At Google's keynote address at the 2019 Game Developers Conference, the tech giant unveiled a new digital gaming platform called Stadia. It will enable video game enthusiasts to stream games that have traditionally had to be bought on disc format or downloaded which is a frequently very time consuming process due to the data-rich nature of the titles.
Google successfully experimented with streaming games when they launched Project Stream in 2018. Google let trial participants play the Ubisoft title, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, via the Chrome web browser.
“This is very exciting news indeed and certainly this type of medium will shape and determine the future of gaming. While game streaming isn't new, we trust that Google know what they're doing and will deliver a means of streaming games properly. However, not all of us have fast internet speeds. It all boils down to how fast the game data can travel between the player and Google's monster machines that crunch all the numbers. Blazing fast internet is still not standard in homes like running water is, and until it is, we still have a long, perhaps uncertain, journey ahead. Don't sell your consoles or deactivate your Steam account just yet!”
The problems with variable internet speeds that Karsten alludes to relates to previous attempts to create a cloud based gaming service.
Platforms such as OnLive allowed subscribers to rent or demo computer games without installing them on their device. But on April 3, 2015, OnLive announced it had sold most of its assets to Sony Entertainment and would be closing down all services on April 30, 2015.
"BLAZING FAST INTERNET IS STILL NOT STANDARD IN HOMES LIKE RUNNING WATER IS, AND UNTIL IT IS, WE STILL HAVE A LONG, PERHAPS UNCERTAIN, JOURNEY AHEAD. DON'T SELL YOUR CONSOLES OR DEACTIVATE YOUR STEAM ACCOUNT JUST YET!"
- KARSTEN VERMEULEN, GAMES PROGRAMMING LECTURER AT SAE LONDON
Users of OnLive and other cloud based streaming services complained of ‘lag’, the delay between a player performing an action and the game reacting to that move. This is a problem in titles where split-second reactions can make the difference between staying alive or dying.
High latency rates have been a big problem in streaming services up until now. Latency, measured as ping, refers to the average total time that it takes a gaming device to send data to the game server, and back to a user’s device.
“Stadia looks to be, on paper, a stable platform for what has been a contentious format for gaming. High end gamers seek solutions where lag is eliminated and mouse latency is down to a minimum. Cloud services like this such as Shadow and GeForce Now are other such solutions but Google’s answer could be the best we have seen yet because of the sheer size of their resource pool. OnLive was another platform that tried and failed at this. While cloud gaming is a viable solution, issues such as latency, lag, requiring a high speed internet connection that is subject to repairs and dropouts will always make gamers question solutions in the Cloud.”
At the event in San Francisco, Google also revealed a controller that will work with Stadia. It will connect directly to Google’s servers independently from other hardware in an effort to combat the issues regarding lag and latency.
It resembles a DualShock controller, with a pair of twin sticks, a D-pad, and ample face and shoulder buttons. The main difference is the controller also has a button for capturing and sharing gaming footage directly to YouTube.
Conversely, as was demonstrated in an on-stage demonstration by Phil Harrison (Google's newly-hired head of gaming) during the conference, someone viewing a gaming video on YouTube will be able to press a ‘Play on Stadia’ button to play the game they are watching footage of.
This news is an important development in the world of gaming because Google have already seen tremendous success with YouTube, and by capitalising on this existing user base they are going to be able to compete with the other big companies, Microsoft Xbox, SONY PlayStation and Nintendo.
Martin Woodburn, Programme Coordinator for Animation at SAE Glasgow wishes to point out that the price of the service and console was not revealed at the conference so we are yet to see how competitive the Google offering will be.
“It may turn into a streaming platform for games like Fortnite where the game is free but it's monetised through micro-transactions. It would be amazing if parents didn't have to fork out £400 for a console, £40 per year for Xbox live/PSN, then £50 per game - but instead paid £30 for a controller and a streaming service around £10 a month, so they can play Fortnite or Minecraft.”
He said: “On the developers and animators side this is certainly a good news indeed as we have yet another playground that we can visit. How complex can games be developed? How heavy can we model and animate? These questions would certainly be fun to explore. Things are beginning to shape more and more for us to be living like in Ready Player One these days. It’s also exciting that this news has been followed by announcements from GDC, Unreal Engine and Unity who have said that their engine fully supports Stadia now! The positive news amplifies even further as Epic Games (the creator of Unreal Engine), have just announced their $100,000,000 Mega Grants to assist game developers, media and entertainment creators, enterprise professionals, students, educators, and tool developers doing outstanding work with Unreal Engine or enhancing open-source capabilities for the 3D graphics community. Have a guess what some of these grants will be spent on? That's right, making games on Stadia!”
Game developers and animators can register as a Stadia Developer here.