Last week, a portion of the game development industry gathered in San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference (or GDC for short). During the week we saw different kinds of announcements from different companies, big and not so big. One of the companies making announcements was Google, as they unveiled Stadia, their streaming gaming platform.
Google Stadia is a gaming streaming platform, where games run on a remote server and then delivered to the end user. That means the platform that doesn’t really require any special hardware to run the latest and greatest games (assuming the platform will indeed offer the greatest and latest games), since the processing and rendering is not done on the user’s end.
For those unfamiliar with the technology, the easiest way to explain Stadia is to say “it’s like Netflix, but for games,” as the principle is the same: delivering the complete audio-visual content to your device.
What this means is that, with Google Stadia, you can run those games from any device connected to your Google account, be it a smart phone, a computer, a smart TV, a tablet, etc. On top of that, since everything is run remotely, you can stop playing on a device and continue playing on a different one without any real issue.
Since Google owns a lot of different services, including Google, they have also implemented some sort of YouTube integration with Stadia, so content creators can connect to their audiences more easily. Audiences will be able to join games with their favorite YouTube creators using this feature.
From a technical point of view, Stadia is over two times as powerful as a PlayStation 4 Pro or an Xbox One X. Whether or not it will be more powerful than a top of the line PC is a different story, but, even if it wasn’t, it has the competitive advantage of not being as expensive as a top of the line PC.
There’s one thing to make clear: Although Google may be a big company, and that means its announcement caused a lot of talk across the industry, game streaming has been around for quite some years now. The issue is that those companies are not as big or famous as Google, so their platforms may have not been as potentially disruptive as Google’s.
Another important thing is bandwidth.
Streaming all that content will surely consume a lot of data. Now, I live outside the U.S., in a country with unlimited internet access. For example, I could stream movies 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the entire month, and re-download my entire library of games over and over without the risk of "running out of data," but I understand some people in certain countries have data caps, and that can be a problem.
Not only that, but also the required internet speed would be something to keep in mind, as it is most likely that you will require fast internet connections to run Sadia.
Now, some people are easy to dismiss this as simply “it’s 2019, get faster internet” but is that even an option in some countries?
One question the consumers have is about the business model. Will the platform be based on a subscription, or will you be buying your games?
I can’t be certain, although the Google presentation may have (or not) given us a hint. At some point they are talking about watching a game’s trailer on YouTube, and then being presented with a “Play on Stadia” button, and how, after clicking that button, you can start running the game on a browser.
To some, this may sound as a subscription service, but it can also sound like a “free to play” service. The question now is, “would Google allow people to play for free?” To be honest, I don’t know, but they certainly have no problems with people using their services for free (search, YouTube, mail), so I don’t see free games coming from them as too unlikely.
There’s one thing I tell everyone when there’s a conversation about Google’s free services. Google may look like a technology company, but Google is, above all, interested in selling ads.
Yes, you can use mail, YouTube, search, and other things for “free,” but you are producing money for them every time you load those websites since you are shown ads.
What if Stadia turns out to be a free service where you can play as long as you watch ads? Or maybe they go the freemium route, where you can play for free or pay a subscription to get rid of the ads.
For developers, I’ve seen the biggest concern is the business model. Will Google pay you a license to have your game, or will they pay you based on play time? Many game streaming companies pay per sessions, so Google doing the same is not so different.
Google Stadia will be released late this year, so there are a few months for those questions to be answered.
Personally, mostly due to infrastructure limitations, I don’t see Stadia being an immediate game changer, specially when you see that some of us gamers are completely against the idea of being forced into always-online platforms even if we want to play single-player games. Streaming may be the future, yes, but gaming is more than a handful of countries with streaming-ready internet connections.
Watch the entire Google Stadia presentation: