Today, Google officially unveiled Stadia, its cloud-based video game streaming platform. Is it really the future of gaming?
Despite persistent rumors, Google is releasing a digital platform, not a console. The Stadia platform is similar to services like PlayStation Now. It is being compared to the gaming equivalent of Netflix, allowing players to stream games without needing fancy hardware.
“This new generation of gaming is not a box,” says Phil Harrison, the former Sony and Microsoft executive who is leading Google’s charge into the gaming space.
To use Stadia, all you need is a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or a PC with Google’s Chrome web browser installed. You can even use your smart TV if it has built-in Chromecast and play using just Google’s Stadia controller, which will connect directly to Google’s servers rather than through your TV. This should significantly reduce any lag.
Stadia is the offshoot of Project Stream, which the company tested late last year. That service, which was in beta, allowed gamers to stream Ubisoft’s recently-released Assassin’s Creed Odyssey through a Chrome browser.
With Project Stream, Google demonstrated that it could stream graphically-intense games over the cloud. Their servers are doing all of the heavy lifting, which basically negates the need for expensive hardware like a gaming PC or console. Stadia takes that concept and expands it to a library of games.
Of course, Stadia will require a speedy internet connection, something that a lot of Americans currently lack. Google says that a 25 MBPS connection is needed to achieve 1080P at 60 frames per second. It will take at least 30 MBPS for 4K output. If you have a slower speed, Stadia will output a lower resolution, which is similar to how Netflix works.
So is this the “future of gaming?”
Sony already has a streaming service in PlayStation Now. Microsoft is developing the Project xCloud streaming service, which it also hopes to launch this year. More competition may yet enter the space.
Clearly, game streaming has a future in the industry, but the technology still has a long way to go. Significant barriers remain for Google, Sony, and Microsoft as they battle for market share. While Stadia can play games on the go with a smartphone and tablet, game streaming will quickly eat up users’ mobile data. Just ask anyone who has tried to stream Netflix or YouTube on their Android or iPhone. Your data is gone in a flash.
Latency issues and graphics quality are also a very real concern. In our experience, Project Stream struggled during peak internet usage hours. While lag was not a big issue, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey would often only output at 720P. Until these services match the performance of gaming PCs and dedicated home consoles, they will likely struggle to win over hardcore gamers.
Of course, hardcore gamers are likely not even the real target audience here. Ubisoft’s CEO, Yves Guillemot, tipped us off here when he remarked that “the power and accessibility of streaming will give billions unprecedented opportunities to play video games in the future.” Hear that? Billions. This is a service aimed at the masses
Stadia and other streaming platforms open the door to high-end, graphically-intense games without the need for an entry fee. You’ll no longer need to spend $500 on a console, wait for updates to download, or worry about whether your games are backwards compatible – again, as long as you have a good internet connection. This leads to one last question.
How does Google plan to make money with Stadia?
The company is mum on that point. Even though the only hardware – which is optional – is the Stadia controller, Google is not yet revealing how they will sell games on the platform – or even if they will sell games on the platform. It could be a monthly subscription service similar to Netflix or an annual subscription service similar to Xbox Game Pass. It may be a storefront where you can buy individual games. Most likely, perhaps, is that it will be a combination of the two. We don’t know yet.
What we do know is that Google Stadia is coming, and it is coming relatively soon. Google plans to launch the service this year. They plan to offer more details on pricing in the summer.