This week Google continued to pursue every last drop of our internet use by announcing a soon-to-be-playable version of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, one that can be played directly in Google Chrome, without buying a games console or a dizzyingly expensive PC rig.
When considering browser games, most might think of canny little flash larks you might play at lunchtime; ingenious, witty but not exactly high spec and clearly not what the browser was designed to do. A little like the gaming equivalent of turning your calculator upside down to spell rude words. Playing an AAA title in your browser, without any gaming hardware at all, would be a genuinely milestone for the internet.
Google has squared off corners of the gaming market through its VR and Chrome applications, but this is the first time it’s stepped into what could be the holy grail for internet providers. Project Stream aims to do the processing for you on its own suite of servers, relaying your controls to the game and back in real time so long as you have, so they say, a working keyboard and a good enough internet connection to stream Netflix.
At the moment the trial will only be open to select gamers. And the likelihood is that lag will continue to be a significant drawback for people without the kind of internet connection you’d have at a computer science laboratory. To take a comparison, the inputs for Netflix streaming are significantly less laborious than operations of this magnitude. And even that service still carries some lag, albeit unnoticed in the process of clicking and selecting a movie. The task for Google might be compared to selecting a new Netflix movie to watch every quarter of a second. As such, Google’s choice to go with a game as heavy on processor power as Odyssey makes this a statement of intent from the search engine mavens.
Google’s motives are easy enough to grasp. In 2007, worldwide spend on games was about $35 billion, already enough to outpace global film box office at that time. Ten years later, and cinema takings worldwide total a whopping $39.92 billion (€28.61 billion), an all-time record for the business. Gaming’s total for this year is $137 billion and is expected to pass $180 billion by 2021, according to industry analysts Newzoo.
It is an industry that outpaces cinema grosses by more than 300 per cent and expects to hit 400 per cent in the next three years. Perhaps it’s more obvious why Google is going all in on a business model that could making game developers salivate and hardware companies sweat.
If the oft-mentioned creed of the titular assassins is something like “make a killing anyway and anyhow”, one senses Google has been obeying it all along.