The Future of Gaming or Just Another Google Gimmick?
At the 2019 Game Developers Conference, Google revealed their video game cloud streaming service, Stadia. Advertised as a service for “everyone,” Google is aiming to bring cutting-edge gaming experiences to players wherever they are, regardless of accessible hardware. As long as users have access to a device with Google Chrome, they simply need to open up a browser, click a button, and within seconds they will find themselves immersed in a new world.
The beta for this service launched in October of 2018 under the title Project Stream, and allowed testers to participate in playing the fantastic Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, a game that certainly doesn’t pull any punches in the graphical department. Despite its resource requirements, the game ran extremely well within browsers, leaving many testers (including us) thoroughly impressed. Translating this experience to the mainstream will certainly be an enormous task, but the initial taste left players wanting more.
The idea of streaming games from a server rather than playing them on a physical local machine isn’t new, as seen with failed services like Onlive, but no one has managed to achieve it in a way that truly works. Potential latency issues weigh heavily on the minds of skeptics, but Google promises that things will be different this time. Majd Bakar, Stadia’s head of engineering, claims that “Stadia is built on an infrastructure that no one else has,” referring to Google’s extremely robust data center network. Is this, then, just another iteration of something like Onlive, but from a developer with deeper pockets? Google strives to say, “No.”
Google claims that Stadia will be able to stream at 4K resolution in a buttery smooth 60 Frames Per Second. If that’s not enough to get you salivating, they also have boldly stated that the service could reach heights of 8K and 120 FPS, though that seems to reach into the realm of the more outlandish. Even so, being able to play games on the highest graphical settings with good framerate all on average hardware is enough to pique the interest of any avid gamer.
During a gameplay demonstration, Google showed how players could seamlessly transition between devices, starting with a laptop, then a mobile phone, and finally a desktop, all while maintaining progress within the game instance. It was fascinating to watch, and opens up many possibilities for gaming on the fly. However, upon closer inspection, there was noticeable input lag on every device, and while this could be chalked up to the demonstration environment, it does raise some concerns with how responsive this service will be in actual practice. This was not a problem during the beta, but it does beg the question why it was an issue here.
Additionally, Google says that Stadia will run well on “average internet connections,” and while the average speeds of U.S. ISP’s have increased dramatically over the last few years, there are still many who don’t yet enjoy the luxury of high speed internet. This reality impinges on the bold claim of Stadia being a service for “everyone” as it may leave some consumers hanging out to dry. We certainly hope that Google will do their best to accommodate such users and not respond with an Adam Orth-esqueue “Deal with it.”
Fortunately, we won’t have to wait too long to see what Google will actually be able to pull off, as they will be launching Stadia this year. This comes as a bit of a surprise, because a lot of pertinent details have yet to be revealed (namely subscription and pricing methods), but Google continues to push forward both in ways that are both fast and furious. More details are coming this summer (hopefully meaning E3), but we can only wait and see.
It will be incredibly interesting to see how gamers respond to the imminent launch. Obviously there is much buzz after the recent announcement, but when it comes down to it, how many will take the plunge? It will really depend on how well it actually works, and how accessible the price points will be. Additionally, we need to know if an “average” internet connection will actually be adequate, and if data caps will ever become a constraint (this will most likely be a bigger issue for those wanting to stream in 4K). Further, what will game ownership look like? Will this purely be a Netflix-style system where users can find a game they are interested in and begin streaming immediately, or will they also be able to purchase a game that they can tie to an account permanently?
So many questions remain, and while what Google has shown is certainly impressive, I am holding my breath until further details emerge. If it works, Stadia could prove to be a tool that allows accessibility to new worlds for a whole host of gamers that haven’t been able to enjoy some of the best that developers have to offer. It likely won’t be a console or gaming PC killer right off the bat, especially with the lack of modding capabilities and questions of game ownership, but it will be very interesting to see how the gaming landscape evolves in the coming months.