Google is set to unveil its take on the future of gaming at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco next week. Little is known about Google’s plans, with speculation ranging from a cloud gaming service to a full-fledged game console. However, patents filed by the company, code snippets, and other clues suggest that the service may be closely tied to another key Google product: its Chromecast streaming adapter.
Ahead of a Tuesday press event, Google has been hinting that its video game plans include a hardware component. Most notably, the company launched a placeholder page on the Google Store, which it uses to sell its own phones, smart speakers, and streaming devices. What’s more, a recently unearthed patent shows a game controller, featuring a microphone button for access to the Google Assistant.
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
We also know that Google has been experimenting with a cloud gaming service. Called Project Stream, the service allowed users to play “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” without installing it on their PCs, simply streaming it from Google’s servers. The product, to be unveiled next week, is expected to combine both new gaming hardware as well as the cloud streaming service.
How all of this may fit together was first described in a patent recently granted to the company for “independent control of interactive streaming media.” That patent, which Google first applied for back in 2015, lists some of the key people behind Google’s Chromecast streaming media player as inventors, including Google Home VP Rishi Chandra, former Google Home Hardware design director Michael Sundermeyer, and Chromecast engineering team lead Majd Bakar.
On the surface, the patent seems to be all about remote media control, similar to the way Chromecast works, with references to “a simple video decoding device” without “physical interfaces for accepting human input.” But dig into the details, and take a look at the illustrations, and it quickly becomes clear that this is all about gaming.
From the patent:
“In one non-limiting example, a mobile device can establish a streaming session in a cloud-based gaming environment. (…) In some implementations, a user can access streaming media (e.g., an online game, video, application, etc.) on her display device (e.g., a television) through a media player connected to the display device and the Internet. (…) Once the session is established, the user may put away her mobile device and pick up the game controller (paired/connected to her mobile device) and begin playing the game over the streaming media session.”
In other words: Users may pick and launch a cloud-based game from their phone, cast it to their TV, and then use a game controller to play it.
The idea that Google would use Chromecast to launch its gaming service is not new. The Information reported in early 2018 that the company had been working on a cloud-based video game streaming service internally called “Yeti,” which had originally been developed to run on Chromecast. That report indicated that development eventually shifted to a dedicated video game console, but a number of clues suggest that there is still some connection to Chromecast.
9to5Google discovered in September that Google developers had referenced “Yeti folks” in comments on an open source component of Chromecast’s code, suggesting that the team working on Google’s gaming service was pushing for low-latency video streaming on Google’s TV dongle.
In Chromecast’s home screen / backdrop code: A Yeti streaming service reference.
To be fair, all of this does not mean that Google’s gaming service will actually be based on its Chromecast hardware. Google has integrated Chromecast technology into most of its recent hardware products, including its Google Home smart speakers, its Home Hub display, and its Android TV streaming platform that is being used by a variety of smart TV manufacturers. It would only make sense that Google would add casting technology to, or even rely on the technology to power, any upcoming video game console.
However, Google released a third-generation model of its Chromecast streaming adapter in October. In addition to a few advertised hardware changes, the new hardware also includes better Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth support — both features necessary to use Chromecast for gaming. Google spokespeople at the time declined to comment on those features.
And here’s one more curious tidbit: When Google invited media and industry representatives to Tuesday’s unveil, it did so under the tagline “Gather around.” The fact that Google’s Chromecast adapter has a round shape could be pure coincidence … or suggest that Google’s gaming hardware may have been hiding in plain sight for months.