‘If Stadia doesn’t work, it’s never going to take off’.
This was the first thing that went through my mind when I discovered what Google’s vision is for the future of gaming. I could vent for hours about how on earth this is supposed to work on my parents WiFi, should I ever go home to visit and want to crack on with clearing my Ubisoft maps. The very notion of ‘play anywhere, at any time’ doesn’t sit particularly well with me right out of the gate as it’s just not going to happen, right? At least not in areas without sustainable connections. I’m assuredly not alone in thinking that even connections with low latency will struggle streaming 4K at 60FPS and that has to be something that Google has taken into consideration.
But then, what if they haven’t? Their entire conference was laden with lofty promises, with an idealistic vision of a world where internet speeds are no longer a concern. Where we can all plug into the Oasis anywhere we choose to without any interruption. I feel fortunate that I have an internet connection at home that is probably good enough to run Stadia at a steady 1080p, rather than 4K. I keep thinking about the sheer amount of devices I have in my house that are connected to the internet 24/7. Three Amazon Echo’s. Two mobile phones. Three consoles. One Sky box. Two laptops. If I am going to receive Stadia without interruption, to make it feel like I’m just playing on a console without any issues whatsoever – so Google have promised – am I going to have to shut them all down? Will I need to dedicate my internet to Stadia every time I use it? Google have seemingly only convinced themselves that the whole world is ready to embrace game streaming. The fact is, it isn’t.
And that’s a shame, because Stadia has genuinely impressed me. I was saying to Sean in our company Slack that ‘Google are fucking crazy’ and I stand by it. They promised to blow my socks off and they did. There’s enough about Stadia to convince me that it’s going to be the future of gaming and Xbox and PlayStation are going to have to create something truly special in the next generation of consoles in order to keep up. No loading? No downloads? Should Stadia live up to its promise it will make consoles look positively ancient in comparison and that’s the world we live in now, where the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Two – or whatever the hell they call the next one – will almost immediately be stuck in the past. Lagging behind, so to speak. Xbox are also making lofty ‘play anywhere’ promises, though you get the feeling that their consumer focused last couple of years will maybe allow the user to choose between streaming or downloading. Xbox is all about choice whilst Google has already made your mind up for you.
Stadia promises you opening a Chrome tab and playing a 4K, 60fps game in five seconds without installation, instead the game is running from Google’s ‘data center’ farms scattered across the world. They’re promising 10.7 GPU terraflops, making the Xbox One X look like a toaster oven. Being able to stream AAA behemoths anywhere you like is their mantra, with Google taking it on for you and just beaming it all back to you via the wonders of the internet. So long as you’re connected with a relatively stable connection, you’re ready to go from Stadia.com, where the service will reside. You’ll have to do a connection test (similar to PlayStation Now) to check your bandwidth and latency between yourself and the servers and you’ll know of any data loss upfront. It will require 15Mbps with latency below 40ms. These numbers, whilst somewhat lower than maybe expected, is still just the bare minimum you’ll need to enjoy Stadia. That’s on laptops, phones and tablets though.
For TV gameplay you’ll need a Chromecast and the almighty Stadia controller.
This is some news they they didn’t share via their conference, the Stadia controller is required to play games on TV, rather than being able to use your PC, Xbox or PlayStation controllers on PC, laptop or on your phone. Speaking to Jason Schreier and Maddy Myers over at Kotaku, Stadia head Phil Harrison confirmed that you can’t play Stadia games on your TV without the controller. Not a deal breaker, but that kind of information should have been on the conference, right? Thank the lord for Jason Schreier.
Not only that, if you want to go 4K on your TV you’ll need the Chromecast Ultra, which is currently still sitting at £69 on the Google Store. Nice. Or not. Add the Stadia controller, which currently doesn’t have a price but going by modern trends I imagine it’ll set you back around £50, so that’s £120 just to get 4K TV gaming off the ground. Chump change perhaps in comparison to the price of modern day consoles, but remember you’re not really technically paying for anything, just the chance to access a server. Then there’s the price of Stadia, which nobody knows yet. Will it be a subscription service? Will we pay for the games individually? Will there be ads (because Google)? These are questions that Google have taken it upon themselves to not answer until ‘this summer’, so we’re none the wiser until they let the world know the plans. Or Schreier somehow finds out by sneaking into a private meeting and disguising himself as a potted plant.
Then of course, do we own anything here? You may pay £50 for a Stadia controller and be able to use it across all of your devices, huzzah! The games though, if it’s a subscription-based service, nothing you pay for will be yours to own for good. I’ve trumpeted the idea of Xbox Game Pass since its inception on consider it a terrific service, but I’m fully aware none of the games included are actually mine. If Google decides to go in a different direction and sell each game individually, is there really any difference? Streaming services are exactly that. Services. You don’t own anything you watch on Netflix so this wouldn’t necessarily be any different would it? Granted, you’re not paying individually to watch shows on Netflix so you know what the deal is, but can Google really get away with charging people access to a game instead of them owning their own copy outright?
Physical media is still around for this very reason, there’s still an enormous amount of players in the community who just won’t go fully digital. They want ownership over what they buy and who can blame them? The more the world moves in a direction literally just beaming all of our entertainment from a server, physical media will become little more than products for collectors only. I’m not one of those people who is particularly precious about this – I moved to all digital on my consoles a long time ago – but I know plenty who are. No doubt they’ll take one look at Stadia and point blank refuse just on principle. Owning something you’ve worked your ass off to purchase is a source of great pride to so many, it should be interesting to see if Google take this on board. Maybe one day we can download our games into our Google Drives, at least.
So you don’t need a high-end PC anymore to play the latest games in the way the developers intended. What you *now* need is a high-end internet connection. It’s not making your life any easier, it’s just literally moving one issue of modern gaming away and replacing it with another. There’s people out there that swear by PC gaming, that will invest thousands into their rigs to ensure they have the best possible set ups. There are plenty of players out there that don’t have expensive PC rigs and instead stick to console gaming because they’re comfortable in that market. Now Stadia is here and it wants to forgo boxes and rigs completely in order to give you a fresh way to play your games, but you’re going to need a whacking great connection to play it at its very best, which requires a substantial investment. The difference of course is that those in areas with internet that won’t be able to handle Stadia can still beef up their PC’s, can still make them shiny as all heck and forget Stadia ever existed. Either way, top-end gaming is expensive and Stadia simply doesn’t solve that issue.
GDC took place in San Francisco, because of course it did. The heart of Silicon Valley. A place in the world that, one imagines, is ready for Stadia at any moment. Whilst watching Kinda Funny’s analysis of the conference there seemed to be little concern for those outside of their bubble that Stadia just isn’t going to be viable everywhere. Do you think Google have thought about the internet availability in the Rhondda Valleys? Somerset? Stoke? Probably not.
Stadia is enormously exciting. It’s promising the world and it’s got to bloody deliver. It’s got to be good enough that Google even bother keeping it alive for more than a couple of years. Google Stadia is – currently – only for those worthy enough. It’s absolutely not for everyone.
At least not yet. Also, where were the bloody games?
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