Google Stadia: Game Breaking or Game Changing

Google made some controversial splashing in the gaming world recently by announcing the Google Stadia and being the ultra-switched-on-mile-a-minute person that I am…. it kinda passed me by. I think I have a certain noise filter when it comes to gaming news and promises of live-streaming have been the right amount of hyped and disappointing over the years for me to mentally file it under “Meh”. This morning’s commute however saw it crop up on my twitter feed a few more times and I decided to take a look at the details. 

… but wait, back up a second. Let’s cover the basics; for those of you who don’t know, Google Stadia is that tech-behemoth’s jump in to the streaming gaming market. The idea is that the gamer doesn’t need a console, all the hard work is done in google data centres with the user remotely feeding controller inputs and the visuals being fed-back via livestream. The ambition here is big with promises of up to 4K resolutions at 60fps at latency low-enough to make gaming feel seamless rather than the huge data back-and-forth that it actually is. From a user-hardware point of view it’s all looking very lightweight. The main accessory is a special wi-fi enabled gamepad which cuts out on some of the local communication hurdles and this is bundled with a ChromeCast Ultra in the founders edition for £119. Having said that the rumour is that Stadia will basically be accessible using anything that supports Chrome with some apparently great performance demonstrated on Pixel Chromebooks. On top of the hardware users will have to buy access to individual games to add to their virtual library and can choose from two tiers of membership: Stadia Pro, and Stadia Base. Pro users will enjoy some free titles each month, up to 4K and 5.1 surround sound whilst Base users will be limited to 1080p, don’t get the freebies, and must suffer stereo sound (I’ve never had a surround sound setup!).

Nonsensical stock images are the best! 

Now, if this is all sounding a little familiar, it could be that your remembering the failed On-Live service which represents the last serious attempt to do something similar. That fell flat due to the technical limitations of the time and the sceptic in me wants to say that there is a big risk that Stadia will do the same. After all, who here has a stable enough connection to not occasionally get a dose of crazy-blocky-netflix? or low enough latency to not get shot mystically from around a corner in an FPS? The demands here, not only in connection quality, but stability are huge. Press-previews have apparently gone relatively well with most reporting reasonable performance with only the occasional blockiness and moments of laggy control, but succeeding in a very limited preview and when the load is ramped up to public access are two very different things.

Interestingly however, much of the chatter is actually about the very concept of streaming games rather than the possibility of technical failure or price-point. Many gamers (myself included) were resistant to the rise of digital downloads and this feels like the next bizarre step down that winding road with the player now not even having game data local to their system. Familiar arguments citing “what’s to stop Google from pulling games unannounced” have reared their heads again and it’s difficult not to have that thought lingering in the back of your mind, especially as there isn’t an indication of how much these games are going to cost to access (although Pro users will apparently get a discount). There is of course also the worry that your connection will go down or the Google datacentres will … erm… disintegrate?… and then hapless gamers will be left game-less on rainy Thursday evening… and yeah! As someone who spends around 75% of my gaming time in single-player endeavours, the necessity to have a high speed stable connection just doesn’t seem worth it compared to running things locally whenever I want.

I mean, what’s even going on here??

… so with that in mind, I set out to write this article, but somewhere in the opening paragraph I stopped and really thought about it… and you know something?… I’m not the target audience for this. Just let that settle in for a second, because once you take that onboard, and accept that the November 2019 release date doesn’t mark the end of traditional gaming setups as we know it, it’s much easier to start to look at which this could bring to gaming.

First up, this tech could bring beautiful high-quality games to those who wouldn’t normally be able to afford the equipment; the early adopter kit is moderately priced and the basic controller is bound to drop in price. As an advocate for gaming to be inclusive this is surely a great way for even more people to enjoy the hobby that I love in more places and on a wider variety of screens. Games are for everyone and the first person I see belittling or dismissing a Stadia player as “not a real gamer” will be on the receiving end of a very stern unhappy emoji from me… you have been warned! The tech could also bring advantages to online gamers; imagine the game server and the local clients all running in the same data centre. Stuttering high-ping players, being shot around corners, server slowdown, and rubber banding could suddenly become a thing of the past. There’s also the probability that developers would be able to exploit the centralised processing to build even more unified gaming worlds and finally iron out those kinks that occur between client and server.

