With the announcement of Google Stadia at GDC 2019, a major player has entered the gaming arena for the first time since Microsoft debuted the Xbox back in 2001. Whilst other companies have released their own hardware into the market, none have been as high profile or even close to challenging the domination of the established Big 3: Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. With Google however, that could very well change.
Google is already a household name, the tech giant is one of the biggest companies in the world and with Google search, Google Maps and Youtube under its umbrella, is an industry leader in its field. That alone is enough for consumers and non-gamers to take Stadia seriously. The Google brand carries with it a seal of quality and a standard of expectation. This is a multinational company with the resources to make such a venture work, even if it isn’t a hit straight away or profitable at first, a company like Google has the ability to weather that storm. There has been some misses along the way – anyone still use their Google+ account? – but there have also been successes. Google Maps and Street View has changed the way society plans its journeys and saves them when they got lost. It even acts as a local directory letting people search for shops and restaurants before showing them the way. Let’s also not forget that Android is probably used by more people on their phones than any other software. These things didn’t happen by accident and if Google devotes its time and resources to Stadia there is no reason it can’t become a successful system by sheer brute force alone.
Whilst there are some details about the Google Stadia which are yet to be revealed – the pricing structure for starters – what is clear is that there will be no hardware; Stadia will allow users to stream video games to any device that has a chrome browser. Be it laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone, the limitations of the device become null and void as the servers at Google do all the heavy lifting, providing console-quality gaming experiences. Removing the costly entry point of buying a dedicated gaming machine, and allowing users to use devices they already own opens up a potential consumer base almost instantly. The key for Google getting a foothold into the industry could come down to an attractive monthly subscription price and ease of access. Even if the technology isn’t perfect, these factors could be enough to get millions of people on board.
Stadia boasts some truly impressive stats, such as being able to run at 4k and 60fps, and being more powerful than the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 combined. The biggest caveat to these sorts of experiences being a reality is a user’s internet speed. No matter how many servers Google has on the other end, if your internet is poor, so will be your experience. A poor connection doesn’t just affect how the graphics look but also latency. If the delay is significant then the game will become unplayable. The streaming technology for video games has come a long way but it is still in its infancy and a long way from being perfect.
Google has the resources and knowhow to make the technology work, but how well it works on release will go a long way to determining how many people commit and how many drop off. The gaming industry has been blighted with games releasing with subpar experiences, not doing as promised, and having their initial hype completely destroyed. Rainbow 6 Siege, Destiny and Street Fighter 5 to name just a few. Some of these games have gone on to become solid experiences with time, but the fact is it took a long time, money and content to right those ships. If Google doesn’t get it close to what is promised right out of the gates, it could find itself in an uphill battle to remove negative stigmas associated with Stadia. If it does get it right, there is no reason Google cannot stand tall alongside the gaming giants of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.
No matter if your platform is a physical piece of hardware or a digitally distributed platform, one of the most important factors when it comes to gaming is the games themselves. If your platform is impressive but the games are not, then the specs won’t mean much. Google has not yet confirmed a list of games that will be playable on the system aside from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and a few hints. There were icons released in images at GDC that pointed at the possibility of EA Sports games and Red Dead Redemption 2 being probable candidates for release. Google also announced its formation of its own studio to create games internally, headed by industry veteran Jade Raymond, responsible for the early Assassin’s Creed games. Whilst the potential is high, the fact is the games that can be played on Stadia are still a relatively unknown quantity. Until that list is expanded –and that announcement is expected in the summer of 2019 – then it is hard to say what kind of gaming experience Stadia will offer.
Stadia is heaped with potential, offering high-end gaming experiences on devices that it otherwise wouldn’t be possible on. The user has the ability to jump quickly and effortlessly into a game without paying hundreds for a physical piece of hardware, lowering what is essentially a high cost of entry for many. The performance of the end-users internet speed – especially its effect on latency – as well as the games it offers could well be the difference between Google standing shoulder to shoulder with gaming’s elite or falling short of the mark.