Yesterday Google announced their long-rumoured gaming platform, called Stadia.
It marks the first time that a major gaming platform of this size will be ditching console hardware and focusing their entire attention on streaming, and they have made some massive claims – claims that have led to the term “console killer” being thrown about – claims that have also made people write off Stadia before it has even launched. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, you cannot deny that Google are making a lot of noise right now, and if everything works out the way they claim it will, then this could easily change the landscape of video games in the coming years.
First off, there’s a lot of “ifs” here, and that is no surprise given that this is the first time something like this has been attempted with video games; at least on this scale anyway. Google have made claims that they will be able to stream games in 4K at 60fps, and that these games will be available on pretty much any device that runs the Google Chrome browser (Including Chromecast devices for TV’s). They also showed examples of how you can be viewing a YouTube video of a game then get offered a ‘Play Now’ option that could launch that game on your browser in as quick as five seconds (Reportedly). If this works as advertised, then we undoubtedly have a new major player in the modern-day console war.
I say console war, but there is no console to be seen here; just a gamepad. This is more than likely going to be where Stadia hopes to steal some players away from the likes of PlayStation, Xbox and Switch. Although pricing is still currently under wraps, you would think that given this is a streaming only platform with little to no hardware, that Google will be able to dramatically undercut its competition. It’s also interesting to note that during their GDC press conference, Google refers to PS4 and Xbox One as last gen – This may just sound like a cheap shot at their competition, but in truth, if Stadia can pull off what it says it can, then in theory they will be able to run games of a far higher quality than the current consoles, as developers would not be restricted by current hardware.
There’s that word “if” again. All of this basically boils down to whether or not Google can actually pull this off and, in most people’s opinion, it’s not even in their hands. The service can be as brilliant as they want, but as with any streaming service, the consumer is relying on a decent internet connection for all this to work properly. It feels to me that Google want you to view this as the Netflix of video games, which would be a great marketing ploy given the gigantic worldwide success of Netflix… Though when it comes to gaming, there is obviously a lot more to take into consideration. Even if Stadia is able to stream up to 4K, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will play well, and the most obvious concern with many gamers when it comes to streaming is input lag. Many people, myself included, believe this is what could make or break Stadia. It would only take a few bad experiences when it comes to input lag for most gamers to decide that this streaming stuff isn’t for them and it’s back to console gaming for the time being.
Staying on the subject of internet connections, choosing to go down this streaming only route would surely take away a huge part of Google’s target audience, right? There are still many people who are not fortunate enough to have a fast enough connection to even slightly pull off what Stadia is trying to achieve here – Many will not even bother trying, and just stick to what they know works… Though let’s not be naive enough to think that Google haven’t considered all of this. Chances are that this may still work even if your internet speed isn’t great, and I believe Google will give gamers the chance to find out for themselves without having to spend a penny.
Although they are pushing their own brand new control pad, Google have said that the service will be playable using the controllers you already own (Just don’t expect the same results). So with this in mind, it would make a lot of sense for them to run free-to-play demos, or if they have a subscription service, some sort of free trial so that people can try out the service completely free and decide for themselves. If this were to work, and players were to have a generally pleasant experience then there might well be a lot of people that jump on board with this, purely for financial reasons.
Now there are always going to be gamers out there that love their collection of trophies and achievements, or maybe input lag is such a big deal that they don’t even like using wireless controllers (I’m looking at you beat-em-up nerds!), so the idea of moving over to Stadia is just not an option… But what about a more general audience? To the people who currently own a console who may only play 3-4 games a year and don’t live and breathe video games, this may well be a much better option. It always feels a big ask when Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo are asking for big bucks for the latest must-have console, and make no doubt about it, the average Joe does not enjoy this part of gaming. This is where Google will be looking to strike, advertising the latest ready to play next-gen games on hardware you already own without having to shell out over £300 for the privilege… And sure it might not feel as smooth or responsive as playing these games on console, but if it means saving mega bucks, people are more than likely going to go with the option that saves them money.
Again, assuming all this works and people do move over to this new way of gaming, what could it mean for the big boys already in town? Microsoft have already shown a willingness to jump into the streaming market with Project X-Cloud reportedly in the works, which you would imagine could work very much like what is advertised on Stadia. It might mean they are a playing catch-up a bit (Given the rumours that testing isn’t due until later in the year), but given that they have seemingly been looking into this for a while and with Xbox being a brand name plus the exclusives they own, would likely do just fine in this new streaming market.
But what about my beloved Sony? They seem to be the quiet ones when the discussion of streaming comes up – PlayStation Now doesn’t seem to be turning many heads, and I get the impression that they really aren’t overly bothered by it, and that is more than likely the case. The PS4 has dominated the market during this run of current gen consoles and I believe a lot of that is down to Sony’s marketing of being “for the players”. They haven’t really jumped on the online bandwagon as much as others and it feels like big story-driven single player titles such as God of War, Spider-Man, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted 4 have really been a shining example of what PlayStation is all about. When announcing the PS4, they were quick to shoot down any rumours of going discless and made it clear that sharing hard copies of games with your friends was something they were not looking to get rid of any time soon. Although none of this really has anything to do with streaming, I feel it’s not in Sony’s nature to venture too far from classic console gaming and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Whether or not this means the PlayStation gets left behind or it means they thrive even more with gamers who refuse to stream remains to be seen.
This is all, of course, speculation based on whether or not the Google Stadia is a success and it all goes back to that big “if” I was talking about. For me personally, I think this may well be much more of a success than people are predicting, especially if Google can deliver on these big promises at a small price… Though this doesn’t overly excite me as I am quite old school and truly love console gaming and I can’t ever see that changing unless it is forced upon me. Though it is worth pointing out that I said the exact same thing when initially discussing the idea of streaming music and film… I am currently sat here streaming Spotify with plans to watch Netflix later this evening, so who knows, maybe I’ll be sat here streaming the latest game on Stadia in a few years time!
Do you think Stadia will be a success? Will Google be able to deliver on what they are advertising? Will we all be streaming video games in the near future? Let me know in the comments below…