My Thoughts on Google's Stadia Streaming Service
March 19, 2019

Today at the Game Developers Conference, Google revealed (some of) its plans for an entry into the console market, if you want to call it that. For some time now, rumors were reporting that Google would reveal a streaming console, and that's about what it did. Called "Stadia," the platform appears right now to be more virtual than physical. Its primary draw is that you'll be able to play games on a range of devices, from your phone to a weak laptop or desktop, using controllers that suit you or the new one Google unveiled.

The presentation, which ran for a core time of around three minutes, was big on presenting an ambitious vision for the future, but a bit light on the details. Those will come this summer, we are told. They may include some or all of the following: word on hardware pricing, a peek at a physical console (if one exists), a list of games that will be exclusive to the platform/service, a list of third-party development partners and details about subscription tiers and pricing.

According to Google, Stadia will launch in 2019, in the United States, Canada, the UK and parts of Europe. The power that drives the hardware is rumored to be more powerful than the deluxe versions of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 combined, as its GPU will run at an impressive 10.7 teraflops (compared to the 6.0 and 4.2 teraflops offered by the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, respectively).

Like Nintendo, Google is big on the idea that you might want to play a game in one location, then change to another as your situation evolves. Nintendo Switch does this beautifully, but Google wants to take it to the next level by letting you switch between devices, rather than simply take one with you. So you'll be able to start playing on a laptop, then switch to a phone or desktop within seconds, all without losing your progress. It's definitely impressive, if it works as promised.

The controller Google is putting forth as the official means of interacting with Stadia closely resembles a cross between the Xbox One and Switch Pro controllers, with heavier emphasis on the former. It will communicate via wi-fi, based on whatever device you happen to be using, which appears to be part of an effort to reduce controller lag that would presumably occur if it had to be filtered through the device itself.

Those are, to my mind, the most pertinent details Google was ready to share today. You can see footage of the big reveal (taken from a longer overall stream) by watching the video embedded below.



So, how excited are you for Google's vision of the future? I have to confess that (as anticipated) I have have my fair share of doubts. I'm someone who enjoys having access to a physical library of games, which I can play whenever I like even if I lack an Internet connection. When it comes to movies, I'm the same way. I don't even have a Netflix subscription at present, because I would rather spend my money buying the movies and television shows I plan to view. Back to the games side, the Nintendo Switch is precisely what I hope for from console gaming.

To my surprise, a lot of people online seem to share my hesitation when it comes to Stadia, based not just on the fact they will presumably pay a mint to stream games they won't ever own (that actually doesn't seem to bother folks much), but also on the fact that online infrastructure in large parts of the United States and Canada is... poor. Even people I know who live in larger areas like San Francisco (Google central) complain about online issues. If they have terrific access, they often still have to worry about price gouging and data caps, which at present means that Stadia as envisioned will be more expensive than a lot of folks can afford even when they live in a major urban area, let alone when they reside in more rural communities.

Lag and latency are also big issues that will only get worse. Internet providers already report struggling to deliver Netflix content during peak hours. Imagine if people are streaming Netflix content as usual, and they are joined by many, many gamers who need a persistent connection to enjoy video games. Imagine if Google's dreams come true and a whole bunch of people are playing at once, as Stadia becomes "the Netflix of gaming" that some people have long hoped to see materialize.

Are any of these problems insurmountable? Probably not, but building and maintaining the infrastructure necessary to make Stadia available to a mass audience will cost a lot of money, and will take time and other resources. Is Google ready to invest in that? Perhaps. We might well see announcements from Google that it is greatly expanding its ISP offerings. A decade from now, everyone might just pay for a Google subscription and enjoy games and media and online access for $100 a month or whatever, and that might feel very reasonable for the value it adds to everyone's lives. But we're not there yet. A huge chasm lies between our current situation and that potential future. Until we hear more and see Stadia in action and working as intended for a wide audience, I'm not sure this particular vision will be anything more than Google Glass 2.0. Or is that 3.0?

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Feedback
JoeTheDestroyer JoeTheDestroyer - March 19, 2019 (08:12 PM)
So far, it's a pass for me.
Masters Masters - March 20, 2019 (10:16 AM)
I got lost between "the hardware is as powerful as the Xbox and PS4 combined" and "there may be no physical console and you can play it on weak laptops."

How does that work?

Also, Venter, I hear you like the Switch?
honestgamer honestgamer - March 20, 2019 (10:29 AM)
The hardware is likely in a data center somewhere. So you just need a device powerful enough to stream content from that data center, and the wireless controller Google will sell you (or a controller that cooperates with Stadia content in Chrome, I believe). And yes, I like the Switch. ;-)
hastypixels hastypixels - March 20, 2019 (02:55 PM)
We're not even into the grittiest of details with Google's Stadia... like, will users be able to access their existing library of Play titles, or will they be reinvesting in a library of console style games? Just how many developers can Google convince to port their games over when a system like the Switch exists to fill player's needs?

There are just too many questions in too crowded a space. More players in the same space isn't always a good thing, and it's routine practice for Google to misjudge their landing, a fact gaming outlets preferred to ignore. "Plus was their only failing". Google Docs and Drive are far from production grade products... I could go on, but yeah, I'm not what you'd call optimistic.
Masters Masters - March 21, 2019 (07:01 AM)
A future like the one Google hopes for would kill the Gamespots and EBGames of the worlds -- even while I download most of my games on Steam and PSN, I like being able to browse at brick and mortar establishments, and those going away as is the trend in retail in general, is depressing.
honestgamer honestgamer - March 21, 2019 (08:18 AM)
You're right about that. Google if successful will do to Gamestop and the like what Netflix did to Blockbuster. That'll cost a lot of jobs and wipe away a part of history that many people cherish, which isn't something Google necessarily wants. That outcome is just an unfortunate side effect of the company's desire to get as much money as it can from everyone, which is its primary reason for existing at this point. Steam already all but completely killed the PC games physical market (the last time I "bought" a physical game was Civilization VI, and it came in a box and inside there was a Steam code instead of a disc), and I see the Stadia affecting that side of the market more than consoles--at least initially--but I'm sure Google would be happy to grind the console market to dust if it can extract some extra coin in the process.

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