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Google Stadia explained: How does it work and where is it available?

While Google may aim to offer a unified gaming platform where games can be downloaded, played and shared at high-speeds and with no lag, there is a lot of questions unanswered.

Written by Anuj Bhatia | New Delhi |
Updated: March 25, 2019 8:03:48 am
Google, Google Stadia, Stadia, Stadia price in India, Google Stadia India, Google Stadia games, Google Stadia exclusive games, Google stadia issues, stadia cloud streaming game service, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Scheduled to launch later this year, Stadia is a cloud-based gaming platform that will bring together gamers, developers, streamers, YouTube together. (Image credit: Reuters)

Google has made it clear it wants to change how the traditional video gaming market works forever with Stadia. No, Google is not building a new console or a high-end gaming PC. The search giant, in fact, has launched a new streaming platform which will let people play games across a variety of devices without the need for a machine or console with top-of-the-line graphics and processor.

Scheduled to launch later this year, Stadia is a cloud-based gaming platform that will bring together gamers, developers, streamers, YouTube together. Think Stadia as Netflix for gaming.

The streaming platform announced at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, challenges the “big three” in the gaming market Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo and aims to stream high-quality games, which have traditionally been played on video game consoles and PCs. Stadia will also be fully integrated with YouTube, also owned by Google.

While Google may aim to offer a unified gaming platform where games can be downloaded, played and shared at high-speeds and with no lag, there is a lot of questions unanswered. What is Google’s business model for Stadia? What games will be made available at launch? What is the cost involved to play games? How fast does my internet speed to be to play games? How will the developers profit?

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What is Google Stadia?

Stadia, formerly known as Project Stream, is a cloud-streaming service that takes on traditional console makers like Sony and Microsoft. The idea is to create a gaming platform that consolidates the entire gaming process, from development and hosting to distribution and advertising. It also reduces the dependency on expensive hardware.

“Our vision for Stadia is simple,” said Phil Harrison, a former executive at Sony and Microsoft who joined Google to work on Stadia gaming platform. “It’s focused on gamers, inspired by developers, and amplified by YouTube creators,” he added.

Stadia is pitched as a way to bring high-quality games to the mainstream audience by lowering the cost of entry. So, instead of purchasing an expensive game console like PS4 or Xbox One, Stadia is designed to play big-budget AAA-titles (or games with high graphics and frame rates) like Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and id Software’s upcoming Doom Eternal on devices such as laptops, PCs, TVs, tablets and even smartphones.

In other words, there is no need to buy separate hardware to play games on Stadia, as the only hardware currently made for the streaming service is a game controller– designed by Google. Stadia allows anyone with a Chrome browser and a controller to experience console-quality gaming on an existing device.

But Stadia is more than a video game streaming service for gamers. During the keynote presentation, Google highlighted how through Stadia, developers can make cross-platform multiplayer games that work across devices such as PC, TV, mobile phones, and tablets at the same time. To speed up the development of games, Google will work with developers big and small, and interested parties can sign up to get the tools for getting started.

What Google didn’t mention how the two parties share profit. Will the developers get per minute of play or will they be paid directly by Google? Another big question is, will the developers be paying Google a fee to be on Stadia?

Google wants Stadia to be tightly integrated with YouTube, the world’s most popular video sharing platform. For instance, there’s a feature called “Crowd Play” which lets you go from watching your favourite streamer on YouTube to jumping into the game if that streamer lets you join in. Then there is a feature called State Share that enables you to save a game in a certain state and share that with friends.

Google will also have its own controller designed for Stadia, with buttons to stream to YouTube and use Google Assistant to get help with the game. You can also use existing controllers or mouse and keyboard to play Stadia games.

Google Stadia: How it works?

Stadia will stream games to players from Google’s Data Centers in 200 countries and territories. Stadia, according to Google, can deliver lag-free gaming in up to 4K resolution at 60 FPS with HDR and surround sound. In the future, Google will support an 8K resolution at 120 FPS as well.

Given that Stadia takes advantage of the cloud, it is easier for gamers to access titles without the need for a physical disc or frustrating downloads. During the keynote presentation, Google showed off Assassin’s Creed Odyssey playing on a Chromebook, then playing it on a phone, then immediately playing it on PC with no lag.

To achieve all this, Google has partnered with chipmaker AMD to develop build a specialised GPU for its data centers. The chip aims to deliver 10.7 teraflops of power (compare that to the 4.2 teraflops of the PS4 Pro or 6 teraflops of the Xbox One X).

Where are the games?

Google didn’t reveal which games Stadia will offer at launch, though it did talk about Doom Eternal which also works on Nintendo Switch and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, a $60 game released on PS4 and Xbox One. Exclusive games play a huge role in selling a console or service, and that’s exactly what Stadia needs to make a strong impression on consumers when it launches later this year.

Notably, Google has confirmed that Stadia will have exclusive games, and it’s hired Jade Raymond, the former Ubisoft and Electronic Arts executive, to lead Google’s first-party studio. Sure, Google will develop first-party, exclusive games but we don’t know when these titles will be available. Usually, a high-profile game takes at least 3 to 4 years to develop.

