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With Google lurking, gaming has never been more critical to Microsoft

Google has been chipping away at Microsoft's software empire for many years now, with Android in particular exploding as a software ecosystem to rival Windows itself. Android handsets armed with Google Play are a dominating force on mobile devices, while Microsoft's efforts in the space fell spectacularly flat.

Google has been leveraging its Android app ecosystem on its increasingly popular line of cheap Chromebook laptops. Chrome OS loaded with web apps and, now, a large array of Android apps is proving problematic for Windows in a casual computing context, particularly in businesses and schools who see Chromebooks as a cheaper alternative to a Windows laptop, strangled by legacy code. Google has been incredibly adept at exploiting Microsoft where it is weak, notably with the Chrome web browser, which has come to dominate Windows too.

Even Microsoft can't ignore the rise of Chrome OS.

Even Microsoft can't ignore the rise of Chrome OS.

There are a few notable absences on Chrome OS when it comes to usability and versatility. It's often missing more powerful applications, such as video editing and programming packages, but for Windows consumers, it's also missing games. The vast legacy of Windows is one of Microsoft's greatest strengths, granting it thousands of quality apps and, vitally, games spanning across decades and different hardware levels. Even if you're running a potato PC, your device likely has better quality core games than the latest Android phone, and especially the latest Chromebook. But all of that could be set to change.

Recently, Google played its hand after years of speculation. Google is working on Project Stream, which will (if it works) allow you to experience "AAA" quality core games via Chrome OS, and of course, cheap Chromebooks. Notably, mega publisher Ubisoft is one of the first companies to jump on board, with Assassin's Creed Odyssey.

If Google can credibly make streaming a viable way to access real games on the cheap across their devices, and not the usual Candy Crush-style pay2win garbage associated with Android, Microsoft could find Windows' popularity with consumers plummet into nothingness. But it's not like Microsoft isn't gearing up to compete.

Next-gen streaming wars

Microsoft announces game streaming to mobile devices at E3 2018.

Microsoft announces game streaming to mobile devices at E3 2018.

While powerful local hardware is not going away by any stretch, the battle for new consumers will be fought firmly within the streaming arena. Casual mobile gamers who have no intention of buying a $1500 gaming PC or a dedicated video game console tend to play whatever they can get access to on their Android or iOS devices, if the core gaming industry can expand to that market by lowering the barriers to access, it could prove extremely lucrative for everyone involved.

Sony has PlayStation Now, Google has Project Stream, Amazon is widely expected to be working on something similar, with Microsoft already having announced "console-quality" game streaming for phones and other devices. Recently I've heard credible rumors that Microsoft's game streaming platform could be available as early Q1 or Q2 2019, which would make X0 2018 in November a good place to announce it.

Microsoft has a considerable head start here, but so too was the case with tablets, Cortana, Skype, and even smartphones.

Google and Amazon will exploit every weakness

Right now, you need pretty expensive hardware to game on Windows.

Right now, you need pretty expensive hardware to game on Windows.

Microsoft has this uncanny ability to allow competing companies to react to changes in the market more quickly, whittling away at every gap and weakness in a Microsoft product while Redmond sits on its hands, overconfident and complacent. Microsoft cannot afford to allow this to happen with gaming if it wants to prevent Chrome OS from eliminating its main weakness with game streaming, potentially giving away an entire generation of potential gamers over to cheaper Chromebooks.

Losing Discord to Amazon, more especially Google, would be catastrophic for Microsoft in the coming streaming wars.

Microsoft's main advantage here is that many millions of its customers already have a large library of expensive games primed for streaming. Those users you could say, are effectively already locked in. Problematically, they're not really the audience Microsoft wants here. The whole point of streaming is improving access to gamers who want to play on the devices they already own, rather than investing in a new platform or device, and this is where Google has an advantage.

Project Stream will send games to a Chrome OS laptop, presumably an Android phone, and even a Windows PC via Chrome's web browser. When it's ready for the prime time, it will be advertised and pushed heavily across those platforms, since Google holds the keys to all the defaults on many millions of those Google Play-enabled devices.

Xbox's presence on mobile phones isn't great.

Xbox's presence on mobile phones isn't great.

Google has already signed deals with Ubisoft and is no doubt working with other companies too, all of whom are eager to expand their profitability by reaching untapped device markets, namely mobile. All this is while disregarding Amazon's play, which will no doubt factor in Twitch and Amazon's store front, and other mammoth gaming companies like Tencent.

