Updated: Mar 24, 2019
This week at the GDC (Game Developers Conference) in San Francisco, Google has made a huge announcement that will affect the entire gaming industry. Google is well known for taking part in many different areas of technology, from smart home devices, to self-driving cars. In 2018 Google launched a test for Stadia under a different name, Project Stream. People who took part in the test were able to stream Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on low end computers using Google Chrome. Now Google is working to make it bigger and better.
The premise behind Stadia is that, just like any other streaming service, you are able to stream games to be able to play from anywhere that you have internet access. Using machines built with some of the most powerful technology available, you are able to play games at up to 8k resolution at 60 frames per second. Not only that but you can do this from more than just a normal computer, during the presentation it was shown that you can play on a phone, tablet, and television with Chromecast. It also did not seem like there was any extra programs to install, as they talked about how it would work with the Google Chrome browser to be able to stream the games on the browser and be able to play them there.
Google Stadia’s unveiling was not just to boast about the ability to stream games over the internet, that has already been done before by other companies. One of the biggest advantages that Stadia is going to have over the competition is the support it will have with the infrastructure Google already has. YouTube has always been a popular place to share content related to gaming, and Google knew that when they made YouTube Gaming in 2015. One of the main focuses of Stadia is to bring all aspects of gaming culture closer together. In the demo they had shown on stage we saw someone watching a YouTube video on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, then when it was over, a button with the cover art appeared with a play button below. They hit the play button and were instantly put into the game.
Stadia has a lot more incorporated with YouTube. It was shown that you could easily share moments to YouTube whenever you wanted, simply hitting a button and the moment would be captured and uploaded to YouTube. One of the most interesting aspects comes up here as well. In-game captured moments can share even more data, such as items in an inventory, special settings, customization and much more.
Of course, games would not be a thing without the people who make them, and Google wants to make the developing process easier and more streamlined. In addition to being able to customize how people are able to save their moments in their games, Google has developed tools to help the developers. Luz Sancho from Tequila Works went up onstage to show one of these tools. Tequila works is known for the art style and atmospheres in their games, being unique compared to others in the industry, so it would only be fitting that the tool used to ease the process of making an art style and color pallet for a game would be shown off by them. The tool is called Style Transfer ML, and in the video shown we can see a black and white world with a character walking. Various images where shown off next to the video as an example for what the tool can do. One such example was Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. The tool changed the color of the demo to not only match the pallet of the color on the painting, but also brought the calming and beautiful artistic pattern that the painting has to the game world.
Many miss the days of old where you could invite a friend over to play a game, and both be on the couch, talking and eating snacks while firing away at each other in Banshees. As technology changed, this form of multiplayer started to drift away from modern titles, and the idea of couch coop became a thing of the past. However, Stadia intends to bring it back in a bigger way. One of the demos that was shown was a game that relied on multiple people playing different roles to achieve a common goal, one person would be on the ground and mark something for another player in the air to retrieve. With the split screen it is possible to quickly share this information with the other players, and since the game is being processed on a machine designed to stream a game for multiple people, everyone gets to look at a beautiful scene rather than having one machine struggling to keep everything rendered.
And if you say that it is impossible to keep that old time feeling without a controller to play it on, then have no worries. Not only will Stadia support controllers that you can connect to your device, but Google has created their very own controller built to maximize Stadia’s capabilities by utilizing specific buttons to access their special features. The controller has a similar layout to the Xbox controller with hints of PlayStation’s ergonomic design, with a D-pad on the top left, A, B, X, and Y buttons on the top right, two joysticks on the bottom and bumper buttons. There are buttons in the middle for the special functions that Stadia provides, such as a button for sharing clips or screenshots quickly.
Because Stadia streams the games from another machine, the local device does not process the information for the game, it only processes the information for the stream, being what is currently shown on the machine running it. Because of this as long as you have a device with a fast and stable internet connection, you will be able to experience the games to the fullest, and we mean the fullest. Google claimed that the machines that will be running the games have GPU’s with 10.7 teraflops of power and 56 compute units, a CPU with a x86 processor running at 2.7 GHz, along with 16 GB of RAM built in. It is this computing power that you have access to on your laptop, phone, tablet, and even Television.
Graphics and framerate are one thing, but many people enjoy games for their challenge or story. Another way Stadia is incorporating YouTube is the ease of looking for help. If you are having a difficult time beating a boss, or solving a puzzle, you can easily search up guidance. Similar to how information is saved when you save a clip or video, Stadia will use that data and reference it with resources online to help you find what you need.
