Rumors that Google has been gearing up to unveil a new gaming service were confirmed yesterday during the tech giant’s GDC keynote. While some have speculated that the company would be developing a console to directly compete with the likes of Sony and Microsoft following the launch of the next generation of systems, in typical Google fashion, it opted to back an emerging new tech trend and revealed Google Stadia. Google Stadia is a game streaming service to challenge all that we know about cloud-based gaming.
The concept of game streaming has been around for quite a while. Early adopters will remember a little-known service by the name of OnLive, which more or less pioneered the practice in 2010, and most will be at least casually familiar with Sony’s PlayStation Now, which launched back in 2014. While those services were inhibited by latency and compatibility issues, Google promises Stadia to be a revolution in terms of Internet-based gaming.
Unfortunately, we don’t have many details as of yet; Google’s keynote was relatively sparse in terms of hard facts, and Sundar Pichai, the corporation’s CEO and GDC presenter, kept mum on in-depth specifics concerning hardware and connection requirements.
That said, Google’s Stadia does have the potential to be a huge leap forward in the gaming world. As already mentioned, game-centric cloud streaming has been in development for about a decade or so at this point, and this industry leader definitely has the infrastructure necessary to make something like this happen.
Yet, what separates Stadia from something like Google Glass, Google +, Google Wave, or any of their other failed experiments? It’s hard to say for certain, but Google seems to have done its research on the topic.
Last year, Google made Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey available to stream via its Google Chrome browser. It was a thinly-veiled proof of concept for what would eventually become Stadia, and, from what those who got a chance to try it out have said, it ran surprisingly well given the circumstances. Broadcasting a triple-A title to a web browser was nearly unthinkable just a short time ago, but, if the rumors are to be believed, Google has pulled it off to great effect.
However, the issue remains that stream-capable broadband access simply isn’t a reality for everyone, and a recently-conducted survey by the FCC found that as many as 24 million Americans didn’t have access to broadband internet. That might seem like a small number, but it’s also important to consider the amount of consumers living with connection speed than can hardly handle HTML5, let alone Assassin’s Creed.
Google hopes to eliminate a significant portion of these latency issues by allowing the controller to connect directly to a Wi-Fi network rather than going through a middleman like an app or console. This is fundamentally different than streaming services of the past and should vastly improve the experience for many, but it won’t be a cure-all.
Right now, Google is recommending a minimum connection speed of 25mbps for stable gameplay, and, while most gaming enthusiasts pay for speeds that could run circles around that requirement, it may be a bit of a hurdle for the casual market, particularly in rural areas. It could also be a major headache for ISPs unprepared for the potentially major increase in usage or consumers faced with additional fees for exceeding an arbitrary data cap.
Another sticking point could be the pricing model Google employs; while plenty of us are more than happy to shell out eleven bucks monthly for Netflix (the eight dollar a month service is nothing more than a tragic farce), the same might not be said about gamers, particularly if they plan on charging drastically more than that. While premium titles are fairly expensive as it is, it’s hard to know if players will be willing to spend upwards of thirty dollars a month on the service.
That’s all speculation, of course. Right now, we know absolutely nothing about Google’s price structuring. In fact, we don’t even have a release date yet, though the company has assured consumers and developers alike that it will hit the scene in the US, UK, Europe, and Canada at some point in 2019.
It has also unveiled its controller design, the quality of which seems to be a bit contentious among gamers. Some think it seems to be a perfect marriage of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers, while others find it to be an oddly laid-out eyesore. Without any hands-on experience, opinions can only be the result of basic conjecture. However, one thing is certain: that d-pad looks gross.
Google also gave some insight into what will be going on at its end of the service. The company announced that the hardware hosting these games will be “more powerful than PS4 and Xbox One combined.” It stated that it'll be able to achieve as much as 10.7 teraflops on a single GPU, which would outpace the 4.2 teraflop output of the PS4 Pro’s GPU, as well as the 6.0 teraflops made possible by the Xbox One X. Aside from that, we know very little. However, some consumers hope that this will allow PC parts manufacturers like Nvidia and AMD to price their wares a little more competitively as a result.
It’s tough to know exactly what we’re in for with Stadia at the moment. While some have already christened it the herald of a new era in gaming, others remain skeptical. Google itself hasn’t dabbled in gaming all that regularly aside from the mixed assortment of experiences available on the Play Store. However, if you head to the Stadia website and input the Konami code, it brings up a rotatable rendering of the controller, which is a neat little nod to those in the know.
Will Stadia be the future? Will it force Sony, Microsoft, and even Nintendo to focus solely on software as it totally corners the market thanks to an unbeatable ease of access? Probably not; as it stands, Stadia seems like a casual alternative for those who don’t have the horsepower to play games on their home PCs. However, only time will tell.