What Is Google Stadia?

Everything you need to know about the gaming platform

Google's Stadia platform, which launches in November 2019, represents a major shift in the gaming landscape. Let's take a closer look to see what makes the cloud gaming service so special

History of Google Stadia

The earliest systems ran games in their entirety from media, including cartridges, and later optical disks. But what about more recent "online" games? An excellent question, but consider a game like World of Warcraft, in which you still install a large game application on your PC to play this.

The game communicates with a server managing the world around your character, as well as your interactions with it, but data about it is sent to your PC, which interprets it for you as devastating magic spells and adorable pets.

This is where Stadia differs, as it uses a client-server architecture similar to current "online" games, but shifts the heavy lifting to the servers. Google isn't the first company to try to stream games to their customers. Virtualization technology has been around for a long time, and in the past, firms like OnLive used proprietary technology to try to deliver gaming experiences to their customers. They've only achieved mixed success, however, with certain games faring well, and others not as much. In particular, competitive games that require very low lag didn't performed to expectations during streaming.

But when Google announced Project Stream in October 2018, it did so by demonstrating Assassin's Creed Odyssey played through the Chrome web browser. This was full 4K gameplay at 60 frames per second, or comparable to what you'd have if playing on a high-end PC or console. So how can Google succeed where others have failed in the past?

The Google Stadia Platform

Google's platform consists of two main elements: the servers in the background that will stream the games to users, and the client that will display graphics and send input.

Part of the issue with previous attempts at game streaming services was new companies were attempting to launch them. While they might have had some useful, proprietary technology to help, they also had relatively few servers to work with. If one of these services had, say, two data centers, users further away from those locations might experience lag during play. Google, on the other hand, has massive server farms scattered all over the world, giving them more resources with which to serve gamers.

Google's Major Data Centers All Around the World
 Google, Inc.

Google also has a large install base of game clients. As mentioned previously, Google Chrome is a platform Google has used for some time to deliver applications to users, which means any device that can run Chrome can serve as a client for Stadia games. The only main requirement is an internet connection fast enough to support sending high-definition graphics, which, in fairness, is something users of previous services may not have had.

The Stadia Game Controller is a Brand New Device
 Google, Inc.

Stadia will also offer a dedicated game controller. This will pair with a user's Chrome-hosting devices to make just about anything a Stadia console. Gamers can log into the service from one device, save their game (a feature Google calls "state share"), then resume play on a different device. Now, this is common today for, say, Xbox-to-Xbox hand-offs, but Stadia's device-agnostic platform means you can save a game on your desktop, head out to a coffee shop, and pick it up again on a tablet.

Advantages of Google Stadia

In general, there are a number of advantages to a game streaming service, and to Stadia in particular. The first, as previously mentioned, is it's device-agnostic. Since Google Chrome is available across all major operating systems, users have the freedom to use the devices they want; developers won't need to worry about the architectural differences of Windows versus macOS versus Linux. They'd just need to develop their game once, for the Stadia platform, and it would play anywhere.

Stadia Will Allow Players to Launch Games Immediately From YouTube Videos

This also gives users the benefit of backward and forward compatibility. Have you ever wanted a new game, only to find it doesn't support your desktop's graphics card or processor? And that you'd need hardware upgrades to play?

With Stadia, Google claims this will be a thing of the past with its service. In truth, it will make it more likely that your usual device upgrade cycle will keep pace with the evolution of games.

Another huge advantage, especially for mobile devices, is games won't require any installation. For example, Assassin's Creed Odyssey requires 46 GB of disk space to install. This is significant even for desktop devices, and on mobile devices, you'd barely have room for anything else. But Stadia will enable you to play the game without using precious storage space, and without sitting through a lengthy download and installation process.

This also means you can start playing games "instantly." For example, Google highlights a potential feature where you could be watching a trailer for a game on YouTube, click a button, and you're immediately playing. Gone would be the days of waiting to play your newly-purchased game while 12.7 GB of installer and patch files download.

Finally, one of the aspects of the gaming experience Google focuses on is the community. Stadia offers a number of features to make it easy to connect with other gamers, as well as those who just like to watch gameplay. The controller features a button that allows players to immediately capture and share their game to a YouTube channel. There's also a feature to allow users to join an in-process game from its video stream. So while many gaming platforms allow gamers to connect to one another, Stadia is taking this to new levels in connecting gamers with their friends and audience.

Potential Downsides of Google Stadia

While this all sounds great, there are some potential disadvantages to the streaming game format to be aware of.

The first is the same problem that plagued earlier versions of these services: they're completely dependent on an internet connection to work. This means your gameplay quality is directly tied to your network speeds, both for video output and your controller input. In general, most basic broadband packages have the bandwidth to handle these just fine, but network quality also depends on what the people around you are doing. A busy night on the network may put a damper on your gaming, and it's something that's completely out of your control.

Speaking of network issues, there's also a chance that multi-player games will face issues on Stadia. With current games, you send your input and receive feedback from a game publisher's servers. This already has some issues with lag, but with Stadia, you'd need to send first to Google's Stadia servers, then to Capcom's servers, which will process them and return the results. This adds an extra step compared to today's online gaming and could introduce further gameplay quality issues.

You can also forget about offline games. Whenever you want to play, you'll need a steady connection to do it. While playing the latest AAA games on your phone may sound like a great idea, you'd better be sure you're on Wi-Fi. The video throughput of modern games will burn through your mobile data allowance in no time.

Stadia Will Launch With Only a Small Number of Games
Ubisoft/Google, Inc.

Lastly, game availability will be an issue, albeit a temporary one. Case in point, Stadia will launch with just a handful of games. Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Doom Eternal were officially announced, and a number of developers demonstrated games on the platform to show off particular features, notably NBA 2K19. But it will be some time until publishers are up to pace and releasing games on Stadia alongside established platforms.

Does Google Stadia Stand a Chance?

The Stadia platform offers a tempting proposition. The ability to play games across all your devices, anytime and instantly, is hard to pass up.

Past attempts at game streaming never really caught on, and it's a relatively unknown commodity at the moment. The technology will likely be dead in the water unless it meets the expectations of being on par to playing games on a console, but without the console. But thanks to their widespread network of data centers and experience delivering applications through a browser, if any company is in a position to fulfill that promise, it's Google.

Stadia on Google TV and Chromecast

Google Stadia is available on Google TV and some Chromecast devices, so you can play Stadia games on your TV. Most Bluetooth game controllers are compatible with Google TV, but you'll need a Stadia controller to play on Chromecast.

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