Everything we learned about Stadia: Google’s streaming-based vision for the future of games
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Last night saw Google take to the stage at this year’s Game Developer Conference held in San Francisco, where we finally got to learn all about the tech giant’s vision for what the future of gaming could possibly be. That vision turned out to be none other than Stadia: a new online streaming platform that will allow players to experience latency-free, instantly loaded triple-A games across a plethora of devices.
According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, “the future of gaming is not a box” and is instead one dependant on Google’s cloud infrastructure set-up. We’ve seen streaming gaming platforms like this enter the fray before (OnLive and Gaika are now but a distant memory for most people), but where others have failed Stadia aims to nail the concept thanks to a greater emphasis on not just those who play games, but also those who develop games and enjoy watching games on stream, too!
As heavily implied by the streaming platform’s tagline, there’s no hardware to speak of in terms of getting set up with Stadia. All that’s required is a Stadia account (presumably existing Google ones will work just fine) and a controller. Google emphasised at the conference that gamepads used with current consoles such as the PS4 and Xbox One will be compatible, but not necessarily across all Stadia-ready devices. This is where the Google Stadia controller comes in – and rather than pair to whatever device you’re playing on, it will speak directly to the game running in Google’s data centre via Wi-Fi.
As is abundantly clear, Google’s conference revealed a lot of information within a very short space of time so there’s a lot to wrap your head around with Stadia. However, that’s where we at Console Deals have made it easier to discover what Stadia could mean for how you enjoy experiencing games by breaking it out like so…
What Stadia means for people who like playing games
If you’re someone who enjoys simply playing games, you know as in the traditional sense like the good old days, Stadia seems like one of the first truly viable cloud gaming services. As revealed by Google during its 2019 GDC conference, Stadia removes the standard console box set-up as well as the need to buy games physically, meaning that anyone not too worried about ownership can pick up and play the latest releases without having to worry about excessive downloads.
Just like services like Netflix or Now TV, Stadia makes it possible for players to stream game directly to their preferred screen instead of having the game run on a console – it’s all done via Google’s cloud that connects to the company’s data centre. The result is that players will be able to watch a trailer for a game, click a ‘Play Now’ button, and then start gaming in just a matter of seconds without any native downloads.
Stadia features 10.7 GPU teraflops, which is more powerful than the PS4 and Xbox One’s hardware capabilities put together. Considering Stadia is a service designed by Phil Harrison, a Google VP with previous experience working at Sony and Microsoft, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. What this does mean for players is that triple-A games can run as smooth as 60fps without any noticeable framerate drops or latency. That is, if the on-stage demo we were given is to be believed.
Should this work as flawlessly as was shown when Stadia releases later in 2019, the benefit for gamers would be having the ability to experience the most graphically intense games without needing to have a top spec PC set-up or the most powerful games console. “Stadia is built on an infrastructure no-one else has,” said Majid Baker, Google’s head of engineering, citing how the tech company’s 7,500 edge node locations around the world circumvents the need to run games locally.
In terms of games themselves that are actually confirmed to appear on Stadia, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s global test conducted last year (when Stadia was known as “Project Stream”) seems like that a slew of Ubisoft titles seems like a safe bet. iD software also confirmed at the conference that the upcoming sequel to 2026’s Doom, Doom Eternal, will be one of the first major titles released on the platform.
What Stadia means for people who like developing games
Google reinforced countless times during its GDC Keynote that Stadia wasn’t just about making things easier for people who like playing games, but the creators developing them as well. It was revealed that Stadia development kits had already been rolled out to over 100 developers, moments before those yet to received one are now able to reach out and apply.
Stadia’s cloud-fuelled development opportunities was best highlighted when Tequila Works’ Luz Sancho took to the stage, demonstrating a feature called Style Transfer ML. “Style Transfer ML is a machine learning technology that runs on the video frame created by the game,” one Google representative highlighted. What followed was an example of what science-backed machine learning could achieve, where a grey box 3D demo changed its art style to whatever image was fed into it.
