Everyone has tried and failed to make game streaming work. It’s one of the holy grails of the industry. The concept essentially eliminates hardware restriction by letting games run remotely on powerful hardware.
Google has seen how its data center business folds in neatly with this concept and in a bold move Tuesday, March 19, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, it announced Stadia, a new platform that lets players game virtually anywhere as long as there’s an internet connection. The idea is encapsulated in this scenario, mentioned by Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Players can watch a trailer for a game on YouTube and they can see a link. Clicking on the link will take them to that game they in less than 5 seconds.
If it works as smoothly as that, it can be like magic, and it opens up a new avenue for gaming. It has the potential to unify an industry that’s fragmented by hardware, and it opens up a mind-boggling potential to make games better.
The most obvious change is the ability to play anywhere. Players can stream games to a Chrome browser or any other Google-connected device. That means they can play on a laptop and then switch their gaming to mobile phone. If they want to connect to a bigger screen, they can play on a television. There’s no need for a separate console, so conceivably, players only need a Google-connected television to play.
Because the game is run on a data center, hardware doesn’t become an issue. The only likely factor will be a player’s internet connection. Although Google didn’t announce the requirements, the Stadia service needs a fast connection. Running games at 1080p at 60 frames per second shouldn’t be a hassle, but trying to stream a game at 4K HDR at 60 fps could require a bigger pipeline. For consumers, there could also be an issue with data caps depending on their internet service provider.
With hardware no longer an issue, developers could build any game they want. For comparison, the chips in Google’s data center, which is partly designed by AMD, runs at 10.7 teraflops compared to the PlayStation 4 Pro at 4.2 teraflops and Xbox One X at 6.0 teraflops. Teraflops refers to computing speed, and the more a system is able to handle, the more impressive visuals and physics a game can run. One of the big games that will be running on Stadia is id Software’s “Doom Eternal.” The sequel to the most recent game in the franchise.
To go along with the Stadia service, Google also introduced a new controller. It looks similar to a DualShock 4 or an Xbox One controller, but it has two notable features. The first is a capture button that lets players share pictures or a video of what they’re playing. The other is a Google Assistant button that activates a built-in microphone on the controller. The device connects to Wi-Fi, which ensures a fast connection.
With gameplay being on a data center, Stadia also has the potential to streamline multiplayer games. With games in the cloud, players battle in a secure space instead of being connected via the web. That also earns multiplayer titles can introduce technically demanding gameplay mechanics. They could conceivably feature fully destructible environments that are shared across all players or bigger battle royale games.
Because it’s a Google service, Stadia also has a YouTube connection. The concept behind this is State Share. It will allow content creators to share an exact scenario they come across in games. For example, if they were playing “PixelJunk Shooter,” players could challenge viewers to beat their speed run or check out a scenario they ran across. To access it, all they would have to do is click on a shared link and run it from the Chrome browser.
Another way YouTube creators could interact with their viewers is to stream a game, and have queue for challengers. People could watch someone play “NBA 2K19” and then challenge them after they final buzzer. It reminds me of the way people used to watch “Street Fighter II” players at the arcade.
Google says there will be parental controls built into the system.
One of the other compelling YouTube integrations is how players can ask for help in the Google Assistant. If they’re stuck in a game or need tips, they can ask it for help and a relevant YouTube clip would pop up on the screen. Players won’t need to look a up a puzzle solution on their smartphone. It can make the gameplay experience easier for some.
Lastly, because Stadia is in the cloud, Google could expand the opportunity for crossplay. That essentially lets players compete with each other across consoles and mobile. Expanding on that idea, the potential is there for gamers to play one game across several devices. Ideally, it could let players carry that “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” from PC to any console or any other device. Again, it would be up to a developer to enable that, but it would be a convenient way to game.
With all the possibilities, players have to keep in mind that Stadia isn’t here yet. The service is expected to go live this year in North America and Europe, but Google hasn’t announced pricing details yet. Moreover, previous game streaming services have promised a utopia of accessible gaming, but they’ve never gotten off the ground. A few years ago at a previous GDC, OnLive touted that it could run “Crysis” on a streaming platform, and other services have met similar disappointing fates because of lag issues or other technological constraints.
The one big difference is that it’s Google we’re talking about here. It’s bigger than an 800-pound gorilla in the industry. It’s Godzilla. The company emphasized the fact that it is dedicated to the gaming business by announcing its own first-party development arm that is headed by former Ubisoft veteran Jade Raymond. If Google really is all-in and finds support from other big third-party publishers such as Electronic Arts or Activision, then this move could be a game-changer for the industry.
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