How much does it cost?

Cost is the big factor here, and Google has maintained silence over the business model. We don’t know if Google will sell games per-title, or as part of a Netflix-style subscription plan. How do developers get paid? Also, it’s not going to be easy for Google to heavily subsidised Stadia. Cost of maintaining data servers is high, plus games developers need their cut too. We expect to get answers closer to launch, but it’s hard to say what impact Stadia will have on the video game market without knowing the business model of Google.

How well Stadia work in real life?

Streaming games at 1080p and 60 frames per second through the internet on a TV or a smartphone sounds enticing on a paper. No doubt Google has worked on reducing latency and making sure that streaming works well for a majority of players. But we need to admit the fact that streaming works only on strong internet connections. Google says 25 megabit internet speed is required to stream games at 1080p/60fps.

Google appears to be confident that Stadia will work just fine for users as YouTube does. The reality could be different altogether. Google may be ready to launch the service in the US and Europe by end of the year, but it is impossible to stream video games over the internet in a country like India, where the average download speed over a fixed broadband connection is 9.93Mbps. Even with a 25 Mbps download speed, we don’t know how much data be used to stream games over the internet.

Another big question: will players be ready to stream games on their phones on the go? Yes, data cost has come down drastically after the arrival of Reliance Jio. But for streaming games on the go, you need a constant internet connection and no latency or lag to handle the heavy graphics and achieve 60 frames per second. That’s impossible to achieve, at least, for now. But do people want to pay more for data in order to play AAA games on the go?

Yes, Stadia has a potential but there is a big difference between a tech demo and an actual game being streamed over the internet.

Is cloud gaming the future?

Google may be ready with a new cloud-based gaming platform, but it’s too early to predict its impact on the video gaming market in general. The idea of streaming video games is intriguing, but it is yet to catch the attention of mainstream gamers. Previous game streaming services have either failed as in case of OnLive or existing ones like Sony’s PlayStation Now and Nvidia’s GeForce Now hasn’t had any kind of impact. Issues ranging from latency and lag and expensive subscription plans. PlayStation Now, for instance, costs $20 per month and is limited to PS4 and Windows 10 PCs.

With Stadia, Google could turn the tide when it launches on multiple devices (though, its availability on iOS devices is not confirmed) later this year. But Stadia faces serious challenges not only from traditional consoles like PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch but also from other Silicon Valley behemoths like Microsoft and Amazon. While Microsoft is expected to launch its own game streaming service in 2019, Apple and Amazon are reportedly working on building similar services.

Can Stadia make consoles obsolete?

In terms of sheer raw power, Google claims it Stadia streaming service has an upper hand, compared to Sony’s PS4 Pro and Microsoft’s Xbox One X. Having a powerful system isn’t enough to change the perception of people towards a new gaming platform and that too from Google, which is known for shutting down services quite frequently.

Content is really the king here. Google has a lot of cash and technical prowess, but it is hard to beat Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo on the basis of video game franchises and a robust catalogue of hit games. Even if Google comes up with a killer title, it’s not necessarily a gamer who’s fully invested in the PlayStation ecosystem will agree to immediately jump in and subscribe to Stadia. For instance, a title like God of War is a huge draw for gamers to buy a PS4, or Nintendo Switch’s hybrid design and first-party titles like ‘Mario Kart’ sell the console.

One always need to remember with a streaming video game service, there is a chance of the game being pulled from the service due to expiring license agreements, or if a publisher pulling support altogether. As with consoles and gaming PCs, a physical game or a downloadable title can be played multiple times without the risk of losing.

Look, physical consoles are not going anywhere, at least not this generation. Both Sony and Microsoft are working on the next-generation consoles and we might get to hear about them as early as this year. We expect the next-generation consoles to act like a smartphone. Simply put, it could be similar to what Samsung does with its Galaxy S lineup updates. There will be multiple iterations of the PS5, with new consoles being launched on a regular basis.

The growing list of questions

Many fear Stadia will give Google a monopoly or an unfair advantage over the competition. Stadia is deeply integrated with YouTube, which is owned by Google. The Search giant clearly wants a monopoly when it comes to live streams and to make sure you stick to YouTube.

Another big question: Does Google have the required infrastructure to support a cloud-based game streaming service? To run a service on a large scale where millions of people streaming high-fidelity games over the internet, it could be a nightmare for Google even if it has massive data centers.

And what about ads in games? Google is essentially an advertising company and it will likely put adverts in game-play? Will you be willing to pay for such a service?

When is Google Stadia going to be released?

A service like Stadia makes sense for consumers in India, where the penetration of game consoles is not high due to the cost of hardware and games itself. With the commercial launch of Reliance Jio GigaFiber to happen soon, India could the testing ground for Google to launch its Stadia video game streaming service. At the time of writing, Google hasn’t announced its plans to launch its service in India. However, it said Stadia will launch in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe in 2019.

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