On March 19, at the 2019 Game Developers Conference (GDC), Google took out its flag and firmly planted it into the video-gaming scene. Before this, it had dabbled in video games but was never considered a big player. This year, the company decided to change that, releasing Stadia, its “vision for the future of gaming.”
Stadia is a gaming platform that ditches the traditional home console approach and instead focuses on moving video gaming into the realm of Netflix. Google sees a future in which people are not only streaming their favorite TV shows and movies, but they’re also streaming all of their favorite video games. With the announcement of Stadia, Google signals that the next generation of video gaming is here, and that it is ready to lead the way.
What Has Come Before
Big-name companies have been dipping their toes into the video-game-streaming waters over the past few years. First was Sony, with PlayStation Now; then Microsoft, with plans for Project xCloud; and most recently, Capcom of Japan offering streaming-only access to its Resident Evil 7: Cloud Version on the Nintendo Switch. All of these attempts have had their pros and cons, but none have been all-in like Stadia.
There was a strong indication that Google planned to go this way from a while back. In October 2018, it gave gamers a chance to be part of a beta project titled Project Stream, which provided free access to the game Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (to be streamed and played in their own Google Chrome browser). Looking back on that now, it was probably Google’s version of a stress test to see if the Stadia platform could deliver like the company hoped.
Playing Games Through Stadia
A big selling point of Stadia is the ability to play games wherever you have an internet connection. A demonstration of how the platform could seamlessly move from one screen to another was shown at the conference, and Google VP Phil Harrison says that you can “play on devices you already have” and that Google wanted to “reduce the friction between getting excited about the game and then actually playing the game.” In the demonstration, a game was being played through the Stadia platform using a Google Chromebook. Then the game picked up right where it left off on the Chromebook and was played on a phone that had a controller attached to it. Then it was picked up on a tablet and, finally, played on a Chromecast TV—all without any interruption in the game play.
The demonstration used only Google products, but while no further information was announced, it is assumed that the only thing that will be required to use Stadia as a gaming platform will be a sufficient internet connection and some kind of a subscription to the Stadia service.
At the conference, Harrison said that Stadia is “focused on gamers, inspired by developers, and amplified by YouTube creators.” This proclamation is most apparent in the Stadia controller, which was also unveiled at the conference. While nowhere near as innovative as controllers such as the Nintendo 64 controller, the “newest member of the Google hardware family” does have some neat features that are tied to the Google ecosystem.
One is the Share button, which gamers can use to share their game play directly to YouTube. Given the rise in popularity of Let’s Play videos on YouTube, this attribute has the potential to be massively popular and a big reason for consumers to purchase the system. The controller’s biggest feature is the fact that it has the Google Assistant built directly into it, which will allow players to not only access features built in by game developers, but also to call on the many helpful YouTube videos offering hints about how to play certain video games. Google aims to have everyone watch each other play in a sort of online gaming playground.
As with all other successful video game platforms, great games and willing partners are necessary, and Google is doing what it can to cover its bases on this. While not much detailed information was released on third-party developers, Google at least has gaming giants id Software and Ubisoft on board. To create its own games, Google will be launching a studio called Stadia Games and Entertainment that will be led by Jade Raymond, a former Ubisoft executive.
What We Know So Far
Stadia’s unveiling was heavy on the technical details of how it would work as a streaming platform and deliver (at some point in the future) up to 8K resolution in games, but all other information was kept to a minimum. We do know that Stadia will launch to the public in 2019 and that all future information will come through stadia.com. The biggest question moving forward is how people will react to Stadia and if they will even be able to use it in their home. According to Pew Research Center’s Feb. 5, 2018, “Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet,” 70% of suburban, 67% of urban, and 58% of rural homes have broadband access. And that’s not even bringing up data caps imposed by ISPs, most of which will likely be blown through by Stadia players streaming their own games.
One thing’s for sure: Google’s leap into a streaming-only platform for video games is a watershed moment in video-gaming history that may forever change how we play them. The platform, the quality of games on it, and people’s access to the internet will be the big factors in whether or not Stadia is a success—or something that came before its time.