Nearly 20 years ago, when the internet was relatively newer, people dreamed of having a few essential Internet-related features. A search engine that knows everything that’s happening in the world stores the past information and has a massive database to store the news to come. A mail service that will decrease the excessive amount of manpower and delay in deliverance of messages from one place to another. A video-streaming website that will have this huge stack of videos dating way back to bring us the nostalgic vibes. Well, Google is all of this, and a lot more. As revolutionizing as the company could get, this year Google decided to debut in the field of cloud gaming. Cloud gaming is a subtly growing subsidiary of the gaming industry but is strengthening its roots at a rapid pace. Google, as always, wants to be in charge of this initiation. As a result, the company decided to launch its own and a much more powerful platform of cloud gaming, Stadia. According to Google, “The future of gaming is not a box. It’s a place. It’s like building a virtual stadium just like humans build stadiums for their sports.”
Google believes that the key to intuitive and high-end gaming does not reside in making expensive gaming computers or spending money over dedicated game consoles. All you need is access to Google’s Chrome browser and a stable internet connection to play games on a phone, tablet, PC, or even a smart TV.
This is the future of gaming.
Developmental tools and prices
Google has to overcome some significant hurdles to achieve its unearthing mission. It is starting from the building of games compatible with its platform. In the event earlier this week, Google displayed a single new title Doom Eternal, running on Stadia. Google even unveiled its own Stadia Games and Entertainment studio to create Stadia-exclusive titles.
Linux is a powerful operating system and has proved its worth over the years. Due to this, Google has decided to use Linux as their operating system to power its hardware on the server side. The game developers will have to port their games to Stadia. The problem arises on the restriction of games built on other cloud-gaming services (NVIDIA’s GeForce Now or Shadow) as they won’t be able to be ported on Stadia. The two major open-source game engines, Unreal Engine, and Unity3D have partnered with Google to execute this plan. However, the costs of development and publishing games on Stadia haven’t been disclosed yet.
The real question is about the optimization of this platform to create games suitable for users of all kinds. Internet connectivity differs from region-to-region making it a complex problem to cater. Google is using its compression technology to stream games in 1080p or 4K to devices, and some of the typical latency will be reduced by having the game client and server on the same machine. Still, you’ll need a reliable and active internet connection to access Stadia, and Google is recommending a connection of “approximately 25 Mbps” for 1080p resolution at 60 FPS.
Internet speed surely is an integral component. However, it won’t cover the latency aspect which key to any gaming-streaming service. Video-streaming services like Netflix or YouTube have the options of downloading and buffering the fixed content being streamed, but a gaming service solely relies on buttons pressed by the player’s controller. The real-time relaying back and forth between the player and the server is a tough ask for an average internet connection. Technically, the distance from a user to the server will play a vital role in this, but still, these assumptions need to be converted into actual numbers for players.
Google’s Stadia service is also entirely cloud-based, which means no offline play. While you might typically sync a few Netflix shows to your phone or tablet because you know your LTE connectivity sucks, you’ll need a constant connection to Stadia to play games on the go. 5G will certainly help here, but only partially and not anytime soon.
Gaming power and image quality
Cloud-based gaming is based on two main features: gaming power and image quality. Google revealed that the servers provided by them would be powered by a custom AMD GPU delivering a staggering 10.7 Teraflops of power. This is greater than a combined sum of 4.2 Teraflops and 6 Teraflops of power provided by PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, respectively. The graphical power is phenomenal. However, the result of gameplay will still rely on the strength of your internet connection to Stadia.
In an attempt to attain fluidity even on low-bandwidth internet connections, Google will compress image quality. Although the exact bitrates are still unknown, for a gamer a loss in image quality is evident and irritating for the most part of the community.
Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry was able to test Stadia, but the testing was limited to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey instead of a demanding title like a first-person shooter that requires quick player response time or fast-moving action games where artifacts are much more apparent.
All of this makes Stadia look like an early beta for what will be part of the future of gaming. Google has hired a lot of industry talent for this ambitious project. Phil Harrison, a former Sony, and Microsoft executive is leading the Stadia charge, and Jade Raymond, who has previously worked at Sony, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft, is heading up the company’s first-party games. Xbox Live Arcade creator Greg Canessa is also working on Stadia, alongside former Xbox gaming partnerships lead Nate Ahearn. All of this experience should help Google in its cloud gaming fight.
Sony already streams PlayStation games to its consoles and PCs via its PlayStation Now service. Sony acquired game streaming service Gaikai to turn it into PlayStation Now, and it even acquired rival OnLive only to shut it down. Microsoft is also planning its xCloud game-streaming service, which it demonstrated recently, with public trials set to start later this year.
Sony and Microsoft’s approaches aren’t cloud-native like Google’s, and they don’t require developers to port their games or rebuild them for their cloud streaming service. Both companies are using console hardware in server blades. That’s a benefit for now as both Sony and Microsoft can offer big game libraries without needing developers to change anything. Google’s ambitious effort will require more heavy lifting from developers, but Google has the longer-term advantage of being able to switch out its hardware with ease in the future and implement changes that don’t affect legacy console hardware.
Amazon also looks like it will be a big cloud gaming competitor to Google, and NVIDIA also streams games. Even Valve is expanding its Steam Link game-streaming feature to allow you to stream your Steam games from a PC to anywhere through the Steam Link hardware or the Steam Link app.
Sony, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google will be the key players in any cloud gaming war. Sony has the games and PlayStation Now, Microsoft can leverage its Azure data centers and Xbox Game Pass for xCloud, and Amazon can lean on its cloud dominance, Prime, and its massively popular Twitch service to entice gamers. Google has some fierce competition, but it looks like this cloud gaming war is just getting started.