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.


Virtual oil summit planned amid ongoing market volatility

Updated 04 April 2020

Virtual oil summit planned amid ongoing market volatility

  • Meeting follows call from Saudi Arabia for urgent meeting and telephone diplomacy between Kingdom, Russia and the US

DUBAI: Leaders of the global oil industry are planning a crucial “virtual” summit next Monday amid ongoing volatility in crude prices and falling energy demand.

The meeting follows a call from Saudi Arabia on Thursday for an urgent meeting and a round of telephone diplomacy last week involving the Kingdom, Russia and the US, as well as meetings between policymakers and oil industry executives.

The summit is expected to involve the 11 members of OPEC as well as other oil producers from the OPEC+ group.

But exactly which countries will take part in the summit was still up in the air last night. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin was holding talks with executives from the country’s major oil companies before deciding whether or not to participate. The Russian leader has previously indicated his willingness to get involved in talks to help resolve the crisis in the global energy industry, but Russia was also the country that refused to take part in a round of deeper production cuts proposed by Saudi Arabia in Vienna last month, sparking the current price war.

In response to that refusal, the Kingdom increased production and lowered its selling prices. On Sunday, Saudi Aramco, which has pushed output to a record 12.3 million barrels per day, is scheduled to announce its “official selling prices” (OSP) for the month of May, expected to show a continuation of the deep levels of discount to attract customers, especially in Asia, in the battle for global market share. 

Brent crude continued its rollercoaster ride on global markets on Friday, dipping nearly 5 percent before hitting a high of 17.5 percent up at $34.91, before paring gains to about $33.

The options for the producers at Monday’s meeting are limited, in the face of an unprecedented drop in global oil demand. By some estimates, more than 20 million barrels of daily demand was lost last month, the biggest ever contraction in oil history.

Saudi Arabia and Russia, which between them produce around 23 million barrels per day, are unlikely to be willing to take all the pain of bigger cuts without an offer from the Americans.

US President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday that he expected between 10 million and 15 million barrels of oil to be taken out of supply, but he did not specify where this would come from. Meetings were expected to take place at the White House with oil industry executives and policymakers on Friday.

Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer Prize-winning oil expert, said: “The ‘when,’ ‘how’ and ‘who’ of the potential deal remain unclear. And the larger the universe of players the more difficult it will be to implement an agreement.”

OPEC+ consists of the 11 OPEC members, led by Saudi Arabia, plus 10 non-OPEC producers, of which Russia is by far the biggest.

The involvement of the US in the Monday meeting is also unclear. America is not an OPEC member, but US oil executives have attended OPEC deliberations in the past. American participation in any new rounds of output cuts will be constrained by the fact that the US oil industry is made up of private companies — as opposed to state-directed corporations — whose interests diverge.

While big players including Exxon Mobil and Chevron might be willing to take some advice from the White House, the smaller companies in the Texas shale fields are more focused on the immediate financial repercussions of the past month’s volatility.