Swimming in the midst of all this is Discord, which has become the gaming world's de facto friends list. Discord has become the largest gaming social network by a significant margin, beating Skype and Xbox Live at their own game with a razor sharp focus on messaging and community building. Whichever cloud company manages to snap up Discord first (and one of them will, eventually) will plug a massive gap in their respective capabilities, while adding another screen upon which to deliver streaming games. Microsoft could simply modernize Skype and Xbox Live's communication capabilities, but so far it has shown a staggering incapability to do so. Losing Discord to Amazon, more especially Google and Chrome OS, would be catastrophic for Microsoft in the coming streaming wars. Either company could simply embed their game streaming service directly into the app.

Time is of the essence

Xbox One X

Xbox One X (Image credit: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

Microsoft might have a head start now — but as we've seen with various other Redmond products that hit market first and then wallowed in complacency — that head start could evaporate incredibly quickly.

Microsoft seems to have made many of the right moves, investing heavily in a future exclusive games portfolio, adding Mixer.com as a vehicle for building community, and so on. But many of Xbox Live's other aspects, such as messaging and community tools, and presence on mobile devices, are really weak. Google, and others, will exploit these weaknesses with impunity.

It still feels like Microsoft as a company isn't pulling in the same direction.

I'm not suggesting game streaming will fully replace local, powerful Windows PC hardware or PlayStation or Xbox consoles, but it could prove to be an incredibly lucrative way for big publishers to grow their audiences beyond the traditional install base. Core gaming could grow from millions, to billions, and that's ultimately the goal here. The risk for Microsoft is that they won't be part of the story, and that for future generations, Windows and Microsoft may no longer offer everything many people want from their devices, factoring in price.

Microsoft has a really troubled relationship with consumers lately, seemingly unsure whether they want to be a boring "productivity" company or something a little more fun, with Xbox and Mixer. It still feels like Microsoft as a company isn't pulling in the same direction in this context, and if that's true with regards to gaming and consumer products, that is ultimately the biggest weakness Google can exploit.

