Chromebooks may often be dismissed as cheap laptops that run a browser-based operating system. But thanks to support for Android and Linux apps, that’s not exactly true… and even if it were, there’s a lot you can do in a web browser.
Case in point — when Google’s Stadia game streaming platform launched last year, one of the supported platforms was the web. Fire up a Chromebook, connect to Stadia, and you can stream PC or console-quality games to a Chromebook regardless of whether it’s a budget device or one with high-end hardware.
This year Google plans to roll out significant improvements for Stadia on the web, which could make Chromebooks even better for gaming. But that may not be the company’s only play for the gaming space — Android Police reports that Google wants to bring support for the Steam game client to Chrome OS.
There’s no word on when we can expect that to happen, and there’s always a chance that Google’s plans could change before Steam support ever sees the light of day.
But Steam has offered a Linux version of its game client for years, and it’s gotten more and more useful over time. While Steam for Linux initially only supported games that developers had ported to run on Linux-based operating systems, now Valve’s Proton project allows Linux users to run many made-for-Windows games without any modifications.
In an interview with Android Police, Google Chrome OS product management director Kan Liu said that the company’s work to add Steam support would leverage that Crostini software that allows Linux apps to run on Chromebooks.
Of course, Chromebooks have a reputation for being cheap hardware with relatively low-performance processors, limited storage space, and no discrete graphics… but there are exceptions. But PC makers including Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, and Google have been offering premium Chrome OS hardware for years. And Liu suggests we could see more high-performance models in the future — and models with, say, AMD Ryzen processors and Radeon Vega graphics could enable passable performance for gaming.
It’s unlikely that any hardcore gamer is going to consider any Chromebook with integrated graphics as a true replacement for a high-end Windows PC with discrete graphics (and it’s unclear if we’ll see any Chromebooks with discrete graphics anytime soon). But support for casual gaming could help tempt some folks who may not have decided yet between Windows, Mac, Linux, or Chrome OS for their next computer… and the benefit for Valve and/or game developers is the ability to reach a market of Chromebook users that previously had limited options for gaming.
That said, Google isn’t going all-in on native gaming. Some updates coming to its Stadia game streaming-over-the-internet service this year include:
- Support for 4K game streaming over the web
- Wireless gameplay on the web while using a Stadia controller
- New Google Assistant functionality for web users
That means folks who want a console-quality gaming experience without spending console money may be able to leverage Google’s servers to deliver a decent experience even on cheap Chromebooks… assuming they’ve got a fast enough internet connection to prevent slowdowns and glitches.
Google also plans to bring Stadia support to additional smartphones this year though, which means Chromebooks (and other laptops and desktop computers) are only one of several ways to use the service. Chromecast Ultra users can also use Stadia to stream games directly to a TV.