During the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) in mid-March, Google surprised everyone by revealing a video game streaming service named Stadia, billed as a whole new way to play video games that doesn’t require disks or consoles. Google Stadia seeks to become a simple option for convenient gaming. The service will be hosted on Chrome, boasting a 1080 output with smooth 60 frames per second (FPS). It’s even designed with their WiFi controller, which connects to Google’s servers independently to reduce latency as much as possible, in mind. Releasing later this year, Stadia sounds like the next big evolution in gaming. Unfortunately for Google, there are still many current generation issues that hold Stadia back. However, if Google learns from previous video game streaming platforms, Stadia could potentially be a standout in today’s video game market paradigm.
We have seen different iterations of video game streaming with companies like Sony and Valve taking a different approach than what Google plans. Sony, for example, has a service called PlayStation Now that allows users to stream previous PlayStation games to a PS4. PlayStation Now is a subscription-based service that gives you access to over 700 titles that can be played on your PS4. With new games each month and older PS4 titles being released, the service keeps getting better. It also helps those with large digital libraries that don’t have the space to put older PS3 titles on their hard drive. Not only that, but because PS3 games are smaller than PS4 games, they can be streamed seamlessly and are easy to be maintained by Sony’s servers. On the other hand, Valve allows users to stream PC games from one computer to another. The service is simple as it only requires you to own the game in order to stream them to other devices. It’s a very barebones way of giving users the option to play games while away from their desktop. The downside to the service is that it requires fast connections on both sides of the connection. These two services can give some insight into how Google could be successful and what traps they may fall victim to.
As soon as Google revealed Stadia, criticism followed with many different roadblocks that Google will have to overcome in order for Stadia to be successful. The biggest issue with Stadia is the large data requirement for the service to be seamless and produce the crisp 1080p, 60 FPS experience. Due to the repeal of net neutrality laws nine months ago, some internet service providers are able to limit customers connections to be slower or be cut entirely if they exceed a certain cap. Currently, Stadia operates on 20 gigabytes per hour. The service cannot survive if the medium is a danger to consumers who have data limits. With data caps that only keep getting lower, Stadia will have to combat this on a fundamental level. It’s the same issue that Valve faces with their own Steam Link product that currently is in the same phase of development. As they allow any PC to stream games to a Steam Link with great internet connection. This is the biggest issue that Google will be facing as changing the laws around the freedom of the internet is more difficult than ever.
The Stadia’s biggest hurdle to overcome will more than likely be the latency issue. When streaming on Stadia, there will more than likely be a delay from when a button is pressed to when it is displayed on the screen. Early statistics suggest a 200ms delay, which is less than half a second. Of course, these metrics are all in-house and will differ from the actual product upon public release. Compared to Sony and Valve, Google will need to shape up this part of Stadia in order for it to become a competitor in the current streaming market. Another big criticism against Stadia is the library of games that will be supported by the application. One of the big upsides to PlayStation Now is the huge library of titles players get from just $100 a year. For Google to follow this, they will need both a great library of games and an affordable cost. With no cost being revealed yet, Google has shown “Assassins Creed Odyssey” working on their service and announced “DOOM Eternal” to be a launch title. Yet this tells very little as to what the future of Stadia content will be like. Mainly this concern boils down to the scope of Stadia and what its future will be like. If Google tries to push this as a main competitor then its faults in data caps, latency and game library will push people to more traditional consoles.
Going forward, Google has quite a lot of avenues for the project and they could be able to turn it into the next big gaming network. I could see this being a useful addition to light and portable machines that are able to run Chrome masterfully, which is exactly what Chromebooks are designed for. One of the less looked at features that Stadia introduces is the walkthrough aspect of it. Using Google Assistant to progress in a video game is a very useful feature as it removes the hassle of searching for it yourself. Having Assistant give you directed instructions on moving forward is a great idea that removes the hassle of having to search for information on other websites. This removes the break in immersion players experience when searching it themselves. This is a fresh idea that can be taken far should Stadia do well. Taking this further, Stadia could also find themselves as the killers of physical games.
With more companies and developers pushing digital titles and stores on customers, the idea of physical media is becoming less of the focal point when it comes to making sales. Stadia utilizing a totally digital store and being used exclusively through Chrome could eventually end physical game runs as they would no longer be profitable. By no means would Stadia be the sole culprit of ending physical games; it would, however, contribute very much to the end of the practice and production. It’s possible that Stadia can survive on year-old titles and Indie-developed games at an affordable cost. Even if they decide not to take this road, Google has the option of privatizing some games by buying exclusivity rights for a certain time frame. This is very similar to what Epic Games and PlayStation do nowadays with timed exclusives. If Google decides to follow this route, then Stadia might generate some interest. Even then, they would still need to solve the roadblocks of the current streaming climate.
Google’s new business venture has many raising their eyebrows on the use and versatility of the service. Google has high hopes for the application and it could be turned into an example of pure, next-generation beauty. Yet Google faces the issues that plague current generation networking and hardware. A future for the service is definitely plausible and could lead to a gigantic shift in the gaming market. If Google execute Stadia properly, it could signal a new approach to how we game.