Related: Microsoft, ignore the threat of Discord at your peril

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

49 Comments
  • I'm seriously considering moving over to dark side (Google) completely...being part of the losing team for so long is really exhausting! :)
  • Loser team, LOL...
  • "strangled by legacy" that's MS Backward compatibility helped them for years, now it hinders them.
    If Win32 is legacy, but their own Office team won't use UWP - what do they suggest Devs do? Got this eerie feel like MS are slowly giving up the edge devices, and moving to just be a cloud services player. If MS lose gaming, I think its game over for MS all round on Edge computing.
  • "strangled by legacy" it can not be more true.
    They do not look 100% focused on replacing x32, prepare for the present and future, it will end up complicating them.
    They could have a great ecosystem with Xbox, between their consoles and their big PC market and compete easily with steam...but no.
  • Actually to be honest, when they should have been building UWP and the Mobile ecosystem they were far too busy undermining it by focusing on the competing platforms. Profit grabbing is only a short term solution, it's not a viable long term strategy as it presumes Apple and Google will sit idly by whilst twiddling their thumbs - they are not.
  • Then you are living wrong, Its sad really. Use what u feel or think is better to you and what makes your life better. stop being a lemming.
  • .Ok...thanks Dad ! :)
  • Why do you have to move over completely? Use the services that work for you even if that means using multiple ones from different companies
  • Dude, I'm a Chennai guy myself. Trust me, It's the best time to be and side with MSFT. I've been using Msft services and products ever since I left what Google offered me back in 2010. Still with my Lumia 930 and with the original Surface Book, will never buy an Android or Apple products. I regret nothing.
  • Tbh I was like that but moved to android 2 years ago and had an LG, Sony phones and thought ide try the note 8 and wow I'm nothing but impressed. The things this phone can do is amazing great for my social media, video editing and more. That said I use the Microsoft skin office skype OneNote and I was using cortana until someone got me a Google home and I ended up getting another 2 as they are amazing products. I also use Google music but that was forced as I've had groove pass that goes why back to zune. I prefer Microsoft but I have to say the note is a great replacement for a tablet and I have a 3k windows 10 Dell laptop for the big work but do most on my note now.
  • You really think Microsoft is the loosing thing when it comes to gaming? Sorry, but you know nothing about PC gaming. Game streaming? Sure that is going to fly all over our planet. LoL
  • Jeez, I'm so sick of there always only being two, three tops, choices in tech...! There's no problem in having 50 car brands driving around our streets, but there can be only two smartphone OSs, three console brands, a handful of browsers, three office suites, etc... I'd love to see some universal standards instead of these proprietary systems, services and devices!
  • it's ironic, piracy is becoming popular again because of all the competing video streaming services with exclusive content, nobody wants to subscribe to everything...
  • Piracy can never go gentle into that good night.
  • The car comparison is vastly different. Your car doesn't tie into your entire life like the ecosystem of these companies. Switch cars doesn't mean you have to worry about if your e-mails or your photos or your contact follow you. They're still pretty detached, on the whole. If you saw all the major auto makers in the US (Fiat-Chrysler, GM, Ford) start tying themselves each to one of these ecosystems (iOS, Android, Windows), you can bet that the integration would lead to OS-level brand loyalty among car consumers as well.
  • Yes, but that's precisely my point! Car manufacturers don't insist on specific tire brands and they certainly don't demand that you drive on Mazda-only roads. Owning a Ford today has no effect on me buying an Alfa Romeo tomorrow... Your examples are specifically tech examples. The tech industry as a whole needs a lot more system standards, a lot more cross-platform/-service/-device compatibility...!
  • With #TeamGoogle here, Microsoft is just dumb from my 11 yrs experience with them. They are theoretical not practical like Google.
  • that might be the dumbest comment posted here. scroogle is not practical, look how many failed devices and services they dump all the time, squirrel and then on to something new. The only thing true about scroogle is that you and your data is the cost of doing business with that unscrupulous advertising company.
  • +1 lol. See what I did there? 😆
  • Google doing game streaming isn't critical to anyone. Its Google adding themselves as a new attempt into the Gaming scene with the rest. Everyone has or will try something at some point. People need to stop this fake like "console wars" between these 2 companies. Its embarrassing.
  • Lets be real, Google won't succeed, gamers are quite different from people that watch movies, they are much more demanding in the quality of their products and are more attach to brands, and if Google can't offer the games and other features like Sony and Microsoft then it will fail. Google needs experience in gaming something that it doesn't have.
  • While Google doesn't have the experience, they can read a whitepaper published by Microsoft Research just as well as anyone else. https://www.windowscentral.com/e?link=https2F%2Fclick.linksynergy.co...
  • Google doesn't have experience with cloud services? I don't think that is an accurate statement. Gaming maybe you would be correct, but they aren't making the games.
