Stadia - Google's Game Changer


Author: Fil Zivko
21/3/2019

Imagine being able to play any game, at full speed and resolution with nothing else but a screen, an internet connection and a controller. No PlayStation, no Xbox, no hardware that you have to buy to make your game run. What if your game ran on a server on the other side of the world and simply fed you the output on your screen? Welcome to Googles newest product and their vision to revolutionise gaming. It’s called Stadia and it’s a big move. A few days ago, on the 19th of March 2019, Google announced Stadia at the game developers conference (GDC) in San Francisco. The idea is simple but revolutionary and to understand why we need to first understand the problems with gaming. Up until now, gamers had to invest in hardware in order to play. This may be in the form of Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft's Xbox or a laptop or PC with the right amount of RAM, a strong GPU etc. Then the users buy game discs or download the game onto their device, which is limited to a type of console, meaning you can’t borrow your friends Xbox version of a game to play on your PlayStation. Online gaming is also mostly limited to the console you own, meaning that gamers on Xbox and PlayStation rarely play each other. The movement has begun to make more cross-platform games, only recently PlayStation and Xbox users were granted the ability to play Fortnite together. However, it may be too late to make amends. In Google’s Stadia, a user can play cross-platform without the need for hardware apart from a controller. The screen can be your phone, laptop or even your TV. Google released a special controller but have said that you can use any controller or your keypad and mouse. The demonstration at the GDC shows just how easy it all is. You can jump from watching a video on YouTube about the game, to be actually playing the full high-resolution game on that same device with no hardware acceleration. This is a smart move from Google, they already own YouTube, where about 15% of all videos relate to gaming. And about 64% of the US population above 13+ play video games, which is an ever-rising year-on-year number. Google is simply growing to engage its users more, they notice the prevalence of gaming in its user base and have made a move to secure that engagement. Stadia is the plural of stadium. The idea is that stadiums are places where you can either play or watch games, which is Googles’ vision for the product. There are built-in features in the Stadia controllers to stream your gaming experience. Along with the stream you receive to play the game, you can activate another simultaneous 4K 60fps stream directly to YouTube. Making social interaction between gaming and YouTube even stronger. Perhaps in an attempt to get more live traffic away from Amazon’s twitch. A revolutionary idea it is. But will it live up to the hype? Since nothing is downloaded to your device, that means the whole game is processed on Google servers and in turn that means you need the fast internet. To stream 1080p at 60 frames per second requires 25 megabits per second while 4K at the same frame-rate is possible at 30 megabits per second. There are currently 65 countries which have an average fixed internet connection above 30 Mbps and 76 countries over 25 Mbps. So for some parts of the world, it should be manageable. And even if it isn’t possible now, it will be in the future as internet infrastructure and technology such as 5g advance internet speeds. Stadia’s architecture is on top of the Google data centre network which consists of fibre-optic links between hundreds of points with over 7,500 edge nodes all over the world. This means that you are more likely to have a node near you, and hence a faster connection. Google says that in the future, this network will be able to handle 8K resolution at 120 frames per second or more. Google’s catchphrase for Stadia is “the data centre is your platform”. At its core this means that game developers are not limited to the processing power of the console, they can build whatever they want, and Google will scale up as required to suit that games needs. FLOPS stands for floating point operations per second but in simple terms, it is a measure of computer performance. The PS4 and Xbox have graphical processing units of 4.2 and 6.0 Teraflops respectively. Stadia’s 10.7 teraflops are more than both of them combined. This is an attractive proposition to developers and it is crucial, as ultimately developers will have to make their games available on Stadia. If Google sells developers on Stadia, then more than likely it will also sell the public on the idea. Google has already announced partnerships with some big names in the industry like Unreal, Unity and Havok. They also announced their own developers’ studio and that the popular game Doom Eternal will be coming to Stadia. Cloud gaming does seem to be the future; the question is will it be Google’s? Microsoft’s Xbox has been developing cloud gaming for the last 2 years. Googles announcement of Stadia has prompted Microsoft's head of gaming to claim that Xbox has a “big move” of their own to announce at E3 in the summer. While PlayStation has been offering cloud gaming for the last 3 years, it is filled with many faults. Previously the service was restricted to streaming to Windows PCs and only in March 2019 did they allow streaming to Mac and Android. The issue is that you still need a console at this stage, and Sony hasn’t yet announced a console-less future for their service. In fact, Sony has done the opposite with their president stating they need to build the “next generation hardware”. Amazon is also in the mix. The company hasn’t made any big announcements, but according to their job listings page, there are openings for cloud gaming engineers. Nvidia and Valve are also embarking on their cloud gaming ventures but are finding it difficult to secure devices as Google has. This is because Stadia will run through Chrome, giving Google an inside edge. Another factor that will determine the success of Stadia is the price. Stadia boss Phil Harrison was a former executive at both Microsoft and Sony, so Google should be confident hitting the correct price point compared to its competitors. Phil purposely declined to comment on the price or even the potential revenue streams of Stadia. It’s possible that it could be per game purchases or even more interesting, a Netflix style service where users pay a monthly cost to have access to a library of games. Whatever approach is decided, missing the mark here could prove to be the end before it even begins. The Stadia announcement is definitely a game changer. If Google delivers on this promise it could mean the end of Xbox and PlayStation altogether. Of course, the vision is still a while away and there are a lot of hurdles to overcome before Stadia gets there. But there’s a lot to be optimistic about with Stadia. So just remember this day, it could be the day that Google killed the console.

Tags : Google, Stadia, Gaming,2019-03-21
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