Google’s cloud gaming venture started with Project Stream and has now taken shape as Stadia, which was announced at GDC 2019 in San Francisco on March 19. The Netflix-style, video game platform is aiming to flip the gaming industry on its head by eliminating the need of pricey consoles, putting an end to hour-long download times, and even taking on live streaming platforms — like Twitch. It’s Google’s first big bet on video games and the company is betting big.
The vertically integrated gaming platform will combine the entire industry under one roof — from development and hosting, to distribution and advertising explained Phil Harrison, the head of the new service, during the Stadia’s announcement.
If realized to its full potential, it will tear down barriers of entry and merge two pillars of the modern gaming industry: the developers who create immersive digital worlds and the fans who visit YouTube to stream or watch Fortnite, Apex Legends, and League of Legends.
“The worlds of watching and playing a game converge into a new generation game platform,” said Harrison. “Our vision for Stadia is simple: One place for all the ways we play. It’s focused on gamers, inspired by developers, and amplified by YouTube developers.”
Google has posted itself as a disruptor in an industry with long-established precedent. Stadia wants to let gamers play AAA titles on any of their devices using its standalone controller. This could be far cheaper than the $500 to $400 consoles that have become the norm. But there’s still a lot left to do and to be revealed.
Google Stadia: How It Works
The brain of Stadia will be Google’s global network of data centers that are in 200 countries. The company wants gamers to rent its servers’ computational and graphical capacity to run games, instead owning their own console or PC.
Like the Netflix of gaming, Stadia will offer users a library of games they can choose from and begin to play with just a click, no downloading or installing required. Google’s servers will run the game and send users the visual output through the internet at up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second at launch, and with 8K at 120 fps available some time in the future.
Beta tests conducted last October proved that Stadia could pull this off in a limited capacity, running Assassin’s Creed Odyssey smoothly for a small number of testers who all verified they had good internet connection. Recreating that experience worldwide, and with an ever-expanding roster of games, will require time and new partnerships, Google’s presenters explained.
To achieve all this, Google is teaming up with chip maker AMD to build a specialized GPU for its data centers, which Majd Bakar, head of engineering for Stadia, claims will be the graphics card to rule them all.
The graphics chip is said to deliver 10.7 teraflops of power — meaning it can complete 10.7 trillion operations per second — compared to the PlayStation 4 Pro’s 4.2 teraflops and the Xbox One X’s six teraflops of power. All of that will be complemented by a custom-made 2.7GHz x86 CPU with 16GB of RAM.
For the first time, Stadia servers will make this level of graphical power accessible to its users via a web browser. But it’s still unclear when Google will let users test it.
Google Stadia Release Date: 2019
Google has yet to announce a firm date of when Stadia will become available, but it said it’ll launch in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe in 2019. In an interview with Polygon, Harrison revealed when to expect another update in June, and potentially its release date.
“So you’ll see a pretty amazing lineup come June,” he said. “The summer is when we will be next back out in public [but] we’re not confirming E3.”
E3 has traditionally been the venue where console giants like Sony and Microsoft reveal their next-generation hardware. Skipping the video game expo would mean Google would likely need to host a standalone event. But of course, just because Stadia leadership will be making a public appearance in June doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll learn anything new.
Stadia was announced as coming “sometime in 2019,” so a June release date seems like it would be rushed. Only a couple of games have been confirmed for a platform that is supposed to offer a library of hundreds of titles. Plus, the Stadia controller still needs to be authorized by the FCC before Google can sell it. That is a lot to accomplish in only a few months.
It seems more likely, then, that a June update would center on what games will be available at release, and probably another teaser.
Google Stadia: Price?
Google has yet to name a price, but Harrison and Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot have hinted that a pricing model could be announced soon and it’ll be unlike any of its competitors.
Harrison told told GameSpot that deciding how much the service should cost was a two year process involving multiple parties, but that the team has settled on a format.
“We have had a fantastic user research team as a core part of the Stadia team for two years now,” said Harrison. “And so, we have our point of view, we then test various hypotheses with consumers and publishing partners, and then get to the right result.”