  • This entire article needs to screw right off. COMPETITION IS A GOOD THING! If it weren't for the competition that Chrome OS and Android have given Windows over the years, do you really think Microsoft would have cared to make Windows better? No way. Absolutely not. I'm so tired of this insinuation that it's a bad thing if Microsoft doesn't dominate every market space. Say it again with me: COMPETITION. IS. A. GOOD. THING. Seriously, we all know XCloud is coming, and for the Xbox fanbase it'll be amazing. If Google and Amazon join the game streaming space, all it does is add to the community of professionals who will push to increase the size of the pie... TOGETHER. The Xbox One has been bested by the PS4, and it's still doing just fine. The PS3 got outsold by the Xbox 360, and there was STILL A PS4. Trash articles like this just create this notion that it's bad for anyone to try and beat Microsoft at anything, like there should be this sense of anger directed at any company for trying, and that attitude is super prevalent throughout the fanbase. And it's the reason so many people got so mad and flocked to GitLab when MS bought Github. For what it's worth, I'm glad they bought Github, because it gave them something they didn't have before, and like with Skype and LinkedIn, Github isn't ever going to become Windows-only. They tend to ensure maximum cross-platform compatibility with their acquisitions. You know, except for Mixer... And we all know just how well Mixer is doing as an Xbox-and-Windows-only app... Poorly. Nowhere near beating Twitch or even YouTube's live streaming platform. And if Discord got bought by Microsoft and found the same platform-exclusivity fate as Mixer, it would just flop over and die. If they buy it and literally just reap the profits (like with LinkedIn), that would be fine. But to act like Microsoft NEEDS to buy Discord is ridiculous. Buying it would only help them by stopping someone else from buying it, and that is anti-competitive and not something that should be celebrated. A dedicated Xbox chat app could have been put out a long time ago to take on Discord. And that would have been way better. But Microsoft sits on their hands and then waits until it's too late, and then just throws money at a bad solution that only makes users of the purchased company's products mad, crying monopoly. That has never been a good look, and it needs to stop. If Microsoft wants 100% of my business, they need to earn it, not just buy the things I use, or engage in anti-competitive bullying against other companies that want my attention. Make good products and earn the business. Otherwise screw off and stop acting like competition is bad.
  • This is a great article Jez! I feel that there is definitely a threat for MS. They have a great opportunity to create a premium handheld device that leverages the cloud and Xbox services. Hopefully they don't slip. One very good thing about this threat is that it pushes innovation (for both Google and MS). The winners at the end of such powerful competition are the consumers.
  • No. First party titles do not need support specifically for the display surface. The games are cloud rendered, meaning as long as it's an x86/64 server environment with sufficient GPU compute, the device it's cast to is irrelevant. See my link above for how MS Research envisioned it working. PS bought OnLive which was pretty much the same thing for PS4->Vita play.
  • Console? You mean Chromecast or anywhere you can access the Chrome browser? That is the beauty of cloud gaming. Minimal local hardware is needed, you don't need a console. It will be interesting how good this is. I think it will be a few years before latency isn't a major issue though. Hope to find out tomorrow.
  • And if one also means you get things like the new mobile Elder Scrolls, plus the Android library, while the XCloud service just gives you Xbox, then the quantity of games will lean towards Android. Yeah, those games will be less feature-packed than the Microsoft-exclusive ones, but they'll have a consistent ecosystem that's appealing to users.
  • Your wording is incorrect, scroogle is SLURPING, your data that is.
  • Umm.....so wouldn't all of the Google Streaming games be running on a PC in a server? I'd imagine if they wanted the biggest library then it'll still be a Windows Server running games. So.....yeah until Apple makes servers or Linux gaming gets more AAA support I'd say MS is probably ok. Plus they are going to be making a streaming service too...just like EA, Ubi, Nvidia, Sony and Google.
  • Doom and gloom. Well it is an opinion piece afterall. I mean folks see google and somehow think to themselves instant success. This isnt the first time google tried to muscle their way into your living room or mobile device gaming. Folks will say Google has money. Yeah but google has a Business to run. You allocate so much money for a specific venture. If having money was all it took to have a successful gaming ecosystem, then Amazon would have been on top years ago after they implemented gaming on the fire devices. Its never as simple as hay we got money.
  • "Doom and gloom" It's not far off. Google is nipping at their heels with Chrome and with Google Docs. I really dislike Chromebooks because they don't meet my needs, but, if streaming of apps works then there's a whole new competitor on the block for my purchases. And, it also opens up a third desktop OS, Linux. Now it's just Apple and Microsoft who offer desktop OSes that run Microsoft Office so those are my primary choices. As a mid career professional who uses computers as a major tool, with nearly two decades of work experience, I've got to say that Microsoft Office is my LAST remaining tie to a desktop OS (Mac or PC). If there's a viable way to stream a game then there's ALSO a viable way to stream the much less demanding Microsoft Office suite. Suddenly you decouple the last substantial reason I have to still use a desktop OS from my hardware purchase... And, I would much rather use Linux than Windows if I could since I wouldn't be giving up control over my device like Google and Microsoft force you to. ... If streaming on Chrome OS is viable there's little reason streaming on any generic Linux isn't possible...
  • As I said before and I'll say it again, Microsoft is busy playing checkers whereas both Google and Apple are playing chess.
  • No. Microsoft plays Forza and Halo. 😝
  • lol, chess requires alot of planning, foresight and second guessing your opponents moves. Checkers is nowhere near that level of sophistication, admittedly it's enjoyable to play... but in the grand scheme of things.. chess is much more better on multiple levels.
