Google enters battle for cloud gaming market

In this file photo taken on August 21, 2019 a visitor plays a cloud-game at the stand of Google Stadia during the Video games trade fair Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. (AFP / Ina Fassbender)
Updated 17 November 2019

Google enters battle for cloud gaming market

SAN FRANCISCO, California: Ever-expanding Google becomes a gaming company Tuesday with the launch of its Stadia cloud service that lets people play console-quality video games on a web browser or smartphone.
The Internet giant hopes to break into the global video game industry expected to top $150 billion this year, with cloud technology that could broaden audiences attracted by rich new features as well as ease of access with no more need for consoles.
But analysts say Stadia’s outlook is uncertain as its faces rivals such as PlayStation Now in an emerging and highly-competitive market.
Stadia plays into a trend in which content — ranging from blockbuster films to work projects — lives in the cloud and is accessible from any device.
“All of these new services are merely pointing out that we don’t need sophisticated hardware in the home to access entertainment,” said Wedbush Securities equity research managing director Michael Pachter.
Google last month sold out of “Founder’s Edition” kits, which are priced at $129.
Each kit contains a Stadia controller and a pendant-shaped Chromecast Ultra wireless connection device that plugs into television sets.
Stadia games are playable using Google Chrome web browser software on computers.
It also works with Google-made Pixel smartphones from the second-generation onward, and on televisions.
Stadia Pro subscriptions, priced at $10 a month in the US, will be available in 14 countries in North America and Europe.

'Underwhelming'
However, analysts say Stadia could wind up as another “bet” that Google walks away from if it fails to live up to expectations.
“Stadia will live or die by its content,” said Ovum senior analyst George Jijiashvili.
“The announced 12 launch titles are underwhelming.”
Subscribers will be able to buy games that will be hosted at Google data-centers, but some free games will be available to subscribers, starting with “Destiny 2: The Collection.”
Stadia on smartphones will work with WiFi connections rather than rely on mobile telecom services.
Being able to play without lags or interruptions is paramount to gamers, and flawed Internet connections could cause frustration. Internet speed will also determine how rich in-game graphics can be.
Some promised features such as integration with YouTube will not be in place at launch.
“Stadia appears to be rushed out the door before fully ready and, worryingly, Google is risking falling short on its promises,” Jijiashvili said.
“These shortcomings however would be easily overlooked if Google can deliver a very reliable and high-quality game streaming service.”
Google appears committed to doing just that, according to Ubisoft senior vice president of partnerships Chris Early.
The French video game giant has been working with Google and its games are among titles coming to the service.
“From what I have seen, their plans are too deep; they are too good, and they are too invested,” Early said. “They are not calling it quits any time soon.”
He expects a long launch period during which Google will beef up Stadia.
“If there is a one-day problem at launch, it isn’t the end of the world; it isn’t even close,” he said, stressing the potential for Stadia to let people play without investing in consoles.
But Pachter questioned whether subscriptions were the right approach.
“The right model is pay as you go or pay for the game and play unlimited without a subscription,” Pachter said.
“Amazon will try one of those and will win the streaming wars.”
Amazon has game studios but no online game service.

Project xCloud
US technology veteran Microsoft has been testing a Project xCloud online game platform.
“Next year, we’ll bring Project xCloud to Windows PCs, and are collaborating with a broad set of partners to make game streaming available on other devices as well,” Microsoft corporate vice president Kareem Choudhry said in an online post.
Sony Interactive Entertainment last month slashed the price of its PlayStation Now cloud video game service by about half in the US to $10 monthly.
Japan-based Sony also boosted the library of games that PlayStation Now users can access through its consoles or on personal computers powered by Windows software.
Sony and Microsoft are also poised to release new-generation video game consoles next year.
“While we expect dedicated consoles to eventually lose relevance in the face of cloud gaming services, there’s no guarantee that it will be Google’s service — rather than Sony and Microsoft’s — that catalyzes this trend,” said Ovum senior analyst Matthew Bailey.


Oil hits three-month high as trade and Brexit fog lift

Updated 14 December 2019

Oil hits three-month high as trade and Brexit fog lift

  • Investor hopes on the rise after US-China progress and UK poll result ‘remove layer of uncertainty for global economy’

LONDON: Oil rose on Friday to its highest price in nearly three months as progress in resolving the US-China trade dispute and Britain’s general election result appeared to lift two clouds that have been dampening investor appetite for risk.

US sources said on Thursday that Washington has set its terms for a trade deal with Beijing, offering to suspend some tariffs on goods and cut others in exchange for Chinese purchases of more American farm goods.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, climbed to the highest since Sept. 23. It was up 45 cents at $64.65 in mid-afternoon trade in London as West Texas Intermediate crude gained 21 cents to $59.39.

The 18-month trade war has been a dampener for oil prices, while uncertainty around Brexit has also weighed. Britain’s ruling Conservative Party won a large majority in Thursday’s general election, giving it the power to take the country out of the EU.

“An eventful past 24 hours has removed a layer of uncertainty for the global economy,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.

“Yet it remains to be seen whether the return of the feelgood factor is enough to set oil prices on a definitive northerly trajectory.”

A drop in the US dollar against the backdrop of a strong pound helped boost commodities. 

“Risk appetite among financial investors is now likely to remain high thanks to the deal between the US and China and the forthcoming end to the Brexit cliffhanger,” said Eugen Weinberg, an analyst at Commerzbank.

“This will also benefit the oil price,” he added.

Brent has rallied by almost 21 percent in 2019, supported by efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia to cut production.

The alliance, known as OPEC+, agreed last week to lower supply by a further 500,000 barrels per day as of Jan. 1. They have been limiting supply since 2017, helping to clear a glut that built up in 2014-2016.

OPEC’s own research indicates that the oil market in 2020 may see a small supply deficit, although the International Energy Agency sees global inventories rising despite the further step by OPEC+. 

Global stocks and sterling also gained on Friday as the double dose of relief around US-China trade and the UK election undercut safe-haven sovereign bonds and the Japanese yen, and led markets to scale back expectations of more interest rates cuts around the world.

“Global investors have been given two of the biggest gifts on their Christmas list and should be appreciative for a while at least,” said Sean Callow, a senior forex analyst at Westpac.

“Global equity indices such as MSCI World should set more record highs and sterling could push above $1.36.”

The pound reached its highest since mid-2018 as exit polls and then UK election results wiped out any chance of a victory by the left-wing Labour opposition or a hung parliament, which had been a worry for investors.

Prime Minster Boris Johnson won a commanding majority in Britain’s Parliament, giving him the power to deliver Brexit, though trade talks with the EU are set to drag on for months yet.