At the 2019 Game Developers Conference, Google finally showed off their Stadia gaming platform. They’ve yet to set an official release date, but they say it will be available in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada sometime in 2019.
If you don’t know what Google Stadia is, it’s their platform for cloud-streaming games to a large list of devices. At GDC, Google Stadia head Phil Harrison gave a lot of example hype of how Google Stadia will revolutionize the gaming industry.
Some are wondering how Google Stadia is going to impact the gaming industry, and traditional client-based installers and digital distributors, like Steam. Others are wondering if Google Stadia is going to have an impact on the browser game industry. While technologies like WebGL have made big advancements possible for browser-based gaming, is it worth playing FNaF Custom Night in a browser, or developing games like Stickman Rope (click here to play on CrazyGames) for a browser anymore?
We’ll address those questions and more in this speculative article.
Google Stadia - 4K Gaming on Minimal Hardware
“Imagine you’re watching games on Youtube,” Phil explains to the audience, as a stadium screen behind him shows trailer footage for Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. “You will notice a Play Now button, by simply clicking on that button, the player is brought directly into the game in a browser, in as quick as 5 seconds. In Stadia, you just need to click on a Youtube video or link, and you can be playing your game instantly.”
Phil then showcased Google Stadia running Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey at perfect framerate on a Google Pixelbook, noting to the audience that the Pixelbook has no hardware acceleration whatsoever. The game is running directly from Google’s data center, being streamed to the user’s device like a video.
Years ago when the idea of cloud-based gaming was making its way around tech circles, there was a lot of concern about bandwidth and lag - you would need a very strong internet connection to stream games flawlessly in 1080p resolution. Yet here we are in 2019, and Google is talking about Stadia being able to stream games at up to 4k resolution. This may be possible for most western consumers, as the average internet speed in the United States is around 94 Mbps, with the U.K. and Canada not very far behind.
How will Google Stadia impact the browser game industry?
This is an interesting question, because there are several ways to answer it. For starters, some believe the browser game industry continues to be alive only because of low-spec hardware in poorer countries. It’s said that people who can’t afford the latest hardware and AAA titles, or live in countries with poor bandwidth, instead play lower quality browser games. This isn’t entirely true, of course - perhaps to a small degree, but let’s explore it.
Browser games mainly appeal to the “bored at work and/or school” audience. Browser games are typically created to be fun, simple, and a bit casual. Fun little time wasters, if you will. Furthermore, there are many browser games that continue to go viral, and indie developers that start out in the browser game scene.
2048, for example, is about as simple as you can get for a browser game - yet it received over 4 million visitors in less than a week.
Take into consideration that browser games provide a mindless distraction, but you can easily switch back to the real world. For example, if you’re in a boring meeting, it’s easy to upgrade a few buildings in casual games such as Farmville or Clash of Clans, without really losing focus of what’s happening around you. There isn’t much concentration involved. On the other hand, you certainly couldn’t join a 20-player dungeon group in Albion Online.
It’s not that gorgeous graphics and complex gameplay can’t be rendered in a web browser - it absolutely can. WebGL is capable of some stunning graphics these days, putting next-gen graphics in your browser.
The problem is that users expect browser games to be small, and load fast. Nobody really wants to download a 15GB game in their web browser, it defeats the purpose of browser-based games being intended for more casual purposes.
Having said that, it’s easy to imagine Google Stadia as somehow “hurting” the browser game industry. All you need is a fast internet connection, a web browser, and you can be playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey even on a Pixelbook? Sure, it sounds amazing. But it’s not going to be a “browser-game killer." Here’s why.
Google Stadia is going to focus on offering AAA games out of the box. And while it is going to make these AAA games much more accessible, it isn’t necessarily competing with the indie game market - which the browser game industry is a part of. The indie game scene and browser-based gaming go hand-in-hand. So Google Stadia versus the browser game industry is like apples and oranges.
Of course, this is merely our own speculation. Popular PC gaming platform Steam started out as offering primarily Valve games until other developers started publishing on the platform. After a while, Steam launched Steam Greenlight, which allowed indie developers to submit their games for publishing if they received enough votes from the Steam user-base. And now almost anyone can publish on Steam, not just games, but apps and tools as well.
So while Google Stadia will start out offering titles from AAA developers, whos to say the platform won’t be opened to smaller devs in the future? If Google Stadia amasses a humongous catalogue, it’d have a significant edge over every other gaming client out there.
One thing to bear in mind is that Google has a rather storied past with products falling short of expectation. The list of failed Google products is long, Google Hangouts being the most well-known example. There’s so much hype around Google Stadia from Google, but what if they actually end up selling it to the highest bidder? What if Valve, for example, partnered with Google in bringing the Stadia technology to the Steam client?
While we can speculate so much based on product demos and hype, there’s really to many unknown variables to accurately predict how Google Stadia will compete with the browser game industry, or any other kind of competition, for that matter. Combined with the fact we don’t even know how much Google Stadia will cost, except that it’s likely to be a subscription-based model, and there are just too many unanswered questions to put any kind of bank on Google Stadia just yet. We’ll just have to find out sometime in 2019, when Google releases the product.
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