During their press conference at GDC yesterday, Google extensively unveiled their brand new gaming platform, the Stadia. Billed as a seamless streaming service, the platform is built around one key idea: that you should be able to game no matter where you are.
The demos shown off boasted the ability to stream games across smartphones, PCs, TVs, and virtually anything else with a screen. The company is aiming for instantaneous gaming, highlighting how supported titles could be jumped into by simply pressing a button during a trailer playing via YouTube, with players being in control of the game in under 5 seconds. In theory, it sounds amazing, but is it feasible?
Plenty of companies have attempted to stream games remotely in the past, and while the technology has been... serviceable, the consensus has always been that it could never replace the actual console or PC experience. Google plans to change that, using their extensive worldwide infrastructure, to deliver a reliable streaming service that attracts both hardcore and casual fans.
The company doesn't just want to replicate the experiences already out there though, but deliver even better performance than that found on consoles and PC. It was boasted during the conference that the hardware supporting the Stadia is a made up of a GPU consisting of 10.7 teraflops, which is more powerful than the GPUs of the Playstation 4 Pro, and the "world's most powerful console", the Xbox One X, combined.
Even better, by using the "power of the cloud", the company will allegedly be able to create even bigger, more stable experiences than those found on consoles. Examples talked about were boosting the player count of a battle royale game from 100 up into the thousands, and having a fully-destructible environment in an open world. All this on top of 4K/60fps gameplay at launch, with the aim of expanding that to 8K in the future.
Then again, those "improvements" are virtually identical to those Microsoft touted when it also championed the abilities of the cloud with Crackdown 3. Unfortunately, none of those fantastical features ended up shipping with the final game.
Another major feature of the system, perhaps unsurprisingly, is YouTube integration. Not only is sharing footage directly to YouTube a priority, but there are features in place that will allow fans to jump into games with their favourite streamers at the push of a button, or pick up directly at a spot in a single-player game as a video they're watching.
It all sounds very promising, and in Google's controlled environment, it looked incredible. The question remains, though: is the world ready for Google's vision? It's been reported that, theoretically, it will take an internet connection with a minimum of 30mbps to run these games in their intended 4K/60fps output, which will be impossible for millions of players living in areas where the internet infrastructure isn't up to snuff.
There's a lot Google need to prove, but if they can deliver on their vision of the future, how we play video games could change forever. That's a big if, though, and we'll only know for sure when the system ships (at an unknown price point) later on in 2019.