Truly cloud based gaming would also allow for you to easily take your game on the go. Want to break out your favourite game at your friend’s house? How about taking it from your TV to your mobile? or some sneaky evening playing in a hotel room whilst you’re on a work trip! There’s also the much touted public gamestate feature; imagine watching your favourite streamer playing a game and being able to decide that you want to take over – Stadia will allow you to literally take over their game at any point… which is both pretty weird, and pretty cool.

Has anyone ever had a meeting like this??

So yeah, there are a vast number of technical pitfalls, and those of us who love physical media will undoubtedly lament this next step closer to its obliteration… but you know, we started down that path a long time ago now.

It’s ambitious and it’s scary, and there’s a good chance it will fail, but just set that all aside for a moment because this could be something that spreads gaming, gives players a new way to play and opens up the community… and that’s pretty cool … right?

Stadia is being launched in November for Founders which includes a few month’s of Pro membership bundled. Base membership is due for rollout next year. 

17 thoughts on “Google Stadia: Game Breaking or Game Changing

  1. Opening the community and and making gaming accessible are good things.
    Unfortunately I am not convinced Google are the ones to spearhead it.
    A lot of individuals claim they will revolutionise gaming and Google are technologically well placed to do so, but I am not sure the market is that responsive to new consoles – Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have survived over 20 years of the competitive console industry and have built up tremendous brand loyalty as a result. I personally am a PS4 player and am nore likely to pick up a Switch or gaming PC over a Stadia (or X-Box – those rivalries are too inbuilt there 😛 ) because I know they are a quality platform with a variety of high quality games.
    Maybe the Stadia 2 would do better once Google have proven themselves to the industry, it would be costly but that is what it takes to compete with 20+ years of pedigree

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with the sentiment that breaking in to the console market is tricky and that brand loyality certainly has momentum… And in this case the tech just might not work, but in some ways it’s the tech that makes Google’s ultimate success (at least to the point of picking up a respectable market share) a possibility. Unlike a new console entering the market, Google’s data processing infrastructure is already there and the hardware is pretty minimal (again the Chromecast is already a product) so even if it launches as a flop, there’s no reason why Google won’t keep growing it from there. It’s not like a console where a flop will financially ruin the company. Also as the tech is all remote, upgrades and bug fixes can be rolled out to all users without needing a Stadia 2.

      I don’t think every ps4 player is suddenly going to throw their console out, but it’s an exciting prospect to have a new way to play and to let players choose what’s best for them. I was a loyal sega custom… Until I got a playstation when I became loyally Sony… Until my PC… Until my Switch… I think it’s an exciting prospect as a new competitor in the market with a novel way of delivering content.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree, Google has the tech to deliver, as long as they have the endurance to sink the money and investment in.
        I don’t think it will be an initial success, but if it works and they keep at it there will be a steady move towards playing on the Stadia, which could be capitalised a few years down the line with a Stadia 2

        Liked by 2 people

  2. The “we’re not the target audience” aspect has some merit to it… but on the other hand, in my experience most people who develop an interest in gaming are from a background that affords them the opportunities and affluence to be able to engage with the more conventional consoles.

    £120 is still quite pricey for a starter pack, and those who don’t know much about gaming will probably be inclined to go that route as an easy “in”, I would have thought. For that price, if you’re on a tight budget, you may as well pick up a 360 or a PS3 and enjoy some cheap classics from the previous generation. £120 will probably get you a console and ten or more games these days!

    Bear in mind that this is also (currently) missing two of the most popular games in the world: Fortnite and Overwatch, the former of which you can play on mobile.

    I will continue to be vehemently resistant to this as someone who is passionate about the preservation and history of games; Stadia and streaming services in general are an enemy to both of those things, whatever short-term benefits they might be able to provide. Thankfully, I don’t think this is going to be a success — or if it does end up gaining some traction, I don’t think it’s ever going to end up being the *only* option.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m not thrilled at the idea of google getting ‘control’ of what’s available without the option of ‘owning’ the content yourself. And yeah, I imagine that Stadia (or similar) would (certainly for a long time) be part of the makeup of gaming rather than the dominating force. This would almost certainly be the case as the current plan is for developers to add their titles to the service as one of a number of distribution paths.

