On March 19, 2019 Google announced their first gaming product and it took the Esports community by storm. Their product was first to make good on the promise of cloud gaming and much like most other Google products, it made lofty claims. This gripped the attention of the gaming community and put Google under the spotlight. It became patient zero for a case study on cloud gaming.
To those of you that wonder what cloud gaming is, look no further. Some of the earlier video games like Pong and Atari Breakout were either exclusively single player or multiplayer (dual at most) games. Most didn’t have an option to switch and even so had the obstacle of having to have both players be present at the same place and at the same time using some complicated joystick that costs a ton. Then, as time progressed, games came up where people could either play alone or with the world, allowed to toggle back and forth. Still a problem remained. While the technology had become consequentially cheaper, graphics had become more notable. The need for capable hardware persisted and so did the high costs. Cloud gaming aims at solving this.
Stadia is software (and a joystick) that makes use of a cloud gaming model called game streaming which details that the actual game is stored, executed and rendered in a distant server and only the result is streamed onto your device. While this may seem radically different from what we typically use, it is still online gaming. Stadia players can enter an online environment with other gamers despite what console (or PC) they use to game. As of now, even the PS-exclusive Dualshock and Xbox controller will work with the Stadia app.
To circumvent the need for consoles, Google has leveraged the vastly improved broadband connection to record user responses and transmit it to servers, render the reaction and return back the result all in the matter of milliseconds. Here latency has been the greatest obstruction and it is especially impressive that Google has managed such a feat. Sure internet connections have gotten quicker but they have also had to improve the performance of their servers to accommodate such quick actions and moves. It also important, to note that even the best TVs have some form of input delay in the range of 15-50 ms meaning that Google has very little scope for its own delay.
Convenience and concern
As hype over the release of new consoles hits almost every other year, most users see past the smoke and mirrors for what it really is: a money grab. In a day and age where old consoles become deprioritized as soon as the next one comes along, gamers become slaves to the constant upgrade cycle of consoles. With a product like Stadia, over-the-air updates can keep even five-year old hardware up-to-date with the newest consoles. This is the same way that old Teslas keep up with the new models of not just their own fleet of cars but others too. This makes gaming not only convenient but considerably cheaper too.
Another benefit that we’re seeing as the gaming industry develops is that graphics are becoming better. While this means a more authentic gaming experience, it also means large files to download and run. This puts a certain pressure on the device hardware that cannot be sustained (thus the need to upgrade consoles). However, with remote servers running, you avoid long download wait times and local storage limitations. Additionally, these servers are built to last longer thus is also more durable.
Lastly, Stadia and other cloud gaming solutions make gaming portable. You no more have to lug around a heavy console, just a controller or even your phone will do. Even if you’re keen on watching yourself play on a big screen, all you need is a pocket-sized Chromecast (Ultra).
However, since Stadia is heavily reliant on internet speeds, this means that your gaming experience for the same game might be entirely different. While Google recommends that a broadband connection which provides a speed of anything in the range 10-35 MBps, initial tests suggest that the real number is closer to 50-75MBps.
Variations in broadband speed and proximity to Google’s server could give you the extra microsecond that you just need to score the last goal or get that last kill. This added latency in do-or-die situations could affect the result of games. Consoles, on the other hand, will likely provide more consistent user experiences.
The only other complaint and one that is specific to Stadia is its limited game catalogue, but in its defense it has just been announced. Many game developers recognize the potential of it and are slowing flocking towards Google’s product. Reports have also come out claiming that Google will develop its own line of games known as Stadia exclusives.
The success of such a tool could spell the future for gaming. With centralised infrastructure, Google could provide a cheap but rich gaming experience to its users and mark the era that consoles became fossils of the past.