Currently available cloud gaming services, like Sony’s PlayStation Now and Shadow, use a monthly-fee model similar to Netflix and Hulu. PS Now runs users $20 per month and Shadow costs $34.95 every month for a yearly plan. Sony’s service costs $240 for a full year and Shadow nearly doubles that to $408.
A monthly subscription might be ideal for avid gamers that have time to play multiple times a week. But Ubisoft’s Guillemot suggested that Stadia will take both video game fanatics and more casual gamers into consideration with its pricing.
“I think we will have a multitude of ways,” Guillemot told GameSpot in March. “Either you buy full price and you play; or you will be able to also register, possibly, to play either one hour or two hours a day. There will be plenty of ways.”
The final price might also be impacted by the cost of the Stadia’s controller that is currently awaiting approval by the Federal Communications Commission to begin selling the controller in the US, according to a company blog post. The piece of hardware will be crucial fro playing multiplayer games and could make the total cost of the service slightly more expensive.
Will Stadia Support Multiplayer Gaming?
One of the biggest issues with playing online games through a streaming service is the lag. Stadia, by essentially acting as a middle man between gamers and the tech they’re playing on, will have to figure out how to circumvent the problem, particularly if it’s going to include multiplayer gaming on its roster.
That’s because gamers will essentially need to send their inputs to Google’s servers, which would then send them to, say, Fortnite’s servers. Even with blazing fast internet speeds, this would fundamentally add more delay. But Google intends on handling this using Stadia’s controller.
Instead of connecting to the users’ device, the controller would use wifi to connect directly to Google’s servers. That means user inputs would only need to travel from Stadia to Fortnite’s servers, which on paper should reduce input lag. That solution should suffice for current generation games, but of course, Google has bigger ambitions.
The company has partnered with an array of game engine and software companies — like Havok, Unity, and Unreal — to allow developers to create games right on Stadia. In theory, this would allow independent game developers to create a battle royale game right on Stadia servers, which would in theory make for lag-free game sessions.
“Developers that use Google’s data centers can create a predictable multiplayer experience that scales to an order of magnitude greater than anything enjoyed by gamers today,” said Harrison in his presentation. “Battle royale games could go from hundreds of players today, to thousands of players tomorrow.”
Google Stadia: Live Streaming Features
Stadia is also introducing a feature Google calls “Crowd Play,” which allows fans of video game streamers to play with their favorite online personalities while they’re live on YouTube. This feature seems to be a direct move to lure avid Twitch users to Google’s video site.
If a streamer is broadcasting themselves playing NBA 2K19, for example, viewers could click a “Join This Game” button to queue themselves up to face off against their favorite YouTube creators. YouTube would essentially become both a streaming site where people watch gaming, but also a place they can actually play the games themselves, explains the site’s Head of Gaming Ryan Wyatt.
“The person watching can simply click the link and be placed into the lobby for the next game,” he said. “Crowd Play can act like an all-new lobby system for games. With Stadia, YouTube becomes the ultimate discovery and engagement tool for content.”
Google Stadia Will Offer Games Made Specifically for Live Streaming
In a interview with Gamespot, Harrison revealed that Crowd Play will be much more than a perk, it will be the driving force behind the development of future titles.
Story, game mechanics, and multiplayer aspects are only a few of the crucial components that go into creating a memorable game that flies off the shelf. Harrison predicts that once Stadia gets off the ground, developers will have to begin paying much closer attention to how a game will look to an audience on YouTube.
“I’m already having these conversations with teammates in some studios,” he said. “Historically, you [had] a game producer [build] the game. But now, some studios are very thoughtfully thinking about, well I need to augment that with somebody who understands the viewership experience.”
Introducing this unique feature streaming to YouTube could coax avid Twitch streamers to switch platforms in order to be connected with fans at a deeper level (and, naturally, have the chance to monetize those deeper connections).
Which Games Will Be Available on Stadia?
