Google Stadia is the cloud based gaming service from Google, which was revealed, this week, at a slick GDC 2019 presentation. “The future of gaming is not a box” the Stadia page declares on the Google Store. But with no details regarding the business model or the games available at launch, the verdict is still out on that claim.
Google’s presentation certainly impressed, with a live demo of a game being played seamlessly across devices, from PC to phone, TV and tablet. There seemed to be no delay and no reduction in quality, but the silence from the audience practically screamed “but what about latency?” Any online gamer is going to be highly sceptical and in response, Phil Harrison has been quick to reassure them. But if anyone’s qualified to solve this issue, it’s Google, so we may just have to take their word for it until Stadia’s available to play.
One of the things I’d like to know is what Stadia could mean for gaming in developing countries. If consoles and high-spec gaming PCs represent a hurdle to access, Stadia could be a way of removing that. Mobile network access is growing quickly in African countries and Stadia will be available on Android devices. Without the need to lay out on hardware, Stadia could be an exciting way to open up gaming to more cultures, but it all depends on the price of access.
YouTube and Chrome are central to Stadia’s offering, making it the gaming service for the streamer generation. A lot of the presentation focused on its compatibility with YouTube. For instance, Stadia promises to let viewers watch a gameplay clip and then launch the game from that point and play themselves.
The name Stadia conjures images of legions of fans watching their favourite Fortnite player in gladiatorial battles. This is different though because Google is allowing the spectators to become the players with the ability to jump into the game and play with their community, using the Stadia controller . It’s a compelling package, however, a lot of questions need to be answered.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey was the game used during the presentation, but many were left asking which other games will be available. To answer part of the content question, Google Stadia will be developing first party games. In addition, Google has partnered with Unreal and Unity, but developers still need to know how much it’s going to cost them in terms of time and actual cash. Presumably, Google is already in talks with the big publishers, but indies will be keen to know the publishing and development costs.
Stadia has a big task ahead of it, when it comes to changing gamer behaviour and cost will be a major factor. The service is due to launch in 2019, but we don’t know how much it will cost or even the model. It could be a subscription service or what some are dubbing ‘the Netflix of games’, but how would that work? How much would a subscription service be for gamers who are used to paying between £6.99 and £60 for different gaming experiences. Would the length of a game mean Stadia begins to lean towards a certain type of game? In which case, this isn’t a console-killer, just yet.
When it comes to the competition, PlayStation Now is Sony’s streaming service, formerly Gaikai before it was acquired. In addition, Microsoft’s xCloud service is about to enter a public trial period. Although, neither of them are completely cloud-based like Stadia, they do have a read made audience. In addition, they have a community of developers who don’t have to rebuild their games to access the streaming service, which is a big plus.
Amazon is also muscling in on the streaming space, along with Valve’s expansion of its own streaming service to include a Steam Link app for Android, allowing gamers to stream anywhere they have connection. Clearly, Google isn’t the only entrant in the cloud-gaming space. A lot depends on what exactly Stadia offers and it’s got to be more than just AAA games on any screen, but all at the mercy of your internet connection.