Some of the image examples included van Gogh’s Starry Night, Kandinsky’s Yellow, Red, Blue and at one point even a Pac-Man grid was interpreted into the game. Considering all the announcements made around Stadia, this was arguably one of the most impressive. “We’re doing our part to empower the artist inside every developer,” the representative continued. “What excites us, and some of our partners so far, is how many playable art styles we can create by feeding it more and more images.”
Much was said about how Stadia can help developers get their games in front of a wider base of players, where suddenly every tweet, WhatsApp message and YouTube ad includes a link that will allow people to have instant access to the game being shared. Stadia will seemingly be the first platform where games – triple-A, indie or otherwise – can be played within five seconds of whatever device the link is shared on.
What Stadia means for people who like watching games
It wasn’t lost on Google just how big a movement the act of watching streamers play games has become – this is the company that owns YouTube after all. At this point in the keynote Game Theory’s MatPat took to the stage, expressing all the ways Stadia can benefit Twitch and YouTube streamers engage with their audience.
MatPat envisioned a scenario where viewers could be in the middle of watching their favourite streamer playing a horror game (Resident Evil 2, say) then immediately pick up at the exact same point of the game themselves. The feature is what’s known as State Share and you have to presume will give streamers a commission percentage on any games sold by viewers who opt to make a purchase.
Crowd Play was a term also thrown about a lot, and we’ve seen this sort of thing previously in Telltale games, which would let viewers on a stream vote on a particular choice or decision they want the player to make. Stadia takes this idea one step further, however, by letting players queue up and actually join the session their favourite online personality is streaming.
What we still don’t know about Stadia
What is Stadia’s planned release date?
Wondering when you’ll be able to give Stadia a spin for yourself? Sadly, there were no release date specifics given at Google’s GDC keynote other than that it’ll be arriving some time in 2019.
What is the price point for Stadia?
Google is holding its cards close to its chest with regards to Stadia’s cost. This is rather annoying given that price will likely be a ‘make or break’ moment for people who are in the process of considering whether or not they’ll jump on board. It’s safe to assume that, as Stadia plays heavily to those welcoming the streaming revolution, there will be a subscription model of some sort. How much it will be, and what games will be included? There is still no word.
In an interview with Phil Harrison on Kotaku’s Split Screen podcast, news editor Jason Schreier addressed this issue, where the Google VP simply expressed that they’d have more to reveal on the subject in Summer. Is it likely we’ll hear more about Stadia’s pricing model around the time of E3? We think so!
What will be the starting games line-up for Stadia?
As already alluded to, Google are being very sketchy with regards to what games will be available to play when Stadia launches later in 2019. id Software has at least confirmed Doom Eternal as Stadia’s first big triple-A game, but even then, that game is yet to announce a hard release date. Doom Eternal, however, will be a good showcase for many of Stadia’s streaming-led features such as State Share and Crowd Play.
Another safe bet is that Ubisoft will be supporting Stadia to no end. A big clue to this was when Google’s Phil Harrison gave a shout out to the French publisher’s CEO, Yves Guillemot, thanking him for making Assassin’s Creed Odyssey the testbed for the Stadia tech back in October of 2018. While there’s been no official confirmation as of yet, we’d highly expect to see the new iterations of Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed and more make their way to Stadia.
Is your broadband fast enough for Stadia?
Arguably the biggest question many will have when weighing up whether Stadia will be a viable way to game for them is what internet connection speed they’ll need. After all, Stadia being entirely console-free means that all the processing is done remotely in Google’s data centre, so you’ll need fast enough broadband speed to keep a steady connection.
The exact speed required wasn’t mentioned in any overt manner at the conference, but some post-keynote reports have noted that Stadia will require a minimum of 25 Mbps internet speed. “To get 1080p, 60 frames per second, requires approximately 25 megabits per second,” Phil Harrison revealed. “In fact, we use less than that, but that’s where we put our recommended limit at.”