      I’m not sure I agree with you on the financial side of things. Sure, for some gamers (myself included) the idea of playing great games from a few years ago is something I’m totally happy with, there will be gamers, I imagine in the younger audience who will want to play the latest titles so they can enjoy them with friends. In this case buying a last gen console isn’t really meeting their criteria. Whilst £120 isn’t a cheap entry point, the base version (launched next year) will be effectively free; all you need is a device that is chrome compatible – you can use a cheap £5 USB controller if you want. Of course the real sticking point of all this is how much the games will cost, but even if they’re the same as new release console prices, I’m sure there will be those who can afford the game if they’re not burdened with the cost of the console.

      Don’t get me wrong – there are many aspects f this that aren’t comfortable ideas and more than anything I do question the ability of the tech to perform, but in a ‘glass half full’ kind of way I’m interested to see where this goes.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Sorry but this is not inclusive at all, in fact it will create a deepening rift in global markets. If the 1st world itself is concerned about access and sufficient bandwidth its even worse in developing countries, to afford even a 10mb/s line is unfeasible, yet 2nd hand consoles can be picked up for far less. Add in no proposals of local infrastructures and latency and ping will make it unplayable. Not to mention the ridiculous amounts of data required adding to the ridiculous price of even a decent 4mb/s connection. Those data costs are going to be more than a console especially when combined with line rental. This will make gaming incredibly exclusive for the first world only. Part of the joy of the console generations were that they were cheap and affordable for average consumers, in fact the PS2 continued selling units well into the next era due to its affordable price point and extensive catalogue, the same went for the Xbox 360, which had games earmarked at an even lower price point, not so Google stadia. It is by nature exclusive. In fact I (who am affluent by my countries standards, earning 4x the average salary) will be unable to play Stadia, not only Because of its own costs but because I can’t afford the data and line rental.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. No need to apologise, you’ve brought an interesting and unique point in your comment; thank-you

      I fully admit that this is written from my own point of view on how this tech could give more people access to current generation gaming, but certainly written from a UK perspective where HD streaming of films & TV is pretty widespread. I’ll admit that the global perspective wasn’t something I was attempting to tackle when writing this.

      Taking on a topic as complex as internet access across all social demographics between countries of differing levels of economic prosperity is certainly way outside of what I’m qualified to talk about.

      I think it’s important to keep in mind that I’m not suggesting that Stadia will replace traditional local hardware. The November launch isn’t going to halt the global console market – or the 2nd hand market for that matter and I myself can’t imagine that I’ll be hitting up the Stadia store anytime soon. Demand for traditional formats and digital downloads will unlikely be radically changed in the first instance. It may (depending on its success) add just another platform for people to game on which will improve access for a specific group. Your statement “This will make gaming incredibly exclusive for the first world” seems to be making the assumption that Stadia will somehow wipe out all other alternatives.

      In reality we’re living in a time where gaming is becoming more accessible than ever. Not including the 2nd hand market, high quality titles can be played on mobile, console, and desktop devices and the indie boom of recent years is giving gamers more choice than ever in what they want to play. Sadly there are often factors that limit access to the latest technology. Often this is financial, but in this case it also includes infrastructure; my only hope is that as we see with so much technology, uptake drives down costs. Take VR for example: a few years ago it was the realm of early adopters and enthusiasts and now we have VR access open to a much wider audience (relatively) with the trend set only to continue. Whilst infrastructure and consumer products are different, is it naive to hope that global improvements in the realm of internet connectivity will also improve? …. maybe…. I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer and idealist….

      I fully accept however that Stadia will come with infrastructure prerequisites and my overall point was that Stadia could improve access for some (but not all) people.

