We do not usually give much importance to the annual game developer conference. Of course, we cover. Why not? It's very close to our San Francisco office, and in recent years we've had some great stories. This is where Microsoft provided us with the first details of DirectX 12 in 2014 – an initiative that has just come to fruition. This is also where Epic has created Unreal Engine free for developers. This is where real-time ray tracing has become real. And who could forget the mythological Atari VCS, a console that we have "seen" at the GDC 2018, but which has not yet been unveiled?
The fact is that there is always one or two interesting stories coming out of the series.
But 2019 wants to be a GDC for all ages, a real storm of news from Google, Microsoft, Epic, Valve, etc. New consoles! New services! New questions about old services! We do not usually write one of these starter films for GDC, but you should probably watch this year's show, for all the reasons listed below.
Let's start with Google, because his speech is both the most predictable and the most disturbing. For about six months, Google has been testing what he calls Project Stream. Those who registered to participate received a free copy of Assassin's Creed: Odyssey for the duration of the test. The catch? You do not have own a copy of Odyssey, and you do not enjoy the high-end hardware that you had on hand. As you can imagine, you streamed Assassin's Creed from Google's servers to your PC, via Chrome.
Google is obviously not the first to do it. OnLive launched this idea more than a decade ago and Sony is currently offering a similar service via PlayStation Now. You can even play PlayStation exclusives on your PC.
Signs indicate that Google will give Project Stream an official name, pricing structure and publication date next week during the GDC. We were invited to an event scheduled for Tuesday, March 19th at 10 am in the Pacific Region. Google has promised to unveil "the future of the game". And although I expect the Chrome feature already tested to continue, it's worth noting that it's profiling itself to be a bigger ad than just the PC. Google should also unveil a system focused on streaming console during GDC, complete with its own controller. Other rumors also mention the functionality of Chromecast, since the newest model contains Bluetooth and could therefore support Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers.
That's what makes it such a big deal. Before Google even sold a single console, it was already a niche in the gaming industry that contained all Chrome users and potentially a significant slice of Chromecast users. Then all he needs are games.
Of course, Google is not the only one to consider a digital future. According to rumors, Microsoft would work on streaming on many fronts, some of which may appear at the GDC. Project xCloud, Microsoft's streaming game solution, is the key issue. At the moment, xCloud seems primarily intended for the next generation. A new Xbox is around the corner – so close to the goal, the latest rumors say we could hear details from E3. According to a rumor, we could get a cheap and streaming-centric Xbox as part of the new generation Microsoft line, built on Project xCloud.
So, what does this have to do with GDC? Well, in this scenario, Microsoft is no longer just a hardware company, but a a service business. It does not matter or you play games, as long as you pay to play them – a rumor that is at least partially supported by the more friendly attitude of Microsoft towards the PC lately.
That's why the GDC panel "Xbox Live: Developing and Mobilizing Your Gaming Community Across Platforms" is attracting a lot of attention. This seems to correspond to Thursday's news that Microsoft has transferred Xbox Live to iOS and Android. And that's maybe all we'll have next week! It is possible that xCloud is not mentioned at all.
Other speculations (via Direct-Feed Games) suggest that Microsoft will soon release its Game Pass subscription service on the Nintendo Switch. It is from here that we perform a "very short jump" to "broadcast Xbox games on Android, iOS and Switch". We'll see what happens next week and how much Microsoft will save for E3.
The expanding Xbox family
There is more, however. Microsoft is swarming rumors recently, and although none of them necessarily appear at the GDC, it should at least be mentioned.
First, a Xbox One S optical-free drive. According to a rumor according to Windows Central, Microsoft will release the "Xbox One S All-Digital Edition" in May, and pre-orders will begin in April. In the meantime, there are only two industry shows, GDC and PAX East. Therefore, even if none of the Microsoft panels seems to be an obvious place to announce a console, the odds are still good.
Even longer: native Xbox One games on PC. This rumor stems from work done in Thurrott last month, when downloading the latest version of Windows Insider. Decomposition state from the Xbox servers and apparently running the Xbox version natively on Windows 10. Spread that a bit, and maybe all Xbox One games will soon run on a PC, instead of just universal Windows application ports. But will we have this news at the GDC? Probably not. This seems much more suited to an E3 revelation.
Agree, what else do we have at the GDC? Epic and Valve.
This is the competition that will define 2019, with the store upstart, Epic Games Store, which is doing everything possible to dethrone Steam. Already we saw Metro Exodus and Division 2 taste Epic, with other games likely to follow during the year – making Epic's usual speech on Wednesday morning's "Unreal" an interesting prospect. While Epic tends to keep this speech relatively developer-centric, there is usually one or two larger news included news.
IDG / Hayden Dingman
The most relevant session however is Thursday morning, when Epic organizes "Epic Games Store: update and questions / answers". Announcements about upcoming exclusives? May be. But I would be more interested to see a road map for additional features – cloud backups, for example.
Epic had every reason to hope to have some good news to announce, because 15 minutes after the Epic Games Store session, we will have the "Steam Commercial Update". Again, it's hard to know. what Valve will talk about it here, but given the myriad of interface updates recently, I hope we will have our first comprehensive overview of the long-awaited review of Steam, or an idea of the how Valve plans to solve the discoverability problems now rife. the shop. And this is in addition to the discussions on the new Steam Link Anywhere streaming features announced this week, of course.
There is more, of course. The GDC has been an unofficial VR show for years and this series will continue this year, I'm sure. The Oculus Standalone Quest helmet is only a few months away, so I think we'll see more demos about it. HTC has revealed two new Vive audio headsets at CES in January, so these could also be candidates likely to show up here. I'm excited to try out the new Vive Pro with integrated eye tracking, given the success of our Tobii demo last year.
Unity will also hold a conference on Monday. I do not expect it to be too consumer-oriented, but now that we live in a post-Epic Games Store world, I do not know what to think. It can be just engine updates, new tools for developers or Unity. also to launch a showcase. Who knows?
And then, of course there will be some usual games. The GDC is not really known for its game ads or demos, but there are still rumors, and this year's rumors are pretty exciting.
Overall, this is the most crowded GDC in recent memory. Stay tuned next week as we will keep you posted as quickly as possible. Do not expect news from Atari VCS, I have already asked, and they will not be there. What a surprise.