While you were sleeping, Alphabet’s Google fired warning shots at console giants Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo with their 33rd annual
Hunger Games Game Developers Conference (GDC) keynote presentation.
Introducing Stadia, a Linux browser-based video-game streaming service which claims to work on any Chromecast protocol device (iOS, Android, Chrome OS, macOS, Windows, and even the Chromecast dongle).
Which makes perfect sense given Google’s near-monopoly of cloud technology and a global network of 7,500 data centres. The team behind Stadia includes many former gaming unit employees from Electronic Arts Inc, Sony, and Microsoft.
While this isn’t some ground-breaking model – GeForce Now by Nvidia has been around since 2015 and Shadow started a US game-streaming service in 2018 – the ability to jump straight into a game without long load/install times, switching gaming devices on-the-fly, and freeing up PC resources for AAA titles could be massive game changers.
While Stadia has no console box, new hardware was introduced in the form of a controller which connects directly to Google’s servers. During the controlled on-stage demo, Stadia seemed to handoff Assassin’s Creed from mobile to PC to tablet with no noticeable input lag.
At launch, Stadia offers to support up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, with HDR and surround sound, and a second stream (for YouTube streaming purposes) at 4K and 60fps. Future updates may see resolution support of up to 8K and 120fps.
Two exciting new features not available for current consoles are instant access to help, via Google Assistant, and built-in advertising via YouTube. If you’re watching a stream of a new game you can just click “join” and get the game—or even queue up for the YouTuber’s stream!
Looking past the initial hype, two huge question marks hang over Stadia – (1) how much speed and data is required to run this service? (2) will it have access to 1st party exclusive content?
It’s no accident Google is keeping mum on pricing, bandwidth, and speed. Game streaming is an om-nom-nom data beast and seeing that Google Stream beta required about 25Mbps in order to stream anything remotely playable and attractive, that should be the base-line for Stadia.
Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games for research firm IHS Markit, hit the nail on the head with his analysis: “Both Microsoft and Tencent are better positioned [with a strong supply of unique top shelf games]”. The idea of quick access from any device, may not be a unique selling point if customers can’t play their desired games. Will Google charge consumers prices high enough to attract top publishers that already have a lucrative business selling games on discs?
We might have answers to those vital questions sooner rather than later since the Stadia platform is expected to launch later this year. With Asia/Oceana region having fairly good internet speeds (9 countries among the fastest in the world, Singapore holding top spot since 2017), we certainly can’t wait to have our hands on the Stadia.
For now, with little to no details given on pricing or available titles for the service, game publishers and direct competitors, including Amazon.com and Microsoft, can sleep easy albeit with one eye open…