There is no feeling worse than progressing hours into a game only to realize you forgot to save before exiting. One problem with a game streaming service is that saves can be lost if the game does not support cloud save, since streaming from the same machine is not very likely. Google states that games run on Stadia will offer cloud saving which can be access on any device at any time.
Multiplayer experience made smoother.
Since Stadia is streaming the games from a different machine to yours, having some games be frustratingly slow due to one player having a poor connection will be a thing of the past. Since the games will be run at a Google data center, it will be those machines that have to be connected, which will all have an extremely fast connection. This will prevent everyone in the game from suffering due to that one person with the supper high ping count(you know who you are), however, people with a poor connection will have trouble streaming the game themselves, causing them to be at a disadvantage.
It was acknowledged that Stadia would support cross-platform play. Developers would be able to allow cross-platform play so that people who use Stadia could play with others using a console or PC. They have also said they would support cross-platform progression, by making it easy to transfer saves and progression through a game. How this will all work out is still a question, but as many people enjoy cross-platform play as a way to play with their friends who use different devices, this seems like a step in the right direction.
Google also claimed that Stadia would prevent hacking and cheating of any sort. While it does seem very possible since the service is being streamed from a machine in a data bank, they did not talk much about it. It is well known that there is never a security system that cannot be cracked, and although cheaters will not be able to use software on the machine running the game to cheat, who knows what kind of crazy shenanigans people will come up with to boost their ego by cheating in games.
Another interesting thing shown off was a massive multiplayer world with a destructible environment. Usually games like this, such as Rainbow Six Siege, handle the destruction physics client side, which can lead to confusing scenarios where one player sees a bunch of debris covering vision beyond an area, while another player can see through it as if it were just air. In this case, with Stadia streaming the information to the users, it can rely on all users receiving the same visuals for the destruction, as a single machine is the one that is handling the destruction physics. This allows all people playing the game to all have their games synchronized, seeing the same things at the same time in the same place.
With an announcement as big as Stadia, what could this mean for the future of the gaming industry? How will it affect all the different areas, such as development, content creation, and esports?
With all the tools that Google has shown off to help developers make their games, there is no doubt that Stadia will have an effect on development. Giving companies an easier way to create their games and share it to the world will not only help development go faster, but even encourage smaller groups to make more innovative and creative games that won’t be limited by console limitations. When it comes to selling these finished products, how will it work? Will Stadia finally become the competition to rival Steam? Well there is not enough information to work with for the answer. We were shown many ways to purchase the games to stream, with them saying that the internet is our store when it comes to games. With that they showed and talked about buying games from Stadia’s store, Discord, Reddit, Twitter, the google play store and more.
The question is how will this effect current digital distribution storefronts such as Steam and GOG. As of now there is not enough information. We do not even know if it will be a subscription service yet. Because of the infrastructure made with Google, Stadia will drastically affect content creation. Whether it be the ease of being able to capture and share gameplay, screenshots, and more, or being able to easily join a waitlist to be able to play with your favorite streamer in a multiplayer game. YouTube was already a large part of the gaming community, and Stadia will only help grow it by giving more people access to being able to create their own content with ease and being able to interact with their favorite content creators themselves.
As for how Stadia will affect esports, it is uncertain. Large scale tournaments will most likely remain unchanged as usually they are played in a stadium with people watching the players who are all nearby one another on machines of their own. When it comes to smaller scale competitions, where people rely on their own resources to be able to play, Stadia might be used. One major problem in using Stadia for competitive play is the fact that it is streaming the game. Input lag may become a problem if people end up relying on it for their competitions. With the information we currently have, it does not seem like Stadia will really have an impact on the scene of competitive gaming, but we have yet to see what it can do for it.
Overall, Stadia seems like a huge step into the future for gaming, giving millions of people access to high end machines to be able to play the most demanding games the way they were meant to be played, without hardware limitations. It seems like a perfect way to be able to connect with friends who do not have any other way of playing games or showing your favorite game to someone who usually does not play games. We actively wait to learn more about Stadia and what Google is going to do with it, weather there will be any additions or not. We do know that Stadia is supposed to launch in 2019, so luckily we do not have long to wait. Weather Stadia becomes a huge success, a heartbreaking failure, or anywhere in between, the ambitions and ideas behind the project will not be forgotten.