Four months after it was initially announced as the beginning of the end of console gaming, Google has revealed key details about its cloud gaming venture, Stadia. The tech giant hosted its first Stadia Connect announcement June 6, where it announced the pricing options, games roster, and release date for the new service, due in November.
What started as Project Stream in 2018 has taken shape into a full-fledged service that could enable gamers to play console games straight from smartphones, tablets, and laptops. But even with this update under its belt, many crucial Stadia details remain under wraps.
We know that the vertically integrated gaming platform will combine the entire industry under one roof. From development and hosting, to distribution and advertising, Stadia chief Phil Harrison explained at launch that Stadia was doing everything it needed to do to become a major gaming industry player practically overnight.
If it realizes 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 presented itself as an industry disruptor by letting gamers play AAA titles on any of their devices using a standalone controller. This could be far cheaper than the $500 to $400 consoles that have become the norm. While the June 6 announcement pulled the curtains back from Google’s cloud gaming ambitions, there’s still a lot that’s been left unsaid.
Google Stadia: How It Works
The brain of Stadia will be Google’s global network of data centers currently spread out over 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 pick and 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 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 teamed 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: November 2019
Google held back on announcing a firm release date and instead only teased that Stadia will launch “sometime in November.”
Late fall releases are typical for video games and console makers. The annual holiday tech shopping craze consistently boosts sales for games and consoles, which Stadia could try to recreate by launching near Black Friday (November 29).
We’ll have to wait until the next Stadia announcement to get a firm release date.
Google Stadia: Price?
There are a three different pricing options, and essentially anyone with the right hardware will be able to purchase premium titles a la carte as they become available later on this year.
- Stadia Pro: Stadia’s core offering is Stadia Pro, which costs $9.99 per month. With Stadia Pro, you get access to unlimited gaming on Stadia’s full roster (which is expected to rotate new titles in and out) at quality of up to 4K/60fps/HDR with 5.1 surround sound. Stadia Pro customers will also get discounts on future games released a la cart. The first few customers will receive access to Destiny 2.
- Stadia Base: Starting in 2020, anyone hesitant about cloud gaming — or who wants to play a game released on a console they don’t own — will be able to buy games a la carte as part of Stadia Base. You’ll be able to keep the games and run them in 1080p/60fps with stereo sound on any Chrome device, including the Pixel smartphones.
- Stadia Founders Package: To kickstart subscriptions, Google is also offering a bundle which looks like a pretty good deal. For $129.99 get a limited edition Night Blue controller, a 4K-supporting Chromecast Ultra, three-month Stadia Pro subscription, first dibs on a Stadia users name, and a three-month Buddy Pass to give to a friend.
On their own, the Stadia Controller and Chromecast Utlra cost $69, meaning that the hardware alone makes the bundle about worth it.
Will Stadia Support Multiplayer Gaming?
One of the biggest issues with playing online games through a streaming service is the lag. By essentially acting as a middle man between gamers and the tech they’re playing on, Stadia 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, and then back again. 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?
Here’s a full list of the 18 video game studios that will host their games on Stadia and the 32 titles Google confirmed on June 6:
- Bandai Namco: Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2
- Bethesda: DOOM Eternal, DOOM 2016, Rage 2, The Elder Scrolls Online, Wolfenstein: Youngblood
- Bungie: Destiny 2
- Coatsink: Get Packed
- Codemasters: GRID
- Deep Silver: Metro Exodus
- Drool: Thumper
- Giants Software: Farming Simulator 19
- Larian Studios: Baldur’s Gate 3
- nWay Games: Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
- Sega: Football Manager
- SNK: Samurai Shodown
- Square Enix: Final Fantasy XV, Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider
- 2K: NBA 2K, Borderlands 3
- Tequila Works: Gylt
- Warner Bros: Mortal Kombat 11
- THQ: Darksiders Genesis
- Ubisoft: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Just Dance , Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint , Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 , Trials Rising, The Crew 2
There are plenty more titles to come. Capcom, Electronic Arts, and Rockstar have agreed to host their games on Stadia, but they haven’t yet revealed which will go up on the site. That trio of game studios in particular own the rights to some of the most valuable game franchises in recent memory.
Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 was one of the 2018’s most popular games and the studio also has the Grand Theft Auto series in its back pocket. Capcom released Resident Evil 2 in January which has garnered rave reviews on Steam and it also makes the Monster Hunter and Street Fighter franchises. While Electronic Arts makes all of the most notable sports games — like FIFA, Madden, and NHL — while also cranking out titles like Anthem, Star Wars Battlefront II, and Apex Legends.
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: access to high-speed internet. Google says that the minimum required download speed to run Stadia games is 10 Mbps for 720p and 35 Mbps for 4K at 60 frames per second, 10 Mbps faster than Google claimed at its GDC announcement in March.
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 built-in guide or tutorial showing users how to improve 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 didn’t mention this possibility during Stadia Connect, and Google didn’t host a live demo of the service either, so latency issues remain a looming problem in Stadia’s future.
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.
Google Stadia initial announcement was without question one of the highlights of the spring tech keynotes. Not only does the service promise easy access to wide arrange of titles, but it also showed gamers and developers how this new landscape will enable them to create entirely new and collaborative types of games.
Stadia has also showed that it is building out the gaming industry relationships it needs in order to maintain a sustainable and fun roster of games that will be worth paying for month in, month out.
But some serious tech hurdles remain. For Stadia to compete for gamer dollars, it will have to show that its experience isn’t cutting corners, and that its games will be widely playable.