I normally do not comment on gaming news as it changes so fast and most of the time, nothing comes of it. I wanted to write about this as I think that this could be interesting.
On March 19th, 2019, Google announced their new gaming platform, the Stadia. This will be a gaming service on the cloud, where you will be able to play no matter how weak your hardware is. Below is the announcement video from GDC (Game Developers Conference).
GDC Google Stadia Announcement
There was quite a few things to unpack in regards to the announcement. First of all what is Stadia?
Stadia is what people call cloud gaming. This is where, you do not need any specific hardware but only need access to the online software (in this case a browser). When you play the game, you are playing it online. From the consumer's point of view, it looks like you are playing the game directly online.
No official date has been announced as of yet, but there have been hints that June would be the month where Stadia would be made available in some way to the public. They have not confirmed that they will be at the E3 Expo.
There were not a ton of tech specs that would be interesting to the average person. They boasted that Stadia would have the GPU power (AMD chip) that is greater than the Playstation Pro and XBOX One X combined with 10.7 Teraflops. I guess the more is better, however, as good as these specs look, the service is different from the XBOX One and the Playstation 4. The latter are physical consoles, whereas the new Stadia service is a system that is completely online.
To achieve all this, Google is teaming up with chip maker AMD to build a specialized GPU for its data centers, which it claims will be the graphics card to rule them all. The chip is said to deliver 10.7 teraflops of power — meaning it can complete 10.7 trillion operations per second — compared to the PlayStation 4 Pro’s 4.2 teraflops and the Xbox One X’s six teraflops of power. All of that will be complemented by a custom-made 2.7GHz x86 CPU with 16GB of RAM.
All that the above says is that, the system will be powerful. I would assume as well, that the internet connection will have to be pretty good. In fact, I would say, to obtain the full 4K at 60 frames per second (fps) quality, the consumer would have to have very high speed internet.
There was no price that was set yet for this service. I think that they are doing this on purpose to see what people are willing to pay for a service like this. If we compare with similar services today, there is the PS Now service at 19.99$ (USD) a month. XBOX does not have this service yet, but if it is part of their Game Pass service, it would be 9.99$ a month. The Switch has certain services that do this already like the NES App which does not download the game but plays directly in the cloud. This is included in the yearly online fee of 24.99$. I would say the sweet spot for maximum engagement by the public and profitability, 20$ would be a good price. However time will tell.
They did mention some multiplayer aspects. Multiplayer would be available but I think many people are skeptical due to the latency issues that this could raise. Google has advised that the controller would not connect to the computer of the player, but directly to Google servers (through Wifi) to eliminate most of the lag. Time will tell if this strategy will work.
How about the games? Did they mention anything about the games? Yes they did but it was very limited. They demoed Assassin's Creed: Odyssey on Stadia. I must admit that it looked impressive but it could have easily been faked. Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is a very well known GPU intensive game. So, it looked good but I am skeptical as to how they got the game to run.
The other game that was mentioned was Doom: Eternal. That could be cool to see being played. After the 2 above games it gets sketchy at best, but then again this product is at its infancy. So it is normal there are not a ton of games announced for the service. I hope that we see more at E3 or whenever in June they decide to show more of the service.
They did mention the fact that for NBA '19, you could choose a join a game and play with your favourite YouTube Creators. They did not mention specifically YouTube Gaming but I think this service will be used to try to bring up the branding of the YouTube Gaming service. Right now, not many people that I know use YouTube Gaming as there are just not many people watching. Mixer and Twitch have a much better success rate at this moment in time.
Do I think that the service can succeed? I think that it can but there are a lot of variables at play that can easily make this a flop. I am not trying to be negative but there are too many questions still left unanswered in order to give a true prediction.
The first thing is the internet connection speed. I have heard this from other game reviewers that this would be a challenge for many people. I would tend to agree. The reason being that if you live in a city, there is a good chance that you can get decent internet speeds. However, in the suburbs, this is more challenging. A lot of the rural areas still use satellite or dial-up. Those speeds are not super great, especially when you compare to high speeds. So just here, you have huge parts of the population that would not be able to use the service.
The other is the hardware. Although internet speeds will be important, I am skeptical that you could adequately play on a very cheap PC. The information still needs to be treated by the computer. So this alone could create lag. Especially if the player would want to stream to a service like Twitch (Using 4K). Google mentioned that the demo was using a lower end PC, but many people do not have the money to buy a new computer. Many of them probably will have cheap laptops. Would that be enough? Time will tell.
What will the price be? As I mentioned above, the price will be a very important aspect. I think 20$ is the maximum that they could charge to have people come onboard. I personally think that if you make this 10$, then you will be in business. This is a similar price to Netflix and this would be the Netflix of gaming. Again, I am not sure what their profitability would be but from a consumer perspective, this is easier to swallow than 20$. Anything above that would tell people that this is a premium service and people will either wait or never play.
What will the library look like? It is all good and dandy that they will have AC: Odyssey and Doom: Eternal available, but I want to see the range of games. Like most services that are similar, the choices are weak at the beginning. Also, will there be licensing issues. For example a game available in the United States, will it be available in Canada? As of now, I have never seen an issue with this but if gaming companies start getting even more greedy this could be a potential issue.
Google advised that couch co-ops would be coming back. That would be nice but it also depends on the games that will be available on the system. If they release games like NBA Jam for example which was a console game, that would be awesome. Playing PubG on the shared screen could prove to be annoying, in my opinion.
This service sounds very similar to what was promised with On- Live.
OnLive Announcement (2009)
Did you notice the similarities? The only main difference is that OnLive still used their own hardware. But essentially, it is the same service. I think that they were way ahead of their time and the world was not ready for such a system at that time.
Times have changed and many people would rather pay a subscription fee than to pay for games or a system outright. I can see this working if Google plays their cards right.
Do I think that this could work? The answer is yes. I think gamers have gotten to a point that they could go for this. it comes down to al the points that I mentioned above. There are still too many questions and this could easily be a flop. Let's be honest, as successful as Google has been with their Search and Ad revenue, they suck when it comes to services. Google+ was a failure that will soon be discontinued. Google Wave was not successful as well. There was iGoogle and Google Reader and the list goes on and on. It looks like they will back this but until when?
I think unless there is a real reason to jump on board, most people will stay away and see if it pans out. I for one with my XBOX One and Switch have more than enough games to keep me busy. I would not be one to be rushing out the door for a subscription to Stadia.
What do you think?