We were expecting something big from Google today but the creativity, ambition and technical muscle behind Google’s Stadia platform was still mind blowing. It’s nothing short of the largest gaming announcement since the original PlayStation or possibly the launch Xbox Live.
Google is creating a gaming service that will be omnipresent online, taking its strength from gaming influencers on YouTube and utilising that as a springboard to amount the biggest assault ever upon the incumbent trio of Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo. Microsoft better had something huge up its stream for xCloud to match this.
In practice that means gamers will be able to simply click a link in a YouTube video and be playing the game that they were watching within five seconds. No downloads, no patches, no box – it’s the cloud gaming dream and Google is serving it up with an incredible commitment to hardware and graphic quality.
While Google always had the influencer card to play, it was reasonable to assume that Microsoft might have them beat when it comes to gaming hardware, and could rival them in cloud infrastructure.
However, Google instead has leapfrogged the current generation hardware. It’s Stadia cloud gaming kit, built in association with AMD, offers an impressive (and surely expensive) 10 Tflops of power – in practice that means 4K resolutions and 60fps with HDR and surround sound – and that pushes the 6 Tflops Xbox One X and 4 Tflops PS4 Pro to the back of the room. Yes, both those companies undoubtedly have their own plans for next-gen hardware, but it doesn’t at present seem like those will come in time to match Google’s own 2019 release window.
There are, of course, some huge questions yet to be answered.
For starters, with such vaunted hardware will Google and AMD be able to get enough instances of it into data centres to match demand. Any failings there will quickly see gamers move away from a product they simply can’t rely on when they want to play.
Secondly, there’s no announcement on exactly how the store will work and what the underlying business model is. The presumption is that consumers will buy games they want to play on Stadia from a Google store, and Google will absorb the server costs in return for the usual 30 per cent cut of the proceeds, but that’s pure speculation at present.
Finally, there’s still hardware that must be got into players hands in order to get them playing games in a traditional manner. At present it looks like the less-prevalent Chromecast 4K will be the main way for gamers to get games on their TVs, though TV apps must surely follow soon. Though given the option to play on laptops, tablets, phones and desktops, will the old use patterns still win out?
The controller problem seems to have been solved by Google opening it up to practically any controller the player may have, though details are thin on that. It will also sell it’s own controller, which uses WiFi to connect directly to Google’s cloud server, further reducing latency.
The additional opportunities of the platform are huge. The ability for creators to share specific instances of gameplay with their audiences, letting them play the same part of the same game as them, is potentially revolutionary, turning influencers into creators, or curators at least. Then there’s the rebirth of split-screen multiplayer, with multiple cloud instances of Stadia hardware powering multiple instances of games at full detail levels.
The possibilities of the new cloud gaming platform are so great, so potentially revolutionary in terms of how games interact with the wider internet, that Google is right to set up its own Stadia Games and Entertainment first-party studio, led by Jade Raymond, in order to properly explore these possibilities.
And for third-parties Google looks to be opening up the doors and making all welcome, Ubisoft, Id, Tequila Works and 2K featured, plus Epic, Unity, Havok, and many more partners are onboard. It’s impressive they kept it under wraps to be honest.
It’s a big, bold move, timed perfectly to get the jump on the other major platforms. After all, if consumers can buy and play games in 4K and 60fps, anywhere they want, from late 2019. Why would they invest in expensive local hardware?