Google’s Stadia game-streaming service lets you play games anywhere, if your Internet can handle it

Stadia 4K
Image: IDGNS

Game-streaming service and a companion controller get first airing at GDC



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20 March 2019 | 0

It’s safe to say that going into GDC 2019, Google’s Tuesday morning keynote was the most anticipated on the schedule. Rumours have flown for weeks, though calling them ‘rumours’ is perhaps underselling it. It was well known that Google was working on a way to stream games to the Chrome browser, after last year’s Project Stream tests, and it was clear we’d see more about those ideas here.

Tuesday was the official reveal though. It’s called Stadia, and already the old box-under-the-TV paradigm feels outdated.

Meet Google Stadia: Streaming games anywhere

“Building a game platform for everyone.” That’s the tagline Google went with during its presentation. You have a desktop? A laptop? A phone? Then you have Stadia. It’s that easy. This is the future that game streaming allows.

An onstage demo went from laptop to phone to desktop to TV, picking up and playing the same Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey save file with mere seconds in between each platform. As long as you have Chrome and a strong Internet connection, you’re ready for Stadia.

This isn’t a new idea, of course. OnLive tried to do this a decade ago and Sony has been doing it with PlayStation Now. But Google has a few advantages – namely, a worldwide server infrastructure that ensures you’re never too far from a data centre, plus an install base that spans billions of devices.

And so Stadia is a step above what we’ve seen from previous iterations of this concept. Last year’s Project Stream tests were already impressive, allowing you to play Odyssey at 1080p and 60 frames per second. Stadia will bring that up to 4K, and also will stream HDR and surround sound data as well. In theory it should be indistinguishable from playing the game on a local machine.

Or better. And that’s the real promise of game streaming, and the key to Google’s ‘building a game platform for everyone’ mantra. At the moment, a high-end PC might run €2,000 or more. With Stadia, Google is doing the heavy lifting in its data centre, which means you can – in theory – experience high-end graphics your phone or a cheap laptop. You can also stream to YouTube in 4K, without any capture cards.

Developers are freed from the constraints of traditional hardware as well. Google talked about the potential for a thousand-person battle royale, once you’re freed from local machines and local Internet connections. They also talked about the potential for couch co-op to return, now that developers aren’t limited to running two compromised versions of a game on the same console hardware.

And of course there are visual enhancements to be explored. Microsoft had this idea years ago – remember when Crackdown 3 was going to use the power of Microsoft Azure to simulate citywide destruction? Well, Google’s talking about Stadia doing the same, demonstrating realistic water simulations on its platform versus a local machine.

The problem with streaming is, as always, your Internet connection. If you don’t live in a major metropolitan area or one without strong broadband infrastructure? Google talked up its infrastructure, and it is impressive: 19 regions, 58 zones, 200-plus countries, and 7,500 edge nodes.

Whether it will feel as immediate as playing on a local machine though? Whether you’ll be able to take advantage of 4K and 60 frames per second streaming, with HDR and surround sound? Whether it’s good enough for a high-level fighting game or first-person shooter play? These are important questions, and unfortunately ones we won’t be able to answer until Stadia is out in the world. Google did trot out id Software to say Doom Eternal will come to Stadia, which is certainly promising – but again, it depends on your home Internet connection.

There was more in the announcement. Stadia doesn’t need any specific hardware, and you’re free to use your existing mouse and keyboard or an Xbox or PlayStation controller. Google is making a Stadia-specific controller and it looks similar to the mockups seen on Twitter last week.

Most important, we got a “release date.” Stadia is set to release in the USA and most of Europe sometime in 2019. It’s safe to assume that’s the back half of 2019, as Google said we’d see more “this summer”. There’s a good chance we’ll see Microsoft and Google squaring off this holiday season, which means the next generation is really on the horizon – and looks a lot different than every generation to-date.

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