Google, in a somewhat expected reveal, has finally announced their foray into the big league of gaming at this year’s GDC (Game Developers Conference) with Stadia. A cloud-based gaming platform that will allow players to stream their games to multiple different devices at (supposed) high fidelity. No longer will Google be stuck in the frays of facilitating mobile game achievements or multiplayer. Now, Google will be attempting to take the center stage away from Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony by providing its own competition with Stadia. This cloud-based platform has a lot of features to look forward to according to Google’s initial boasting, but on the same front, Stadia presents many issues that others have run into in the past that can’t be ignored.
To Stream or Not to Stream
Stadia’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Being able to play with just the need for a controller on virtually any smart device with an internet connection is a fantastic concept (one I personally from time to time like to take advantage of with my laptop and PS Vita for my PS4). Just sit down, kick back, and connect to the service to start your game on whatever screen you’re staring at and you’re ready to game. No wires, no boxes, no physical media, just a boy/girl and his/her TV and a desire to play some video games.
Conversely, this is also where the Stadia is going to face some of its largest issues, attempting to meet Google’s lofty goals over an internet connection. Google states that Stadia will be able to stream at 4k resolution, 60fps, and in HDR. Additionally, down the road, Google is looking to increase those performance metrics to 8k and frame rates up to 120fps. This is all well and good that Stadia will be able to produce these numbers potentially, but how does that factor in practically? Streaming such videos is entirely possible at the moment, after all, you can turn on Netflix right now and get such an experience. Games require a little extra than what Netflix demands of your internet connection, many games also require a low amount of lag time between commands issued and acted upon. After all, you can’t defend yourself while armed futuristic Nazis storm your position if you’re lagging now, can you?
So what will be required from the player’s part for Stadia to deliver the kind of experience we have come to expect? Will it be some outlandish requirement, something more tempered, and to what degree will it need a sustained quality connection? These are all questions yet to be answered but are sure to be on many people’s minds who don’t live in metropolitan areas or don’t wish to fork over more money to their ISPs increasingly terrible service. As long as you remain inside the parameters that will allow the system to work, you can game with a level of convenience that simply doesn’t exist currently, but the second you leave that bubble it all falls apart. For many (at least in the US), it is an entirely real possibility that their current internet service level will not meet the standards needed in some capacity to take part in Stadia.
Google Is in Control
For better or for worst, Google is the one in control. This means that your experience and your library is all in control by Google. That library portion, just as the rest of the Stadia, is both exciting and promising. Depending on the market structure this could take on the form of something such as Xbox Game Pass or Netflix style subscription, you have access to a vast array of games that slowly changes month to month. Anything within that subscription is fair game to play until it is no longer available. The Stadia could also support a more traditional approach, allowing users to purchase games and being able to access them for as long as the service supports them. Of course with this being streaming service provided by Google, there are plenty of other systems that may work as well, perhaps one driven by ads or some sort of hybrid system—the possibilities are endless.
However with many of those other non-traditional systems, there a lot of potential problems the game industry has already struggled with in the past. If Google plans to keep a more traditional purchasing system, how long can we expect a game to be supported or provided? Steam, for all the frustrations many may have with it, has remained a stalwart example of being able to provide a game on its store for the entirety of the platform’s life. Other online systems, especially consoles, haven’t been so lucky; the closure of the Wii Shop still remains perhaps one of the most tragic of online stores closing largely due to the fact that it had exclusive titles not available anywhere else.
The last thing many would want is for some day to come where a game suddenly is no longer available because the store has moved on. It is a concern that has existed with the dawn of digital-only platforms, and with the exception of Steam, it is one that games have had a bad track-record of since their inception.
Nothing about Stadia’s announcement said much of anything about single-player, but one thing that remained at the forefront was interconnectivity. The ease of streaming, jumping into a game together, and removing barriers that would take away from playing a game constantly were important features Google made apparent during the presentation. Stadia looks to take these aspects as a way of controlling and promoting the streaming and interactivity of the platform itself. Players could take advantage of the feature crowd play, allowing viewers to jump into the game that a streamer is currently playing. Another feature mentioned was stream connect, giving a similar effect to playing on a couch together by merging streams together. If you had a fantastic moment that you wanted to share in your game, you could go ahead and share the state of your game at that exact moment for the world to see.
All of these features come across as fantastic for those looking to connect more with the online world when it comes to playing games. But for those of us who don’t always prefer an always online approach, or just want to play a game by ourselves from time to time, Stadia seems equipped to provide that but only in the most basic sense. It will play the games and you can enjoy them, but until you opt to take advantage of the many online-focused features, Stadia doesn’t seem to be offering the same level of effort and quality one would want and brings rise to many questions about what the true goal is for Stadia. As many have questioned recently, is Stadia a new moment for gaming, or is Stadia really a new moment for Youtube that happens to involve gaming? With the way Google presented their announcement, I would argue the latter, bringing into question how this upcoming platform will treat and handle the difference in those not looking to share and those who do.
So in the end, to answer the question, are we ready for Stadia and is Stadia ready for us?
There is plenty of excitement and concern to be had, but in the end, time will tell.