WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Streaming games from the cloud is a natural evolutionary step, but there are plenty of hurdles to overcome, such as the availability of content, performance, and latency, among others.
Google unveiled their Stadia cloud gaming service at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco today. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who says he plays FIFA 19 “quite a bit,” introduced the new service during a special keynote at GDC this morning. Describing it as a platform for everyone Pichai talked up Google’s ambitions to stream games to all types of devices, and ultimately eliminate the need for specialist hardware – something that obviously has Microsoft and Sony execs on the edges of their seats.
Phil Harrison, who’s a former Sony and Microsoft executive, joined Pichai onstage to fully unveil Stadia in his new role at Google, and added that “Google will amplify this game streaming service by using YouTube and the many creators that already create game clips on the service.”
Google previously tested this service as Project Stream where they let Chrome users stream games in their browser – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was the first and only game to be tested publicly using the service and those public tests finished in January.
Of course, Google won’t limit Stadia to just one game though, and they demonstrated a new feature in YouTube that lets you view a game clip from a creator and then hit “Play Now” to instantly stream the title.
“Stadia offers instant access to play,” says Harrison, without the need to download or install any games, before adding, “at launch, games will be streamable across laptops, desktops, TVs, tablets, and phones.”
The pair, as you can see from the video, also demonstrated moving gameplay seamlessly from a phone to a tablet and then to a TV, all using Google-powered devices. While existing USB controllers will work on a laptop or PC, Google is also launching a new Stadia Controller that will power the game streaming service. It looks like a cross between an Xbox and PS4 controller, and it will work with the Stadia service by connecting directly through Wi-Fi to link it to a game session in the cloud. This will presumably help with latency, which could be a major hurdle to the platforms short term adoption, and moving a game from one device to another, and they also showed off how players can use a button to capture and share clips straight to YouTube, or use another button to access the Google Assistant to ask questions or illicit tips to solve difficult game stages.
To power all of this cloud streaming, Google is, unsurprisingly, leveraging its global infrastructure of data centers to ensure servers are as close to players around the world as possible. That’s a key part of Stadia, as lower latency is a necessity to stream games effectively across the internet. Google says it expects to support up to 4K at 60 fps at launch over an internet connection with around 30Mbps of bandwidth, and it’s planning to support up to 8K resolutions and 120 fps in the future.
Google is partnering with AMD to build a custom GPU for its datacenters. It’s a chip that Google claims will deliver 10.7 teraflops of power, which is more than the 4.2 teraflops of the PS4 Pro and the 6 teraflops of power on the Xbox One X. Each Stadia instance will also be powered by a custom 2.7GHz x86 processor with 16GB of RAM.
One of the first games to launch on Google’s Stadia service will be Doom Eternal, which will support a staggering 4K resolution, HDR, and 60 fps game play for users with enough network grunt to handle it. Doom Eternal doesn’t have a firm launch date just yet, but it will also be available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. Stadia will also embrace full cross-platform play, so developers can enable cross-platform multiplayer and game saves and progression.
Focusing on developers, Google also unveiled an impressive way for game developers to apply their own design style to titles on Stadia. It’s a machine learning-based style transfer tool that developers can use to simply drop an image into the video frames of games and have it mimic the style throughout. Google is also using something called State Share to let players easily share moments, so you can even share an exact link to a part of a game, changing the way games are typically shared. Q-Games founder Dylan Cuthbert is even building an entire game all around this new State Share feature.
YouTube is a giant part of Stadia, and Google appears to be relying on it to push gamers to its cloud service. More than 50 billion hours of gaming content was watched on YouTube during 2018, so Google is letting Stadia users highlight, capture, and share straight to YouTube or even let viewers play alongside creators. A Crowd Play feature of Stadia is designed to facilitate this, and it includes a lobby system to let you match up with YouTube content creators.
Google is even creating its own game studio for Stadia-exclusive titles, Stadia Games and Entertainment. Jade Raymond, who recently joined Google as a VP is leading Google’s push for its own games. Raymond is an industry veteran who has previously worked at Sony, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft. Google says more than 100 studios already have dev kits for Stadia, and more than 1,000 creatives and engineers are already working on titles that will work on the service.
While Google unveiled Stadia today, it had no details on exactly when the service will be available other than “late in 2019.” Google didn’t reveal pricing or even how many games the service will have at launch, but is promising more details in the summer.