      Thanks again for the comment – it took me a while to come up with a response as you’ve really given me pause to stop and think about the issue. Sorry if you felt that my original article swept aside the issue of technical limitations; it wasn’t my intent to make light of this side of the debate, but rather pause for a second to look at some possible positives to a new and potentially disruptive product in the gaming market.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well this is exactly the concern I have, i fear the publishers in theirnattempts Tom prevent piracy will quickly adopt such systems if it means they can further control over the software itself. Of course this would not be instantaneous, but the pros from a corporate side far outweigh the negatives. From constant revenue streams every month which makes balancing the books considerably easier, and a more reliable revenue stream than a hit or flop, to control over audiences attention, once you’ve made people pay hopefully they’ll feel invested and stick with it (unless this goes the way of those annual gym memberships… somehow I doubt it though) there’s too many good benefits for companies, (and the people they employ), don’t worry I’m not going to go off on a evil corporate spiel. It just makes immense business sense, if it is viable and since I’m a realist, amd aware that the African market is not really that lucrative I am also aware that wedbget further left behind again, just like were left behind on e-learning technology (but that’s a whole other issue). So yes i do see this being increasingly favoured, especially in the light of trends of digital to hard copy sales. Its not a totally unfeasible future.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I personally see streaming technology, and bear with me here because I might sound a bit alarmist – as a direct assault on consumer rights and erosion of content ownership 100x worse than the digital game landscape. Nothing about this is convenient for the user. We already have the tech for handhelds, and by the time the network infrastructure could handle this, we should be able to do our _own_ graphical processing in the device we’re holding. There’s just no reason to process data on a remote server and beam it to phones. It doesn’t make any sense to me why anyone thinks that’s a good idea, and so I’m left with one reason why big corporations do: for complete control of the entertainment we consume. All in the name of preventing piracy. I can almost guarantee that’s how it was pitched to the game publishers. “No more piracy, because there’s no ownership, because we control it all.”

    And of course, who is streaming all this data?

    Like does anyone seriously think that AT&T or Verizon is going to be happy (or heck, capable) about streaming HD quality games? The amount of bandwidth you’ll need to pay for monthly will be totally insane. The US is atrocious when it comes to cellular service and pricing – we’re outclassed by countries that we theoretically should not be outclassed by. I don’t have cell service for like half of my bus ride in the morning and I live near a major metropolis. I get a bill for $10/gigabyte if I go over my limit. For years the telcos have given ridiculous bandwidth caps, despite bragging in commercials about how fast the service is. Even on LTE, if I stream a few movies on Netflix during my commute, I’m screwed – my bill is going to be comparable to a car payment.

    More personally – I first said it years ago in regards to digital-only gaming, and it applies even more so for streaming-only gaming: I reject it, it’s an assault on my rights in the name of content control, handed to large corporations that own and control my data, and I won’t have any of it. I officially will retire from modern gaming if this is the future – and you know what, it’ll give me plenty of time to enjoy the heck out of all the retro games I already legally, and without fine print, _OWN_, that I’ve collected over the years.

    So count me in!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. 🙂 I ‘bear-ed with you’ and was not disappointed! I think it’s a sentiment shared by many. Don’t misinterpret me, I’m not pro-streaming, but was trying to look at what could be considered the ‘upside’ – maybe I was just in a good mood when I drafted this one.

      I can’t really argue with any of that and as I said, even setting aside the technical challenges I don’t imagine we’re in danger of losing traditional gaming any time soon. I’m pretty curious though, because I’ve been mulling this over myself – what if the ‘buying’ aspect of the service was removed? So instead of users needing to buy the game, they simply only pay the subscription and can play what they want from a the current selection (netflix style). Would that make things better, or worse? … or wouldn’t change a thing?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Totally man, hey I understand. It’s the hot topic these days, particularly after E3.

        My whole thing is, I don’t want a Netflix for gaming. Netflix works because TV and films are short-bursts of entertainment relative to a video game. It’s like a buffet where you can try everything over a long enough period of time.

        But with gaming, it doesn’t work that way – it’s like having a buffet with 50,000 options vs. a “sit down and order” type of meal. You can still only eat the same amount of food – having those extra 49,999 options doesn’t change how much you can eat. In the same way, I only have time for the games I have time for and that won’t change.

