Big Tech’s new hustle: Cloud gaming
When a company spends billions on world-leading digital infrastructure, it naturally wants to wring every last cent of revenue out of it. That’s partly what is driving Google’s new Stadia gaming service, announced on Tuesday.
Google’s pitch is straightforward: Think of it as Netflix for gaming. As long as they have a fast internet connection, users can pay a subscription to play high-definition games, akin to what they’d find on current top-end consoles, on any computer, phone or tablet.
The company’s promise: that its cloud infrastructure makes that achievable. It will add racks of gaming-specific chips to existing server farms to essentially give people an on-demand, remote gaming computer. And Google officials believe that since most users are now so close to its pervasive hardware, lag won’t be a problem — an issue that held back earlier game streaming platforms, like the now-defunct OnLive.
Google is not alone in the push into what some people see as the future of gaming. Microsoft had already announced that it planned to offer a trial of a similar service for Xbox consoles, computers and mobile devices this year. Amazon, which owns the game-watching service Twitch, is widely believed to be planning something similar, built on its Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure.
Those three companies happen to be the world’s largest cloud providers. It’s not surprising that they’re enamored of the idea of taking a slice of the $135 billion gaming industry, when all it could take is the flex of an existing muscle.
The U.S. struggles to supercompute
About $500 million should buy a lot of computer. This past week, we found out how much. Writing for The Times, Don Clark explained what the Department of Energy would get for dropping that sum on a supercomputer:
Lab officials predict it will be the first American machine to reach a milestone called “exascale” performance, surpassing a quintillion calculations per second. That’s roughly seven times the speed rating of the most powerful system built to date.
The device, called Aurora, will be used to figure out everything from how drugs work to the impact of climate change. It’s also a useful indicator of the nation’s competitiveness in science and technology — or, at this point, whether it’s leading or lagging behind China. On that front, Mr. Clark reports that it has been a mixed bag for the United States:
An IBM system called Summit, built for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, took back the No. 1 position last year on a twice-yearly ranking of the world’s 500 most powerful systems — a spot held by China for five years. But China leads by another key measure: It accounted for 227 systems on the Top 500 list, compared with 109 for the United States.
China is expected to have its own exascale supercomputer running as soon as 2020 — a full year before Aurora boots up.
And some stories you shouldn’t miss
Google received its third antitrust fine from the European Union since 2017. This one, for 1.5 billion euros, or about $1.7 billion, was for imposing unfair terms on the search service it offers to other websites.