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Benjamin Thomas, Lecturer in Computer Games Modelling and Animation at the University of Derby, assesses what experience Google’s new streaming service for gamers, Stadia, might offer for the hardcore and casual players. 

What is Google Stadia?

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard of streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime and the newly release Disney+ in America. You might, however, not have heard of Stadia.

Stadia is Google’s answer to subscription-based gaming. The service allows you to instantly play games on your TV, laptop and phone without the need of a gaming console. In its current state only a selected numbers of devices support Stadia.

It’s worth noting that Google’s subscription model works slightly different to the likes of Netflix and Spotify. When paying for Netflix or Spotify you get access to all available films and music, but with Stadia you still need to purchase games you want to play. Essentially Stadia removes the need to buy expensive consoles and computer hardware such as graphics cards. A good way to think of it is a console in the cloud.

Google claims that there will be no waiting for games to download, you can “jump straight into stellar gameplay experiences”.

The concept of game streaming services is a fantastic idea but it’s still very early in its development. Early impressions from reviewers of Stadia state that it’s extremely impressive in terms of its visuals, streaming quality and the user experience, but they feel it’s been released too soon with several promised features missing from launch.

The graphical fidelity is impressive considering there is some compression happening and up close you will see artifacts. From a sensible playing distance, visually games look great.

The issues

However, it’s not all good news. The BIG issue is latency and latency can destroy a player’s gaming experience. In computing terms, latency describes types of delay.

When it comes to Stadia it’s essentially the delay from when your input a command such as a button press and seeing this result in a game. This delay can be up to a few seconds. The latency issue is not a constant hindrance, but more of a side effect of the amount of data being transferred to and from the Google data centers. Several variables can affect this, such as internet traffic and your home setup. At 4K and 60 frames per second (fps), Stadia can use as much as 20GB an hour, so if you have a data cap from your ISP then possibly Stadia won’t be for you.

In some cases, buffering style stuttering or hitching of the stream can take place during gameplay. This is not a deal-breaker when playing causal games such as Farming Simulator or Football Manager 2020, but can be a real problem when playing competitive first person shooter games such as Destiny.

Stadia and gamers

Broadly speaking gamers fall into two categories, casual and hardcore players. Hardcore console and PC gamers tend to want to have the best hardware to game on. This ranges from gaming peripherals to low latency gaming monitors with fast response times to RTX graphic cards for real-time ray tracing. They want the best experience possible. Currently though, the above issues mean that Stadia does not provide that experience.

In its current state Stadia won’t be able to attract those hardcore gamers and drag them away from their gaming PCs and consoles. What it might do is start attracting those casual gamers who have this ‘pick up and put down’ philosophy to gaming. The idea of just jumping straight into an AAA game without the need of expensive hardware will appeal to the casual audience.

What Stadia means for game developers

In terms of development not much will change in the short term. Assets and code will be created the same way as normal. Stadia will eventually support a variety of devices, the UI (user interface) will need to be adapted to display correctly. For example, the UI and the information displayed on a 4K screen needs to be displayed differently compared to that of a smaller mobile screen. The UI needs to be legible on all devices, so extra design and development time will be needed to support these different resolutions.

For the reasons stated above, Stadia could get adopted by mainstream casual gamers, if this happens, we will see games being specifically developed for Stadia in the same way games are developed for just the mobile market. Currently, the mobile market has limited access to Stadia due to Stadia only being available on pixel devices. It’s too early to discuss numbers, but game developers and publishers might not see enough of a market to invest in creating some just for the Stadia platform.

Conclusion

Overall the idea of Stadia is brilliant, but the technology and infrastructure are still in their infancy. Early adopters of the technology will experience mixed results that have been explored in this blog.

I believe game streaming services will eventually take over the market like Netflix has for TV and film. The powerhouse of Microsoft will soon launch Project xCloud and Sony has revamped PlayStation Now, so the market is going to get extremely crowded very quickly. The likes of Amazon will no doubt join in too.

This competition will push technology, and this can only be a good thing for the industry.

 

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