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Why should we care about a Google video game console?

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Google doesn’t have a clear path to releasing a console

Google Building In New York City Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Google may be working on a gaming console, according to ongoing reports of behind-the-scenes meetings between Google and folks in the industry.

“We haven’t heard many specifics about Google’s video game plans, but what we have heard is that it’s a three-pronged approach: 1) Some sort of streaming platform, 2) some sort of hardware, and 3) an attempt to bring game developers under the Google umbrella, whether through aggressive recruiting or even major acquisitions,” Kotaku reported. “That’s the word from five people who have either been briefed on Google’s plans or heard about them secondhand.”

Google moving more heavily into gaming is big news, of course. Google is a huge, ultra-powerful corporation with its fingers in many aspects of our daily lives. It has to keep expanding somehow, and a console would be one more way for the company to gather data and profit from the sale of its platform’s software.

We know why this makes sense for Google, but what does it mean for everyone else?

The answer is simple: Not that much. No reports to date have indicated what Google would bring to gaming that would make its hardware offerings more appealing than the consoles or PCs we have today.

And the current console landscape is troubled, to say the least. Sony is getting beaten up over trying to keep its garden nice and walled, Microsoft’s console business isn’t doing great, and Nintendo has found value in melding its portable and console businesses. Sony’s Fortnite cross-play account issue may be a look into what the future of consoles will look like: interchangeable boxes through which we log into our various gaming accounts and subscriptions.

So maybe Google wants to release a console because it thinks it too can isolate its garden well enough that it can charge 30 percent for the privilege of releasing a game on its platform. Fair enough. There’s just currently no information about why big game companies would sell games through Google’s platform instead of the options that are available now.

Kotaku’s report does suggest that Google may just buy a few developers to gain instant exclusives to its platform. That approach seems antiquated in 2018 — and players may in fact turn against Google due to being forced into buying a new box to play their favorite games if the exclusives are big enough. It’s a risky strategy.

The report also mention streaming, because everyone is mentioning how streaming will factor into next-gen consoles. But the United States has terrible online infrastructure, with many communities suffering from low connections speeds, download caps and data throttling.

Net neutrality has recently been repealed by our Republican administration, making the U.S. even less hospitable to the sort of ubiquitous and unlimited connections that are essential to making streaming work as a mainstream option. Everyone can wish for streaming to become more popular all they want, but Google itself has been unsuccessful in its efforts to keep our internet infrastructure competitive.

So for now there’s no reason to be interested in Google’s moves from the point of view of the players, because there has yet to be any news that would indicate Google knows how to make a new console attractive to publishers or players. Streaming is going to be a non-starter for a large number of players around the world without the necessary connections, so it’s hard to take companies seriously on that issue until they announce a plan to somehow improve internet speed and availability for much of the country.

Google may be taking meetings, but it’s not time to get excited or concerned about its gaming efforts yet.