        I mean heck, look at this awful backlog culture in which we’ve turned gaming into work – literally thousands of games _that people already OWN_ and no one plays them. Yet, we want, what, hundreds more? Why? I pick a game I want, I buy it. I play it, I finish it, then I repeat. I don’t go out and buy 200 games. Hell I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XII for like 3 months now.

        I prefer to outright buy my games in every single situation – I was _super_ frustrated when I heard the Switch was abandoning traditional Virtual Console for the subscription NES game “service” when I was looking forward to buying retro games I never got to play, so that I can play them on the bus in portable form. That was a huge use of my 3DS for me – it was the first way I experienced Earthbound, for example, as the SNES version is cost-prohibitive. Software as a service is something I deal with in my regular full-time job as an engineer (try buying Adobe products — oh wait, you can’t anymore) and I despise it there – creeping into my favorite hobby and turning it into a rental service so that I have no control over when I can play “my” games (which is already technically incorrect as they’ll never be “mine” again), well, personally I see it as somewhere above an armed robbery and just shy of an outright murder to the hobby I love. Depending on my mood. Everything is a subscription service, and everyone is paying more money, using the same amount they always did, and nobody notices.

        Wall of text and some strong words, but I feel like every week we’re creeping closer to what I feared when digital games first became popular years ago. So far on this topic, I haven’t been wrong a single time – I’ve been 100% right to be worried.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Well here we go, I went off on a rant and I didn’t even answer your question.

        I heard a bit about the buying aspect – which to me sounds the same as buying a digital title. I’m against digital only games in MOST cases (barring smaller indie games that financially could not afford the high costs associated with publishing), and the same reason can be said about streaming.

        I guess the answer would be, it wouldn’t change a thing. They’re both attempts at control, and to cut out the middleman (game stores, publishers, etc), and ultimately maximize profits while robbing consumers of owning absolutely anything. I love my game collection because it represents me and I have total control over all of it – a digital shelf of games that everyone owns takes away about 50% of the entertainment I get from this hobby of collecting and playing games.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Haha! No worries, rant away!

        Great to hear your thoughts. I like the buffet analogy, it makes sense. For me though I kind of like the idea of picking at that spread. With the ever decreasing hours that I can play I tend to look for shorter and more concise titles (these are often on the indie side of things) – settling in to something north of 20 hours is something I consider pretty carefully and I may only do once a year. Likewise, once I’ve completed a game, even one I’ve loved, I rarely go back to it (there are some *ahem* obvious exceptions that fall in to the obsession category). I’m also much more content now to just drop a game of I’m not enjoying it (something I never used to be able to do). I guess what I’m trying to say is that in a way I already see buying a game in the current generation like buying a ticket to the cinema; I’m paying for a certain amount of entertainment rather than to own the film.

        I’m not saying that’s the way things should be, or even the right way to look at it, but if pushed is basically how I’ve seen it ever since digital distribution (ie steam) became the main way I bought games. For me the benefits of digital distribution compensate somewhat for the downsides.

        Maybe I’m just resigned to it all already…

        I guess fundamentally this is all because I wouldn’t consider myself a collector – don’t get me wrong, I’ve got games and systems that I’m sentimental about and love owning, but I don’t actively go out and collect. The physical games I own are the ones I had when the system was current or I buy because that’s what I need to do to play them.

        … Of course I still think that streaming is absurd (mainly from a technical standpoint) and no part of me is wild about Google holding the reigns… But then I wouldn’t be wild about any big company being in charge. So I’m not going to rush out and buy me a Stadia baseball cap and jacket just yet… Not least of which because I don’t watch many streamers, and most of what I play is single player so it all feels… Overly elaborate.

        Seriously, thanks for sharing! It is good to hear everyone’s views. I totally understand – and yeah, I was bummed out too about Nintendo’s online model. What I really want is for everyone to be able to game however they want to. I’m not personally a collector and my gameshelf is now primarily virtual, but I really hope that physical versions stick around and keep you in the game!

        Liked by 2 people

      4. It’s always interesting hearing different opinions, particularly from folks who have been gaming for a while. We will simply have to wait and see where it goes, unfortunately 😦 But at the end of the day, even when I officially retire from modern gaming, there are already several lifetimes of games I can’t wait to play!

        Liked by 2 people

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