We don’t usually make a huge deal about the annual Game Developers Conference. Sure, we cover it. Why not? It’s right down the street from our office in San Francisco, and in past years we’ve gotten some big stories out of it. It’s where Microsoft gave us the first details on DirectX 12, back in 2014—a move that’s just now starting to come to fruition. It’s also where Epic made Unreal Engine free for developers. It’s where real-time ray tracing became, well, real. And who could forget the mythological Atari VCS, a console we “saw” at GDC 2018 but still have yet to see in any working form.

Point being: There are always one or two interesting stories to come from the show.

But 2019 is looking to be a GDC for the ages, a real storm of news from Google, Microsoft, Epic, Valve, and more. New consoles! New services! New questions about old services! We usually don’t write up one of these primers for GDC, but this year’s show is one you should probably keep an eye on, for all the reasons below.

Google

Let’s start with Google, as its keynote is simultaneously the most predictable and the most disruptive. For the last six months or so, Google’s been testing what it calls “Project Stream.” Those who signed up to participate were given a free copy of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey for the duration of the test. The catch? You didn’t own a copy of Odyssey, nor were you taking advantage of any upscale PC hardware you had on hand. As you might expect from the name, you were streaming Assassin’s Creed from Google’s servers to your PC, via Chrome.

assassins creed odyssey Ubisoft

Now obviously Google’s not the first to do this. OnLive pioneered the idea more than a decade ago, and Sony currently offers a similar service via PlayStation Now. You can even stream PlayStation exclusives to your PC.

Signs indicate that Google will give Project Stream an official name, pricing structure, and release date next week during GDC. We’ve been invited to an event scheduled for Tuesday, March 19 at 10 a.m. Pacific where Google’s promised to unveil “the future of gaming.” And while I’d expect the already-tested Chrome functionality to continue, it’s worth noting this is shaping up to be a bigger announcement than just the PC. Google is also expected to unveil a streaming-centric console during GDC, complete with its own controller. Other rumors have speculated there’s Chromecast functionality as well, given the most recent model contains Bluetooth and thus could support Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers.

That’s what makes this theoretically such a huge deal. Before Google sells even a single console, it’s already carved a niche into the games industry that contains every Chrome user and potentially a significant slice of Chromecast users as well. Then all it needs is games.

Microsoft xCloud

Of course, Google’s not the only one looking toward a digital future. Microsoft’s rumored to be working on streaming on multiple fronts, some of which might show up at GDC. The overarching umbrella is Project xCloud, Microsoft’s game streaming solution. At the moment, xCloud seems primarily intended for next-gen. A new Xbox is right around the corner—so close, the latest whispers say we might hear details as early as E3. One rumor says we might get a cheap, streaming-centric Xbox as part of Microsoft’s next-gen lineup, built on Project xCloud.





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