The science fiction-horror shooter Doom Eternal will be one of the first major titles to launch on Stadia, and it will support 4K resolution, HDR, and 60fps gameplay. The game’s executive producer, id Software’s Marty Stratton, said it only took a week to optimize the game for Stadia. This means upcoming games that weren’t initially meant to launch on Stadia could still be easily added to the roster.
Q-Games works closely with both Nintendo and Sony and is best known of its PixelJunk series, The Tomorrow Children, and Star Fox Command. The PixelJunk franchise in particular features a variety of multiplayer and co-op mini games, from racing games to platform shooters. Their Stadia release could feature a racing or shooting game that uses YouTube as a lobby to let players either watch a live match or jump in and play.
Seeing as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was available for play during the streaming service’s beta, it’ll likely also be available to play at launch.
Ubisoft has already indicated that the following games — due for 2019 — will make it on to Stadia when it’s released later in the year. These include:
- Trials Rising: The multiplayer motor-cross racing game was released in late February on PC and all major consoles, but would lend itself perfectly to Stadia’s “state share” feature. Users could watch a race play out and then grab their controller to join the action.
- Skull and Bones: Slated to launch as early as April, the naval warfare game will let players live out their pirate fantasies on the virtual high seas. It’s expect to offer single-player and multiplayer options.
- Anno 1800: The real-time strategy game is a riff on Civilization franchise and is set to be launch on April 16.
Apart from Ubisoft, Google’s partnerships with game engine companies like — Unreal, Unity, and Havok — could spur an entire roster of future, Stadia-exclusive titles.
Google Assistant Integration
That’s not all. Each Stadia controller will include its very own Google Assistant button. These buttons will eventually be multipurpose: Gamers will be able to use it to access specific features in future games but also to summon a voice assistant for advice on a boss fight that’s giving them trouble.
At least for now, Google is still relying on developers to integrate the feature into future games. But in the meantime, it will immediately serve as a way for gamers to quickly ask for gaming tips when they’re stuck on a certain level.
“It allows players to immediately access the controller’s built-in microphone so they can get help from the Assistant for special, in-game features,” explained Harrison.
How Will Google Stadia Combat Lag?
Google’s cloud gaming service has the potential to democratize gaming but one formidable barrier to entry remains: high-speed internet. Without speeds of 20 to 25 megabits per second, Stadia games will crawl.
The roll-out of 5G is expected to largely eliminate this issue, eventually, but until then Harrison said it’ll be Stadia’s priority to help users play lag-free. In an interview with Gamespot he revealed the service will provide a a built-in guide or tutorial showing users how to up their internet speeds using a mix of software fixes and hardware.
“There’s a crucial bit in the middle which is, helping players optimize [in case] there are some environmental reasons inside their home that are restricting their experience,” he said. “[We] will give them a knowledge base that will allow them to then — in some cases — move their wireless router or [maybe] upgrade their router.”
Harrison wouldn’t say exactly how this would look on Stadia, it could even take the form of a simple push toward Google Wifi hardware. The tech company began selling mesh-capable wireless routers in 2016 and now offers them at $99 a pop or a three-pack for $259. A bundle of these device work as a team to amplify the Wifi signal inside of a home that might be suffering from dead zones.
Will Stadia Games Be Cheating Free?
The Google executive also claimed that future online games that are housed on Google’s servers will be free of hacking and cheating. Software developer Pavel Djundik quickly pointed out, however, that that promise may be exceptionally difficult for Google to keep.
A few cheats like aimbotting, which automatically aims and shoots at targets in multiplayer shooter games, could still be pulled off by accessing a game’s memory to find out the in-game coordinates of other players. That’s usually done by using DLL injections, which is hacker talk for sneakily trying to slide your own lines of code into a program to influence it in an unexpected way (i.e. syphon locational data.)
DLL injections take a decent amount of coding prowess to pull off, but there are also aimbot programs now that can analyze video output to target players at superhuman levels. There’s little reason to think that such programs will be impossible to run on Stadia, but we don’t have enough information about the service to say for sure.