Google’s Stadia

Background:

Google has announced the launch of cloud gaming platform ‘Stadia’ at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. It has also launched a Wi-Fi enabled controller that connects to Stadia. Stadia, an evolution of Google’s beta ‘Project Stream’ run last year, is Google’s entry into the cloud-based games market and will allow gamers to stream games to any screen on any device.

Details and Implications:

The main promise of Stadia is that users will be able to login and play games from any screen using the Chrome browser, a Chromecast device or a Google Pixel phone or tablet. Like Project Stream, Google’s servers will run all gameplay, liberating users from expensive consoles and PCs.

Players will be able to access games through the platform and also via adverts on YouTube – e.g. After a game trailer is played on YouTube there will be an option to ‘Play on Stadia’ on the end screen. Selecting ‘Play on Stadia’ will launch the game inside the YouTube video, even launching it at the same point in the game as in the trailer. It is reported that this function won’t be tied to YouTube alone; Facebook, Twitter and Gmail will also house this capability. The new controller has a smart assistant button, to talk to Google Assistant in-game and also a capture button to either save or share gameplay straight to YouTube – a threat to gameplay streaming platform Twitch.

Stadia brings with it a lot of exciting promises but there are some major hurdles. One of the biggest is that Google will need to get games onto the platform. Although Google has promised that more than 100 games studios have developer kits, only one game has been demoed on Stadia so far – Doom Eternal. Google will need big game publishers on board but costs to develop, publish and run games are yet to be announced. This leaves speculation that Google will use its own Stadia Games and Entertainment Studio to create Stadia-exclusive titles.

Another major hurdle is that players will need reliable and fast internet connections to access Stadia – this is crucial in the gaming world as ‘lag’, when controller commands are not instantly matched by the gameplay on screen, is the enemy of gaming. In Project Stream, games were delivered up to 1080p graphics at up to 60 frames per second (fps) but Stadia promises to launch supporting 4K resolution at 60 fps, supporting HDR and also surround sound. Google has recommended a connection of roughly 25Mbps for 1080p resolution at 60 fps. If players live in a well-connected region of the US, broadband speeds are roughly 96Mbps, which will be plenty to play with. However, those living in areas without broadband coverage and/or relying on rural internet speeds (standard 25Mbps) may struggle. On top of this, players will need broadband without limits as the cloud-based system will eat through data.

Google is launching Stadia into an increasingly crowded market: Amazon, which owns gameplay streaming platform Twitch, is rumoured to be planning a similar service that leverages Amazon Web Services; Sony has PlayStation Now, which can stream PlayStation games to its consoles and PCs and Microsoft has game streaming service xCloud. Sony (PS4) and Microsoft (Xbox) can be considered to have the upper hand presently as they don’t require developers to rebuild games for their streaming services meaning they can offer their existing big game libraries from their consoles.

Summary:
If it overcomes the hurdles, Google could play a big role in shaping the future of gaming. A lot of information such as available games, costs for consumers and developers and customer ownership of games is yet to be announced. That being said, if Google manages to pull this off, it will be a huge shift in the gaming industry. It will make gaming more accessible to those that can’t afford consoles and PCs and seamless on-the-go gaming will become more ubiquitous. All of that means it will be more important than ever for brands to play a meaningful role in the gaming community – whether through ads, content integrations, licensing deals or in-game purchases.

Further Reading: 
The Guardian | Wired | The Verge