How good is Google’s new game-streaming service?

Imagine not owning a gaming PC or a video game console. All you have is a 6-year-old laptop running a bootleg version of Windows 7. The hardware in your possession was never designed to run the latest cutting-edge games. And yet, somehow you’re playing the new Assassin’s Creed title simply by loading up Google’s Chrome browser.

You can now pull this off with Project Stream, Google’s game-streaming service, which kicked off a public test earlier this month. We tried it out on a Windows and Mac laptop and came away impressed. With a fast internet connection, we were quickly playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on Chrome with little to no lag.

(Project Stream running on a Lenovo ThinkPad T340 acquired in 2012 over Ethernet.)

Overcoming that lag is the main challenge facing any streaming service. If the game stutters too much, it won’t be very enjoyable. That’s why Project Stream requires a reliable internet connection capable of 25 megabits per second.

In our tests, we first tried Google’s streaming service at our San Francisco offices, alternating between a 330Mbps Ethernet cable connection and a 60Mbps Wi-Fi connection. In both scenarios, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey ran on each laptop largely stutter-free. We we’re riding our virtual horse, killing foes and completing missions with no problem. Any lag that did appear came and went as a pause of just a few milliseconds, which you could easily play through and ignore.

There was also no compromise in how Google rendered Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. All the action was displayed at 1080p at 60 frames per second. According to Google, Project Stream is running the game on “ultra-high” settings, or what a gaming PC can offer.

(Project Stream running on a Dell XPS 13 acquired in 2017 over Wi-Fi.)

What happens if you run Project Stream on a slower connection speed? That’s when you might encounter more problems. We put this to test at a local Starbucks in San Francisco, which had a Wi-Fi connection speed of around 20Mbps—slightly lower than what Project Stream requires. The service did run but with more lag. When this occurred, our whole view into the game fogged up like a YouTube video that was struggling to buffer.

We managed seven minutes of gameplay on the MacBook Pro before the service froze and forced us to quit. But after that, we were able to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey another hour, without the game grinding to a stop. Although the action was sometimes blurry, it was still playable and we largely got lost in the gaming experience, as opposed to being distracted by the moments of lag.

Project Stream Test

(When lag hits Project Stream.)

Google isn’t the first company to offer PC-based game streaming, but what makes its take on the technology appealing is how it runs over the most popular browser in the market: Chrome. Simply open a browser tab for the Project Stream site, and you can jump right in. No need to shut down any other browser tabs or windows unless they’re consuming significant amounts of internet bandwidth.

That said, the game you load with Project Stream will take up your laptop’s or monitor’s entire display. So you won’t be able to easily multi-task from one browser tab to another. If you want to exit the game, you’ll have to hold down the ESC button.

The first time you load up a game, the service will also test your computer’s internet connection, which can take about 20 to 30 seconds. After that, you can load it up anytime you want, without the need for another test. All in all, the experience is easy to use, with no software installation required beyond Chrome.

At this point, Project Stream is available as a beta to US residents ages 17 and up; you can request an invite here and play until mid-January. Google has said it is providing Project Stream access to a “limited” number of gamers, without elaborating, so it’s unclear how much stress the system is currently under, and whether a larger rollout will affect gameplay quality.

So is the death of the game console here? Project Stream has got us wondering about that. Right now, Google is only offering one software title to play. But the technology clearly holds the potential to revolutionize the way we buy and run our games. Others such as Electronic Arts, Nvidia, Microsoft, and Sony are also working on the technology, so it may only be a matter of time before we play video games in the same way we stream movies over Netflix. Hardcore gamers who enjoy multiplayer will be put off by the potential lag, but for the rest of us, the technology could very well open the door for a more affordable mode of gaming—assuming you have access to a fast internet connection.



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