Cloud games’ ‘moment of truth’ as Google looks to zap rivals

Window on the gaming world: A visitor at a Sony Playstation booth at the Gamescom trade fair in Cologne. (AFP)
Updated 25 August 2019

Cloud games’ ‘moment of truth’ as Google looks to zap rivals

  • Digital giant sets out to convert hardcore gamers and revolutionize $135bn market

COLOGNE: Urging fans to plunge into a virtual high-res surround sound universe of extraordinary games, Google hopes its cloud-based Stadia platform will take the world by storm on its November launch. The US digital behemoth unveiled details of its nascent streaming video platform at this week’s Gamescom trade fair in Cologne in the hope it can gain traction among hardcore gamers to zap past other providers of existing gaming fare. Gamescom, styling itself the biggest event in the European gaming industry, is a sizeable window on the state of play in a mushrooming market worth an estimated $135 billion globally last year, according to analysts, with mobile platforms accounting for about half.
Stadia, details on which first publicly emerged in June at E3, the world’s premier event for computer and video games, offers as its USP the chance for users to play their favourite game on a range of platforms in high-resolution quality on different media from smart TV to console or smart phone.
That presages something of a gaming revolution.
“People have been talking about cloud gaming for 10 years — we are on the third generation of actors. The signals have not yet turned green, but Google has got solid enough guts to try it. We’ve never been so close,” says Laurent Michaud, director of studies at French digital market consultancy Idate.
Gamescom represents a chance for some hands-on experience and the brand’s huge logo, plus its battalion of hostesses on its stand are helping to pull in the curious as they compare relative attractions with rivals led by Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai explained at E3 in Los Angeles the idea is “to build a game platform for everyone” following an initial rollout in 14 countries using a subscription model after an initial bundled hardware purchase. Some games will be free and others will require payment. Even so, the Gamescom evidence after Monday’s opening suggested interest had yet to hit the heights of neighbouring stands Nintendo or Konami — the latter being the developer of Pro Evolution Soccer’s latest gambit PES 2020.
“I find their concept interesting, but I have doubts as to their capacity to guarantee good connectivity,” commented stand visitor Rishil Kuta, 22. The keen console user said that he would nevertheless be “ready to pay” a premium for a “stable” product.

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Gamescom is Europe’s largest gaming fair

Not sharing that opinion was Steven Mertes, 28, who said he did not see himself as ready to log off from his PC or close his console “which propose games of much better quality.”
“I have always been used to playing on a computer — it’s much more comfortable,” he said.
Whichever way the cloud gaming cards fall, the race is on to hook players, especially the hardcore ones, for next-generation gameplay.
“The most difficult gamers to convince will be the ‘hardcore gamers.’ They may not be as numerous as occasional players, but they are the ones who count. If they don’t go to a platform things could be difficult,” said Michaud.
The hardcore brigade tend to be willing to pay out for the rig and content they want, but are often highly attached to their favoured support environment, be it console or PC-based.
Beyond the task of converting gamers to Stadia, Google must address various technical obstacles that go with the territory of developing cloud gaming.
Although Stadia is promising 4K high resolution at 60 frames per second for minimal time lag, it remains to be seen how the platform can persuade players who may not have suitably adapted screens along with fibre optic broadband or 4G connections to subscribe.
“We have a small doubt on the development of cloud gaming,” said Wandrille Pruvot, CEO of Xtra Life, a cloud-based apps manager for Apple.
“The challenge will notably be technical as the better the resolution, the greater the need for a quality Internet network.


Saudi-led group reinstated as builder of Bulgaria gas pipeline

Updated 16 September 2019

Saudi-led group reinstated as builder of Bulgaria gas pipeline

  • Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court announced that the Saudi-led group’s main competitors for the project had dropped a legal challenge relating to the award
  • Bulgaria’s state gas operator Bulgartransgaz had initially chosen the Saudi-led group — made up of Saudi Arabia’s Arkad Engineering and a joint venture including Switzerland’s ABB

SOFIA: A Saudi-led consortium was definitively reinstated on Monday as the builder of a new gas pipeline through Bulgaria, intended to hook up to Gazprom’s TurkStream project.
Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court announced Monday that the Saudi-led group’s main competitors for the project had dropped a legal challenge relating to the award.
The latest development brings to an end a long-running tussle between the Saudi-led consortium and its competitors for the project, a consortium of Luxembourg-based Completions Development, Italy’s Bonatti and Germany’s Max Streicher.
Bulgaria’s state gas operator Bulgartransgaz had initially chosen the Saudi-led group — made up of Saudi Arabia’s Arkad Engineering and a joint venture including Switzerland’s ABB — to build the 474-kilometer (294-mile) pipeline.
But Bulgartransgaz later decided to strike the winner off the tender for failing to supply documents needed to sign off the contract.
Instead it accepted the offer of the second-placed consortium led by Completions Development.
However, Bulgaria’s competition watchdog ruled in July that the operator should honor its previous commitments and sign a contract with the Saudi-led group.
The watchdog’s verdict was subject to a final appeal in the courts but the Supreme Administrative Court announced Monday that the appeal had been withdrawn, meaning that the Arkad-led group has now been definitively reinstated.
Bulgartransgaz is in a hurry to complete the pipeline as soon as possible in a bid to enable Russian gas giant Gazprom to hook it up to its TurkStream pipeline after it becomes operational at the end of this year.
Bulgaria, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas for its domestic needs, has been repeatedly criticized by both the EU and the United States for failing to diversify both its gas sources and its delivery routes.
The Balkan country hopes to start receiving Caspian Sea gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz field as well as liquefied natural gas from various sources via terminals in Greece through a 182-kilometer (113-mile) interconnector expected to be ready by the end of 2020.