Google Stadia Could Alter the Video Game Landscape
The clattering of teeth that you likely hear is the collective video game industry responding nervously to one of the most exciting press events in recent memory at the Game Developers Conference. At the 2019 GDC this week, Google firmly positioned itself as a viable threat to console makers and the wider gaming industry with the introduction of Stadia—its console-less platform that can use nearly any available display to stream gaming content.
For the better part of three decades, the video game industry has seen very little disruption. Aside from battling one another, the three big gaming hardware makers—Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo—have seen very little in the form of outside competition. Sure, the smartphone somewhat altered the gaming landscape in the form of applications and being able to play games on the road and on the tiny screen in your pocket. But even that can’t compete with the computing power and overall capacity of the traditional console.
Even virtual reality, which was supposed to be the next big thing for the video game industry, hasn’t been able to truly live up to expectations. And don’t get me started on the video game streaming services that are out there, which are entirely too confused and all over the place.
So, enter Google Stadia.
— Google (@Google) March 19, 2019
Stadia, explained simply, is a game streaming service that uses a Google-designed controller to connect wirelessly to a display in order to let the user play video games. Google’s goal is to make those games available in resolutions up to 4K and 60 fps with support for HDR and surround sound. The controller ties into the service, has a dedicated Google Assistant button, a microphone, and some social functions that we’ll dive into in a bit. But the intent here, from Google, is that Stadia will essentially untether users from needing a gaming console in order to play their gaming content.
What Google plans to do with Stadia could fundamentally alter the makeup of the video game industry. That sounds like a puffy, marketing-eqsue statement that I’ve been paid to plant in this piece, but I 100 percent mean it. Stadia could render the traditional console useless. Rather than requiring users to install a piece of hardware onto a display in order to play video games, Stadia will rely on something that Google has worked decades to build out—its data centers—in order to stream games to its users.
Part of what limits the smartphone from being a gaming workhorse is the fact that the hardware itself is just incapable of housing the internal specs needed to support the software studios pump out nowadays. Maybe someday we’ll see an Android phone with high-end graphics cards and enough RAM to run power-intensive software, but that’s not the world we live in right now. Tablets, smartphones, and even the majority of laptops are just too weak in the specs department to support the types of games consumers play on consoles.
To help solve that very problem, Google Stadia will take responsibility for all of that behind-the-scenes processing that takes place and simply let users stream their games to those same screens.
“When players use Stadia, they'll be able to access their games at all times, and on virtually any screen. And developers will have access to nearly unlimited resources to create the games they’ve always dreamed of,” Google explained in a blog post announcing the service. “It’s a powerful hardware stack combining server class GPU, CPU, memory and storage, and with the power of Google’s data center infrastructure, Stadia can evolve as quickly as the imagination of game creators.”
But beyond the processing capabilities, Stadia’s design shows Google’s intimate understanding of how not only the games themselves have changed, but how (and why) consumers remain obsessed with this industry. It’s all about the social aspect. The Stadia controller, which was unveiled during this press event, includes a dedicated button that users can press to share and save gameplay on YouTube—the Google-owned video platform.
Every day, millions of users are logged into Twitch, an Amazon-owned platform that lets users stream video of themselves playing video games, or watch gamers as they navigate virtual landscapes. That platform has helped gamers turn themselves into quasi-celebrities, collecting millions of dedicated followers, advertising deals, and more. It's because of a service like Twitch that the world knows the likes of Ninja—the first esports competitor to grace the cover of ESPN the Magazine. Stadia, by tying into the YouTube platform, will become the first real rival to Twitch.
“In a world where there are more than 200 million people watching game-related content daily on YouTube, Stadia makes many of those games playable with the press of a button,” Google’s blog reads. “If you watch one of your favorite creators playing Assassin's Creed Odyssey, simply click the ‘play now’ button. Seconds later, you’ll be running around ancient Greece in your own game/on your own adventure—no downloads, no updates, no patches, and no installs.”
No set date has been published yet—nor is there a firm pricing structure for the service—but Google did say that Stadia will launch “later this year” in a select few markets, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and much of Europe.