Yeti: How a Google game console could take on Xbox, PlayStation, and Steam

A totally speculative wishlist for Google's rumored gaming system.

Credit: Jared Newman/IDG

It's called "Yeti," and it's the code name attached to an intriguing rumor about Google’s gaming ambitions that emerged this week. The rumor suggests the company is developing its own cloud-based gaming service and home console. As The Information reported, the so-called service would stream games into users’ homes from remote servers, allowing users to play on a Chromecast or a new console made by Google.

A game console from Google could be a big deal, akin to how Microsoft transformed the gaming business after launching the Xbox in 2001. Still, this week’s reporting offered scant details how Google’s gaming service might work, what its hardware might look like, and when we’ll see the fruits of these efforts.

So in lieu of hard facts, let’s indulge in some wild speculation. With consoles like Xbox and PlayStation already entrenched, and streaming services like Steam already dominant, Google has a formidable challenge if it wants to break in Here’s what we think a Google game console and game streaming service will need if it hopes to be viable:

Make it run Android TV

androidtv8 Google

Android TV could give Google’s gaming system a boost with a sizeable app selection and powerful voice controls.

Let’s set aside the gaming element for a moment. Strictly as a media player, Google’s Android TV platform already runs circles around the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It has a bigger selection of streaming apps, a simpler menu system, and best-in-class voice search from Google Assistant. An Android TV-based game console could preclude the need for a separate streaming device such as Roku or Apple TV, and would even have a respectable selection of indie games to start with. Using Android TV should be a no-brainer for Google, but the company has done stranger things before, like replace popular messaging apps with ones that nobody asked for.

Let it run games offline

Here’s the problem with cloud gaming services in general: None of them provide enough incentive to give up playing games natively. Sure, the hardware can be less powerful—and therefore cheaper—but the downsides are higher latency and potential reliability problems. For the vast majority of people who want to play console-quality games, those are unacceptable trade-offs.

Besides, the role of a capable Android TV streamer with a side of cloud gaming is already occupied by the excellent Nvidia Shield TV. We don’t need another one of those. What we could use is an Android TV system with enough power to run modern games offline. That could mean another stab at running Android on x86 processors, souped-up Tegra chips from Nvidia, or deeper forays into custom Google chips. In any case, the console should at least be able to hold its own with an Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

shieldtv Jared Newman / TechHive

No disrespect to the Nvidia Shield TV, but Google’s game console shouldn’t try to do the same things.

Use cloud gaming as a supplement

What role should cloud gaming plan on Google’s hypothetical game console, then? Let’s admit that cloud-based gaming is at best a supplement—something you turn to when you’re outside the house or away from your primary television, or when you want to start playing a game that hasn’t fully downloaded yet.

onlive OnLive

OnLive was a big bet on cloud gaming that didn’t pan out. (Sony acquired its assets in 2015.)

Nvidia is on the right track with its GeForce Now service for PC and Mac, which turns any lightweight computer into a portal to users’ existing PC games on Steam or other PC services. Google could build something similar around its game console, allowing cloud access to any game that users have purchased locally.

Rethink multiplayer

Like it or not, games are services now, which means any Google gaming effort will be dead on arrival without multiplayer. This is a chance for Google to leverage its existing services and reimagine how online gaming ought to work. Perhaps you could use Google Assistant to schedule online play sessions, or to find other players who are physically nearby. (The latter is a popular request among Xbox Live users.) Maybe a service like Allo could allow text chat across any device, while Google Hangouts could allow on-screen video chat with friends.

Make YouTube Gaming a centerpiece

Although PlayStation 4 and the PC already allow players to broadcast their in-game footage on YouTube, a Google game console could allow for even deeper ties to live streaming. Imagine, for instance, using voice commands to start, stop, and bookmark recordings—Cortana supports this already on the Xbox One, but only with Microsoft’s Mixer service—and getting system notifications when favorite streamers are going live. The cloud gaming element could allow for even wilder integrations, such as the ability for streamers to invite viewers into their play sessions, without the need to buy and download the game ahead of time.

youtubegaming YouTube

Deep console integration could help YouTube Gaming stand out.

Reality check

To be honest, the odds seem long for most of these things. The more likely scenario is that Google will release a lightweight Android TV box with some supplemental gaming features, much like the Nexus Player that launched in 2014. (There was talk of building “a videogame console” in the lead-up to that launch as well.) The result will be underwhelming, Google’s commitment to gaming will waver, and anyone who’s skittish about investing in a game library that exists only on remote servers will wisely stay away.

Happy to be proven wrong, though.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Google

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jared Newman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?