In October 2018, Google launched what everyone said was the inevitable future of video games. Project Stream was a limited time technical test that allowed users to stream Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on a Google Chrome browser. As it was just a beta test, it was riddled with bugs and other issues but still managed to keep us hopeful for the future.
Fast forward to March of 2019 and Google has announced Stadia at GDC 2019. Stadia is a cloud gaming service that would allow users to stream games to all sorts of devices. People would be able to stream games on the Google Chrome browser, the Chromecast, and Pixel devices. The streaming service is also neatly integrated with YouTube to allow users to stream their gameplay. Users can also hit the “play now” button while watching another creator and instantly stream that game.
How does Stadia work?
Stadia uses Google’s massive array of data centers spread around the globe. It chooses the data centre nearest to the user and streams the game from there to minimize latency. Google has also partnered with AMD to deliver custom-built GPUs for its data centre. The GPU made by AMD will be capable of delivering 10.7 teraflops of power which is more than both Xbox One X and the PS4 Pro combined. Apart from that, Stadia will be powered by a 2.7 GHz x86 processor and 16 GB of RAM.
Is the world actually ready for Stadia?
Stadia comes at a time when everyone is pushing towards a streaming future for gaming. This is not a new concept. Microsoft has already unveiled its idea for video game streaming with Project xCloud. On the other side, Sony has also been gradually pushing towards the streaming market with PlayStation Now.
During the unveil and the player booth experience, it became clear that Stadia suffers from the same problem xCloud and PlayStation Now have, Input Lag. The input signal from your controller takes time to travel to the data centre the game is running on. This is doubled when the output signal from the data centre also has to travel back to the user’s screen. From what we saw at the demo, the input latency for Stadia is somewhere between 200 ms and 500 ms. 200 milliseconds might not seem that much in real life, but the difference is massive when translated into a video game where every millisecond can be the difference between life and death.
There is also the problem of Stadia relying solely on an internet connection. The thing is, that even in 2019, people have slow internet and data caps. Yes, we are gradually stepping into the world where everyone has access to unlimited fibre internet but we’re still quite a way off that future. According to reports, Stadia would require a 25 Mbps connection to run games at 1080p 60fps with Google promising some improvements to that barrier. Not a lot of people have access to those speeds and turning the world into a gigabit utopia would be a big challenge.
Reliability could also be a potential problem for Stadia. The internet is more reliable than ever but it isn’t impervious to attacks. During the last few months alone, we’ve seen multiple outages for Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Facebook and many other giant networks. This means that a DDOS attack could just prevent users from playing games. To convince people, Google needs to come up with a robust network with an emergency backup system for Stadia that runs even if it, inevitably, gets attacked.
Games on Stadia:
The most important part of a gaming platform will always be the games that it offers. No matter how much infrastructure or processing capabilities you have, if you don’t have good games to take advantage of that hardware, you are not going to succeed. Google Stadia will launch with Id Software’s Doom Eternal and would support full cross-platform play for all games. Google has also made deals with the likes of Ubisoft and has opened up about full support for a variety of engines including Unity, Unreal Engine and CryEngine. According to Google, 100 studios already have the dev kits for Stadia and are working on titles that would work on the service.
Google has also created its own game studio called Stadia Games and Entertainment for exclusive titles. The studio is being led by Jade Raymond, who is an experienced industry veteran and has worked at Sony, EA, and Ubisoft. However, one studio making an exclusive game would probably not be enough for Stadia. Microsoft lost the battle to Sony earlier in this generation just because PlayStation had way more exclusives. Stadia would fall victim to the same fate if it fails to deliver a good variety of exclusive games at launch and in the future.
Microsoft has already bought over half a dozen of very good game studios like Ninja Theory, Obsidian and Turn 10 to reinforce its line-up for the next generation. Sony also owns many extremely talented game studios like Naughty Dog, Santa Monica and Guerrilla Games. These companies have been in the gaming business for decades. Google cannot just step into their domain and wipe the floor with them. It is going to be extremely hard for Google to compete and offer the same value proposition as these gaming giants. However, people being negative about Google entering the space need to re-evaluate. More competition will always be good for the consumer.
Pretty much every single person has said this and I’ll say the same; Yes, the Stadia controller looks like the unholy child of PS4 and Xbox Controller raised by Nintendo. However, is that a bad thing? No. As the famous saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Google has gone with the same philosophy and honestly, the Stadia controller looks like a solid piece of hardware. The controller feels great in the hand and has all the bells and whistles of a normal controller. It also offers WiFi connectivity directly to the data centre that would allow seamless transition between platforms. Still don’t like the controller? You don’t have to use it. You can literally use any controller or keyboard/mouse with Stadia. There aren’t any negatives to take out of this and Google has done the right thing here.
Google chose Phil Harrison to lead the Stadia team. Phil has a vast amount of experience in the gaming industry having worked at both Sony and Microsoft and is the right man for the job. As far as the latency and server issues are concerned, if I had to bet on one company managing to solve that problem worldwide, it would be Google. Google’s network of data centers dotted around even the remotest of corners of the world is unparalleled and they have the resources to pull this off. With so many industry giants pumping resources into game streaming, it is clear that this is the inevitable future. The world just needs some time to catch up.
In any case, this is going to completely change the gaming landscape. Yes, it has its problems but acting like it’ll NEVER work is a very short-sighted and unimaginative take. Netflix, Steam, and online gaming all seemed like otherworldly witchcraft that would never happen initially. But they did happen, and we are hopeful that at some point, sooner rather than later, this will too.