Stadia – A breakdown of Google’s big gaming move

Last night Google had their much anticipated GDC conference. Many of the rumours floating around pre-announcement came true – and yes, Google is making a big move into the video game market and so far it looks surprisingly positive.

The presentation started off with Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, taking to the stage to explain what had spurned Google to enter the video game market. After a short preamble, we got the big name reveal…

Google Stadia

The future of gaming is not a box. It’s a place. Welcome to Stadia, an all-new gaming platform from Google for playing AAA video games across all the screens in your life. Gather around.

Google GDC Presentation

Phil Harrison, Stadia’s new head honcho, then took the stage. Now, for those of you who are not aware – Harrison is not only the former corporate vice president of Microsoft but he is also a former corporate executive and a representative director of Sony Computer Entertainment and Executive Vice President of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Yup, the man who has had big roles on both Xbox and PS executive tables now runs Google’s gaming division. Completely cloud/streaming-based, Stadia is Google’s foray in changing the way the world plays games. To start everything off he summarised Google’s vision for the new gaming platform as follows: ‘Focussed on gamers, inspired by developers and amplified by YouTube creators’.

The presentation was quite impressive and straight from the get-go, Google positioned itself as a serious competitor to the three big video game companies. Not only did it feature details about how the Stadia cloud ecosystem (built on Google’s own Data Centre Network) will be backed by the most powerful gaming hardware (apparently nearly double the teraflops supplied by either the current Xbox and PlayStation consoles) but as it will also be available on any screen at any time. Oh, and the move from desktop to tablet or mobile phone is virtually instantaneous. Hello gaming on the go – and hello Nintendo Switch’s niche market.

The Stadia’s Controller

At launch not only will Stadia have the ability to display games at 4K, 60 FPS, with HDR and Surround Sound, but in the future, it will be able to stream 8K at 120+ FPS. In terms of video game engines, both Unity and Unreal are partnering with Google, as well as the Havok physics engine. To prove just how impressive this cloud-based service can be – Id Software’s Marty Stratton boasted that Doom Eternal will be playable on the service capable of running at 4K with HDR support, at 60 fps.

Despite going all out on a non-console streaming-only box, there was also a hardware announcement: The Stadia Controller. Our very own Dawid describes it as the love-child of the Xbox One controller (look and feel) and PS4’s Dualshock (analogue stick layout). Have a look below and see for yourself.

Connects via wifi directly to the game that is running in the Google data centre… ooooh

Whatever your feelings are, the good news is that when playing on a laptop or PC you can still use your own USB-enable controller or mouse and keyboard. However, as you can tell in the images above there are a few unique features the Stadia Controller boasts including the capture button – sending your gameplay straight to YouTube (as per your specifications) and the special Google Assist button.

Standout features

Now, these may seem like small items, but as explained later in the presentation, they really highlight Stadia’s standout features. According to Google, the Stadia is all about facilitating gaming in all respects. Developers, gamers and content creators (on YouTube, of course). Crossplay will be supported. And while that is obviously in Google’s best interest to say, their statements on developing for multiplayer games, sharing content and buying without downloads are rather impressive.

Google envisions a future where not only can you buy a game directly from a YouTube video, text message or email link, you won’t have ever have to wait for a game to download. You will be able to start virtually immediately. Streaming to any device of your choosing.

It is worth taking a look at the video to get specifics for these features (around the 50 minute mark is a good place to jump in), however, in short, Google envisions a future where not only can you buy a game directly from a YouTube video, text message or email link, you won’t have ever have to wait for a game to download. You will be able to start virtually immediately. Streaming to any device of your choosing. On top of that, Content Creators will have even more ways to interact with their viewers; Not only by sharing specific moments they have played (State Share) but also by having their fans join in on games quickly and easily.

Multiplayer games (now not shackled by hardware limitations) will expand while also returning to their split-screen roots. And features like Style Transfer (55:3) are sure to vastly change the way games are made. Plus, whenever you get stuck in a game and don’t know what to do next… why not ask your Google Assistant help? Yup… “Hey, Google. Please show me what to do to beat this boss.” will not only take you to the right video, but even the exact moment showing exactly what you need to do.

Stadia – Games and Entertainment

The final big announcement made was that in addition to providing this new service for developers, gamers and creators – Google will also be developing their own first party games. Jade Raymond (newly appointed head of Stadia – Games and Entertainment Studio) rounded off the show by explaining why Google wants to develop games that make use of all of Stadia’s functionality. And to top it all off Stadia will be available later this year (initially in the USA, Canada, UK and Europe).

The Rub

After all was said and done, it was hard not to walk away from watching the Stadia’s presentation and not feel at least a little impressed. Google is in a unique position in cloud-based gaming. They have an incomparable infrastructure and reach. They own YouTube. And they have enough in-house know-how to pull off some amazing technical feats and enough money to pay for whatever they don’t know. That being said – yesterday’s presentation showed that they also know how to say the right things and when to say them.

It is no coincidence that they chose GDC rather than E3 to make this announcement. I suspect Microsoft watched today’s presentation in horror. By getting out there first, they’ve probably got Microsoft scrambling to figure out what they are going to be doing to differentiate themselves during E3 and not sound like they’re just ‘copying Google’.

Google also said lots of crowd-pleasing things and seems to have got in the right people to get the job done. And it has worked. The 2019 launch date probably surprised both Sony and Nintendo. And I’m sure they’re a little worried about having to push their plans for cloud-based gaming into a much higher gear.

It sure felt like the future of gaming got a little closer last night.

Despite the relative success of the presentation, that does not mean everything is now crystal clear. Google has made a big positive move but there are still a lot of questions. How much will this Stadia ‘service’ cost? Will games be part of a subscription or bought individually? What happens in countries where the internet will not be good enough for the foreseeable future? AND IMPORTANTLY – Sure the specs all sound amazing, but just how bad will lag be in the real world?

Once we have satisfying to these answers AND see how the big three respond to Google’s advances, things will really get interesting. However, one thing is for sure: It sure felt like the future of gaming got a little closer last night.

Nintendo Nerd, sharing my love of Mario with the world one pixel at a time.

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