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Google might be planning a game console. That doesn’t mean it will happen

Today, I heard a story that I’ve heard before. Google plans a game platform that will take on Xbox and PlayStation, the headlines say — all sourcing back to an article by Jason Schreier at Kotaku.

If the name seems familiar, that is for good reason. Schreier has broken too many stories to count. If he says Google wants to make a game console, I don’t doubt it. Google wants to make a game console.

But wanting something isn’t the same as making it real, is it?

Like I said — I’ve heard this story before. Google collaborated with Asus to build the Nexus Player, an Android-powered TV box/game console released in 2014. No one bought it, of course, just as no one bought every other Android-based TV box/game console hybrid that emerged after the now-dead Ouya generated millions on Kickstarter.

The pitch has evolved since then. The new project, code-named Yeti, may include a hardware component, but rumors suggest the silicon inside a Google console won’t be the star of the show. Instead, Yeti will likely rely on a streaming service similar to Nvidia’s GeForce Now or Sony’s PlayStation Now. Games will be beamed to your living room through the internet instead of processed on the console.

In a way, relying on the cloud makes Yeti more plausible. Google has no experience building console hardware, but the cloud? Yeah, it can do that. There is one big problem, though — no one has proven that streaming games from the cloud makes sense. The idea came into vogue around 2009, pioneered by the launch of OnLive, a serious attempt to make game streaming work.

It didn’t. OnLive went into a downward spiral and was eventually acquired by Sony. Its competitors were also sold to other, larger companies, which have since used the technology only to build niche services. The tech can basically work in ideal conditions — a solid wired connection with lots of bandwidth — but even then, most gamers don’t seem to care. Why stream games from the cloud when they can just pop in a disc or download them once?

I have no doubt Google wants to make more money from games. I also seriously doubt Google can make it happen. Schreier’s report expresses this skepticism, too, stating that, “Google’s history of starting and abandoning initiatives is a red flag.”

So, yeah, Google probably is working on a game console. Just don’t get too excited — because it’s probably never going to launch.

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