  • And, I have more horrible news to the MS: the streaming solutions it's not finish point I suppose... I think new desktop or universal OS will be created and it will be evil joke to the current Microsoft "stupid lean" strategy. The market became too aggressive to think by brains of the times of the Windows 95.
  • Jez Corn, you hit a home run with your analysis... And I rarely say that for a Windows Central opinion piece. One point to add, the biggest reason outside gaming why Windows is still the dominant non Apple operating system is Microsoft Office. But, if game streaming is viable there is absolutely NO reason that streaming Microsoft Office won't work either. At that point it's game over for Microsoft in its struggle against Google. Apple's Mac ecosystem has many more years ahead of it because it already has a much more diverse software ecosystem and it's Apple's tight software and hardware integration that keeps Mac users coming back decade after decade.
  • A much more diverse software ecosystem?!? What are you smoking? That's exactly Windows' strength over Mac OS, not the other way around...!
  • "A much more diverse software ecosystem?!? What are you smoking? That's exactly Windows' strength over Mac OS, not the other way around...!" Note. Mine is not a flame war post by an Apple fanatic. I suspect you're a LONG time (many decades) Windows user, correct? I'm not. I've only used Windows as my PRIMARY and now COMPLETELY EXCLUSIVE OS for the better part of a decade. I've EASILY got the ten thousand hours required to truly master Windows since I started using Windows as a professional tool ((4-5 hours/day * 250 + 2 hours/day * 115) * 8 years + another 4 years of mixed Mac and Windows use. While there are many more applications for Windows, true, your typical Windows user uses FAR FEWER of them than your typical weakly computer literate Mac user. It really doesn't matter if you have 100,000 apps or 1,000,000 apps when you only use 10. To pretend otherwise is mostly to engage in drunken ******* contest. It's a difference that goes back decades. In the late 80's Mac users used double the number of applications that their DOS counterparts did. You've also got to consider the demographic. Mac users tend to be more affluent than Windows users so they also have more to spend on software. It's a similar story in Apple's mobile world. Sure Apple only has 20% of the global market share in mobile but it captures well over half of the global profits. With their paltry 20% of the market iPhone users have access to a MUCH wider selection of accessories than even Samsung devices (the number one Android handset maker) because that 20% is much more lucrative than the 80%. But, who am I to you to make this observation. Chances are you won't accept the observations of some random stranger on the internet :).
  • BTW what did you think about my observation that Microsoft Office is a major reason than Windows is still a force to be reckoned with and that app streaming would jeopardize that strength?
  • Microsoft keeps ignoring a major thing that Google, Sony, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and even Nintendo are thinking of - international access. Xbox Live gold and the Microsoft store are by far the most limited ones in terms of availability around the world. This seems to be a very shortsighted thing that all of Microsoft's competitors have realized is very bad to keep doing. Google's services are available worldwide, Sony PS Network and paid access are available in more than 70 countries, Apple's movie renting is available also in most countries. Even Amazon's movies are now able to rent, buy, and play across the EU without limitation. What about Microsoft? Well, Xbox Live Gold, renting movies and music are available in 42 countries. WTF??? It is a global market, when is Microsoft going to realize this? After the last update from Xbox Live rewards to Microsoft rewards, the app is IP location limited, so even if my account is in the UK, I cannot do anything since I am in Bulgaria. It is getting exhausting trying to promote and defend Microsoft in front of Friends with PlayStations, or such that have opted for dedication to Apple's ecosystem, or the use of Google's services all around. 42 countries are not going to get you anywhere, and the fact that Xbox One is still behind PS 4+ despite being the better console is a proof of that!
  • This!
  • I think it is good. Will push Microsoft to innovate and invent. If they don't, well we have seen the results already of that.
  • Cloud gaming can never be latency free which immediately stops it from being any sort of competitive gaming or eSports platform. Any gaming capable ChromeOS powered machine will be just as expensive as a Windows equivalent and ChromeOS doesn't really justify that kind of outlay, especially when you get the far reaching versatility and capability of Windows as a whole to go with your gaming capable machine. Only budget conscious consumers should consider cloud gaming and even then, with its inherent limitations I still don't see ChromeOS being any kind of threat to Windows' gaming dominance.
  • Latency is a critical issue only for mindless shoot em up games :)
    may not be relevant issue for all genres.
    With 5G around the corner, may be latency will not be that bad?
    Who knows may be they'll develop an AI that can accurately predict your future move and smooth out the effect of latency issues! :)
  • And racing games, and sports games, and real time strategy games...
    In other words, 90% of all games...
  • Microsoft own undoing. The botched usb stack in post xp os's causing lag. The push to make us all store data online (we still dont want that btw), the disabling of hardware based audio. Its basically layer upon layer of microsoft screwing the user with visions of grandeur. Anyways bill gates is a eugenicist so im happy its failing. Not even google is that abhorrent.
  • "Redmond sits on its hands, overconfident and complacent" To add to Jez's point watch this review of the Huawei Mate SE. https://youtu.be/ON8Ev8G232o This review shows some pretty impressive gaming on a BUDGET Android phone.
  • But it's Android games which are being played in that review so I'm not quite sure what your point is.