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On Tuesday morning, Google unveiled details on Stadia -- the company’s vision for a datacenter-based games platform.
The basic pitch is similar to other previous game streaming services -- play high-fidelity games on any device, instantly.
But the difference between Stadia and predecessors such as OnLive and Gaikai (aka PlayStation Now) is that Google has the infrastructure and ecosystem that may position Stadia to succeed where past streaming services have failed or flailed.
“We know a thing or two about streaming in general. We have a lot of experience with platforms like YouTube,” said Jack Buser, director for games business development for Stadia.
“On top of that…there’s stuff people don’t think about every day, which is how large our datacenter network actually is, with so many points of presence near all the major metropolitan areas. There aren’t a lot of companies that have a network like that,” he said.
Google yesterday said flatly, “the future of gaming is not a box,” making the not-so-subtle suggestion that Stadia is poised to replace game traditional game consoles.
Google may be right, but is 2019 the year for that succession to take place? Issues such as latency and performance issues have plagued past services, but Buser says Google has the means to overcome those performance challenges.
He declined to give specific bandwidth requirements for the optimal Stadia experience, but said YouTube “is a good proxy” for Stadia’s case-by-case performance.
“If you have a good high-definition YouTube experience in your home today, you’re probably in pretty good shape for Stadia,” said Buser. “If you’re able to stream 4K YouTube videos into your home today, you’re probably in pretty good shape to get 4K in Stadia.”
He said Project Stream, the large-scale beta test of Stadia from late last year, validated Google’s internal efforts to get a game streaming service going. “The test actually went extremely well. The test not only validated [Stadia] in our minds…but also to gamers,” Buser said.
I did a quick hands-on with Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Odyssey using mainly a controller on Stadia. I likely wouldn't have known that it was being streamed from a datacenter if you didn't tell me. Google also made the bold choice to put Doom on display -- this is a fast-paced FPS where latency would be obvious if it was present.
People who play a lot of these kinds of video games would prefer a local experience versus a streamed one, as responsiveness just isn't quite the same as local play. But -- at least in the GDC demos -- Google is already very close to making the experience good enough to make Stadia a real contender.
Aside from performance, there are still other questions, such as what kind of business model will Stadia adopt. It’s safe to assume that there will be some sort of subscription model, but exactly how much of a cut developers will get from that is unclear.
Buser said Google isn’t talking these numbers publicly, but he said game developers currently working with Google on Stadia are aware of the share.
“We have actually talked to developers all over the world,” he said. “We’ve been very diligent about building a business that’s good for gamers, good for the development community, the details of which are share directly with developers. So far we’ve seen quite a lot of traction with the [game dev] community.”
Buser said that the consumer pricing for Stadia will be “quite acceptable,” implying that pricing will be in line with other subscription services. “In order to [reach eventually billions of people], you have to come up with a business that works for everybody,” he said.
During Google’s presentation Tuesday morning, the company leaned hard on the relationship between influencers and Stadia. For example, a YouTuber could be livestreaming a game, and viewers could instantly jump into the same game via a hyperlink.
While the emphasis on influencers was high, Buser said that game devs don’t need to rely on any single way of marketing a game, when immediate access to a game is simply via a link in a browser.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing that sets Stadia apart from past cloud gaming services is that it opens up a huge opportunity for new ways to market and sell video games.
“If I want to tweet out my game, I can do that,” he said. “If I want to leverage YouTube, I could do that. If I want to use my own website, I can do that. Really, the totality of the internet becomes the opportunity. If one particular venue isn’t right for your as a developer or publisher, well, there are so many other ways.”