Google has set up a pop-up display area at the Moscone Center in San Francisco for this week’s Game Developers Conference.
Photo: Chris Kohler

Tomorrow, the tech giant Google will reveal its newest plans for entering the video game world. What we’re hearing suggests that the main focus isn’t on a console, as has been speculated, but instead a streaming platform with all sorts of bells and whistles. And a fancy new controller that you can use to play it.

Google’s investment in streaming is no secret. Last fall, the company’s Project Stream beta allowed users with high-speed internet connections to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in a Chrome tab. Rather than processing the game’s graphics locally using a high-end PC or gaming console, Project Stream ran the game on Google’s servers, allowing users to play the game by downloading data on the fly—aka streaming. It’s not a new technology, but past stabs at it have fizzled mostly because of latency issues, a problem that Google’s decision-makers think they can solve thanks to the data centers they’ve got all around the world.

The appeal, of course, is being able to play high-end games without having to dish out hundreds of dollars for gaming hardware, which Google hopes will allow it to reach hundreds of millions of people rather than the tens of millions who currently own video game consoles.

The rumors we’re hearing suggest that this streaming platform will be Google’s focus tomorrow, and that Google wants it to be playable on any hardware: PCs, Macs, phones, TVs, and so on. Buzz we’ve heard is that you’ll be able to play on a computer or Chromecast using a regular Xbox controller, and that Google will also unveil its own controller that has some sort of streaming capabilities. (We’re not sure how the controller will work, but it may allow you to use Google’s streaming platform on a television even if you don’t have any other hardware hooked up.)

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We haven’t heard anything about any other hardware announcements.

It’s the platform’s bells and whistles that may be the wildest part of tomorrow’s big keynote, which takes place at the Game Developers Conference here in San Francisco at 10am Pacific Time. Google’s streaming platform won’t just allow you to play high-end games on low-end hardware. What we’ve heard from several people who have either been briefed on or heard about Google’s plans is that the platform is full of ambitious ideas.

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One scenario that’s been described to us by three different people (each of whom either heard about it secondhand or directly from Google), for example, might look something like this: You’re watching your favorite Twitch streamer play a game and you think it looks cool, so you buy it, and then, if the developers of the game have toggled this feature, you can download a save file that starts you off right where your streamer was playing. Or maybe it’s a multiplayer game, and you can buy the game and immediately jump into a match with the streamer, if the developers allow it and the streamer is down.

Sounds wild, right? We’ll have to wait and see if this pans out, but it’s what game developers are buzzing about as the reveal of Google’s platform draws closer. The main selling point is the removal of traditional barriers like discs and loading screens, which may be a large part of Google’s pitch tomorrow.

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Another of these bells and/or whistles is YouTube integration, as we reported last year. We’ve heard a variety of possibilities surrounding that, including ads that allow you to buy games directly, and, far more interesting, a feature that can tell where you are in a game and automatically load up the correct spot in a YouTube walkthrough if you want help.

We also know that Google has been funding its own video games, and that the company has been poaching developers and executives from all over the video game world. Phil Harrison, formerly of PlayStation and Xbox, is running the Google Yeti unit, and last week longtime game producer Jade Raymond announced that she was joining the company. We’ve also heard that Google has spent the past couple of years meeting with big publishers and developers across the world, and it’s safe to expect some of those to show up tomorrow.

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What we don’t know is exactly which games we’ll see at Google’s keynote, what else might be unveiled there, and what other features the streaming platform may have. We’ll get the full picture at 10am PT tomorrow.