Google's Stadia, the future of gaming?

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Stadia, planned to release in late 2019 in North America, Asia and Europe, is Google’s first serious dive into the gaming industry. It is to offer cloud-computing gaming services where all calculations are made on the Googles server, with no burden to the customer’s hardware.

Services such as Twitch might come to mind when streaming of games is discussed; however, Stadia will enable users to not only spectate but also play those games. What is more, through its crowd play feature, it is to allow jumping into streamed game and even streaming it at the same time.

At the 2019 Game Developers Conference presentation of Stadia, it was announced that during tests it is capable of running games in 4k 60fps, with the target capability is 8k in 120fps. What is unusual about Stadia is the fact that (when it comes to PC) only requirements are Google Chrome extension and relatively fast Internet connection.

Even though Google was quite reserved when it comes to details, revealed specs are really compelling. Stadia will run on a dedicated 2.7GHz hyper-threaded x86 CPU, 16GB of RAM with performance of up to 484GB/s and custom AMD GPU with HBM2 memory and 56 compute units. For the benchmark, GPU’s capability is estimated to be 10.7 teraflops, whereas capabilities of Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Pro are 6 and 4.12 teraflops respectively. On paper, these specs constitute a really powerful machine. Moreover, mentioned specification is referred to as the „first-gen”, and the company promised that the hardware will be upgraded overtime.

As previously stated, the only real requirement on the customer’s end is abroad-band Internet connection. During the presentation, it was said that the Internet connection of 30Mbps will be sufficient to play in 4k 60fps. The more commonly used resolution of 1080p will need only 25Mbps. “Only”, though, might not be a good word here since streaming films via Netflix or YouTube doesn’t require more than 16Mbps.

Stadia will allow its users to play games on any device, and therefore free people from the necessity of purchasing expensive gaming hardware. When it comes to PC, a potential user of Stadia will need only a Google Chrome extension. What is more, the platform will be compatible with every controller that is supported by given operating system. Nevertheless, playing on TV or mobile devices will require a dedicated Stadia controller, which is in fact the only physical element of Stadia. Although, Google hasn’t announced any Android TV application so far, therefore users will need Chromecast media player in order to enjoy Stadia on their TV screens. Besides that, Stadia is to offer very user friendly environment, cheat-free, with no loading screens or frequent updates.

The controller itself is of fairly standard design: two sticks, triggers, face and function buttons. Among the function buttons are amenities like clip-sharing and Google assistant that is integrated with other Google services. Whereas the first allows players to stream played game, the other is capable of providing useful tips and walkthroughs, even mid-game. The controller is said to connect directly to the server as to lower the input lag further.

Stadia is not the first project of its kind. The idea of cloud gaming was first introduced by OnLive around 2010. OnLive allowed people to rent games and play it as streaming videos rendered by the server. But OnLive failed due to high latency and annoying input lag. The advantage of Google over OnLive is the fact that Google servers and data centers are spread around the globe, so the potential lags are mitigated by the geographical vicinity.

There are competitors of Google’s Stadia, with GeForce Now and Blade Shadow among many. In short, GeForce Now allows to stream games supported by the Nvidia Shield. Also, it lets users to buy and play games from platforms like Steam and UPlay. However, GeForce can’t run games unless they’re supported by the service. On the other hand, via Blade Shadow, you can rent a $2,000 PC that is not limited to gaming. Shadow gives an access to all features of Windows 10 operated computer, with web browsers, media players, one's own desktop and user profile.

Based on the GDC 2019 presentation, Google plans to create something like Netflix of gaming; however, no details regarding the payment model and expected price range were revealed. Whether games will be bought or rented isn’t known either. For comparison, Blade subscription costs around $420 a year and additionally, requires users to buy its $140 dedicated console – Shadow Box. Alternatively, the console might be rented for $10 a month. Still, quite a price. GeForce Now is free during the beta, and just like Google – Nvidia didn't reveal the price yet. Both of these platforms require users to own played games, and we don’t know how it’ll be with Stadia.

Only a handful of games were shown during GDC 2019. The game that was actually showcased was Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. During the presentation, it ran smoothly as well as Stadia itself. Apart from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, one more game is confirmed at launch – id software’s Doom Eternal. But Google partnered with Havok, Unreal and Unity, announcing that all future major releases will be supported by Stadia.

Stadia is receiving positive feedback from both testers and reviewers. So far, the experience is as lag-less as promised, making it feel as if it was played locally. However, testers reported a notable decrease in video quality and compression of audio, especially during hardware-demanding moments in a played game.

As of now, a lot has been promised and not much has been revealed. For sure, Google is going to be swamped with work before they release Stadia in late 2019. Will gamers really be free of the constant necessity of upgrading the hardware? Will they stop buying games, PCs and consoles? Will games be played like the films are now watched or music listened to? Will Google offer the Netflix of gaming? Will Stadia be the future of gaming? We’ll keep you posted!

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Łukasz ŁowczykApr 06, 2019