Google’s Project Stream is a working preview of the future of game streamingOctober 8, 2018
I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on a computer the past few days, sailing through the waters of the Peloponnesian War, except I haven’t downloaded the game to a gaming PC. Instead, I’ve been playing on a Chromebook Pixel, using the Project Stream invite-only beta — and it works better than I ever expected.
Project Stream is Google’s first attempt at streaming video games over the internet using the Chrome browser. Google has been rolling out invites to Project Stream this past weekend, and luckily, I found an invite in my personal inbox and got started playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, so far the only game being tested.
Project Stream is straightforward and doesn’t change the experience of using Chrome, so you can have Google Drive open in one tab while playing a AAA video game in the next. Overall, the gameplay experience is fluid and just like the “real thing.” I can move my character around in real time, buy in-game currency, and fight multiple enemies at once without anything looking out of sorts. At first glance, you wouldn’t know I was playing over Project Stream — but depending on your Wi-Fi situation, the game stream can lag occasionally, or drop down into a lower than native screen resolution.
Keeping my computer plugged into a Ethernet port, it runs without a hitch. Over home Wi-Fi, it runs just as smoothly, though I did encounter some stutters on a shared Wi-Fi connection. Without streaming involved, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey might not have the smoothest combat mechanics of any video game, but even when streamed over the internet, it’s still playable and even enjoyable.
Just like a PC game you download to your hard drive, there are some system requirements: a minimum 25mbps connection to play the game smoothly and a laptop / desktop with Chrome installed. To sign up for the test pool, you need to live in the US and be at least 17. It’s entirely free for now, but take note that the test runs until January 15th, 2019, at which point you’ll lose all achievements and progress.
First-time setup is fairly simple and starts with opening your email invitation, complete with a game key that pairs it to your Google account. Once you’ve loaded the new page in Chrome you’ll be greeted by an internet speed test, where Google gauges the resolution that your bandwidth can keep up with. Once the speed test is over, you get a rating; my 65MBps download result over Wi-Fi was “good.” The next (and final) step is creating a Ubisoft account to save your progress, or signing in if you already have an account from playing other Ubisoft games.
The first configuration where I tested Project Stream was over Wi-Fi with a gaming PC connected to an ultrawide display, where I only encountered lag in my gameplay twice during combat. It performed way better than I thought it would — in fact, the only real issue I had was staring at the black bars flanking my 21:9 monitor.
Project Stream works best on a typical 16:9 ratio monitor, since that’s the only aspect ratio the service is capable of outputting at. But that’s not that big a deal right now. Project Stream is still in its early stages, and I can understand if it hasn’t been optimized for ultrawide monitors yet.
I also played Project Stream over a faster, wired connection (over 150MBps) on a regular 16:9 monitor at 4K resolution. The results were about the same, despite the improved speeds. The game still loaded just fine, kept the progress I made on another computer, with audio and video staying in-sync with each other. However, the resolution wasn’t 4K, and the stream struggled to keep the gameplay clear instead of fuzzy.
So, what about Project Stream running on a Chromebook Pixel? When Wi-Fi is cooperating and Project Stream is running at its best, playing the game on a Chromebook is just as immersive an experience as playing on a gaming PC — and ironically, it fared the best out of the three machines I tested. In terms of maintaining a clear image with fluid gameplay, it had the most polished experience. This might turn out to be a big deal for Google and video game publishers, if the performance could be more consistent or if you could control video settings, as it would bring AAA games to an audience that previously couldn’t run them at all.
Unfortunately, not every Chromebook is going to handle Project Stream this well — or at all. I also tested Acer’s R11 from 2016, but it failed Google’s speed test and couldn’t run the game, despite being on the same Wi-Fi network as the other machines. Apparently, the Wi-Fi card lost too many packets and couldn’t maintain a consistent, high download speed.
Project Stream still has more work to do, especially with handling screen resolutions. But it is fluid, has cloud saves, and is easy to get running. Furthermore, both internet connections (Wi-Fi and Ethernet) didn’t have any issues with keeping the game running and playable; they just couldn’t up the visual quality. I can see myself starting and finishing entire games on Project Stream, whereas a week ago I would’ve thought otherwise.
If Google can give users some manual control over quality, or have more resolution support, then maybe game streaming AAA titles in Chrome tabs could be an everyday occurrence.