional.
Having already played "Odyssey" on PlayStation 4, I was skeptical of how ProjectStream would compare to the console experience. After all, ProjectStream isn't the first cloud-based video game streaming service and the technology hasn't been a hit so far. Sacrificing graphic-quality or settling for less responsive controls has felt like a requirement for past cloud gaming services, and performance varies greatly depending on the game. Given that "Odyssey" is a brand new game with a huge open world, I was skeptical whether ProjectStream would be able to keep up.
Playing for the first time on a MacBook Pro, my concerns were quickly put to rest. At its best, ProjectStream's version of "Odyssey" felt identical to playing on PlayStation, the game immediately recognized the PlayStation 4 controller I connected via Bluetooth and showed the correct button icons on screen. There was no noticeable delay in the controls and the visuals seemed overall consistent with what I saw on PS4, though "Odyssey" does have additional support for 4K and HDR on consoles and PC.
I tried ProjectStream with three different computers with three different network scenarios; a 2017 MacBook Pro on 250 mbps wifi, an HP hybrid laptop on a 50 mpbs wifi connection, and my gaming PC with a 970 GTX graphics card on a 1 gbps connection. The experience felt pretty much identical across the three computers, making their difference in processing power feel insignificant.
Running on the slowest internet connection, the HP laptop did experience some brief moments of instability where the image would appear somewhat pixelated and the controls would freeze, but the game would return to normal after a few seconds. On my gaming PC and the MacBook, ProjectStream was essentially flawless.
Consistency is the most encouraging factor of ProjectStream. Knowing that the experience playing via the Google Chrome browser matches console gameplay regardless of the computer I'm using — as long as the internet speed if fast enough — is great motivation to leave my PlayStation version of the game behind. ProjectStream also carries my game save over automatically so I can easily continue where I left off, whether I'm playing at work, at home, or at a friend's house. Unfortunately ProjectStream doesn't work on smartphones or tablets just yet, but it would be surprising if Google can't find a way to make the service functional on their own Android devices.
ProjectStream represents a convincing jump in cloud gaming technology at a time where gamers are wondering if the next generation of video game consoles will prioritize streaming content over traditional media. ProjectStream takes advantage of Google's massive server infrastructure and development resources, showcasing a beta product that gamers can be confident in. But even if the technology can match the experience of an Xbox or PlayStation, the next important step will be finding a way to deliver a full library of new and old video games at a price that makes sense.
Google will also be competing head-to-head with endemic video game brands as it enters the game streaming space. So far the most functional cloud gaming options have been Sony's PlayStation Now and Nvidia's GeForce Now, but neither service feels like a true alternative to buying an expensive console or PC. PlayStation Now offers a preselected library with hundreds of games for $20 a month for PS4 and PC, but newer titles are not included. GeForce Now gives players access to specific titles they've already purchased for their PC library and charges $25 per 20 hours of streaming time. For reference, "Assassin's Creed: Odyssey" costs $60 to own and takes at least 30 hours to complete.
Shortly after the rollout of the ProjectStream beta, Microsoft announced its own cloud gaming platform, Project xCloud. Project xCloud will stream games to both PCs and mobile devices with a launch planned for 2019. Microsoft has already shown off touchscreen controls for tablets and peripherals to use Xbox controllers with smartphones. Microsoft already has a separate game subscription service with Xbox Game Pass, which currently players the ability to fully download games on PC and Xbox One instead of streaming them.
During its 2018 keynote, Microsoft executive Phil Spencer teased that the new Xbox devices would make use of cloud gaming as well. Spencer said the company's goal with Project xCloud is to reach the two billion people playing games around the world, regardless of the hardware they play on.
It will take some time for publishers and gaming platforms to establish a market for streaming games, but ProjectStream has shown that the future of gaming will not depend on selling consoles; great games can be delivered right to your browser. The beta test for ProjectStream is accepting new players on an ongoing basis and will run through January 2019. Follow this link to sign up.