For years we had several video game systems come and go like the wind blowing over meadows in a bright sunny springtime day. Every breeze shook up the fields, some as light as the Atari Jaguar and some as disruptive as the Nintendo Wii. But as the game console companies started to become killed off like characters in Game of Thrones (I miss you SEGA), we have become so used to three major companies having control over the gaming market: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo.
So it is strange that a company like Google would announce a gaming platform that doesn’t meet the traditional concepts of a box that sits under your television. Then again, Google has never been a company that has lived up to the status quo, they have “disrupted” various platforms and continues to shake things up when it comes to their direct competition on the PC utility front: Microsoft.
It’s not surprise that Microsoft and Google are at constant ends with each other. Especially since Google is slowly trying to make their suite of word processing and spreadsheet tools accessible to everyone. Unlike Microsoft, Google is able to deliver cloud based software without forcing a yearly subscription of $100 a year. Their Chromebooks have slowly started to take over schools across the U.S. They have become cheaper and easily accessible than the Apple iPads that everyone gushed over quite some time ago.
It makes absolute sense to throw their hat into the ring of video games, as that has been seen as an untapped market for the company. Today, Google revealed their plans to deliver a streaming game service that would rival that of the Xbox, Playstation, and the Switch. But we love the Switch so, maybe we don’t have to really focus on that at the moment.
To say that this caused a disruption (corporate culture loves that word) is an understatement. Perhaps it is the biggest understatement of 2019, and we have yet to even see what Avengers: Endgame has in store for us yet!
Theoretically, game streaming is a system that allows you to play high end games on devices that aren’t suited with the hardware that is capable of running said software. For instance, the cheap HP computer your technologically inclined uncle owned that is now infected with porn malware definitely cannot play Witcher 3. But when the computer is cleaned out and running, it can connect to online servers and deliver an experience that is low latency and authentic feeling. The basic idea of having super powerful computers elsewhere deliver your high end gaming experience is bar-none a great idea. If it works.
I call this the Anthem concept; sure, the game is fun as hell when everything works correctly and I’m not being bombarded by glitches like the forever loading screens, or unable to respawn my teammates, or not have my health be much smaller than it is supposed to be. You get it, Anthem was a let down, and I want my money back EA!
Now there are a lot of elements to what Google has and what it can deliver. The amount of variables within this business model cannot be counted. There are tons of elements to deliver based upon the promises that Google intends to keep with their platform: 60 Fps at 4k resolution, with the groundwork of 8k being worked on as I type this. That is movie theater levels of picture quality that most games cannot deliver on home consoles. They also state that you can start on a device such as your Chromebook and then continue right where you left off on your TV or even your smartphone.
This seems like a dream come true for most gamers out there who cannot spend the large sum of money on building a super powerful PC rig. Depending on the price of this service, this could end up killing off physical media, which would be a great thing. This also eliminates the pesky downloads that your game must do before you can even play it. Everything, theoretically, is instant.
I had a personal interaction with game streaming with Sony’s online platform called PS Now. This platform was available on most (if not all) Sony brand products after they aquired Gaikai; Gaikai being a smaller game streaming platform popular outside the US. Sony promised backwards comparability through this service and much to my dismay (and a free trial) I tried it out. This service does not offer downloadable games, they had to be streamed. This caused tons of problems as the service had tons of controller and visual lag that that made the experience terrible. This was also some time after the service launched, so the growing pains of the service were “ironed out.”
I was dissatisfied with the program, but you’re damn right if I didn’t get hit with the fees because I forgot to cancel my subscription. Are you happy now, Sony? You got my $20! I didn’t even fight back for it and I should have!
Game streaming has evolved since that initial time, as Nvidia GeForce Now seems to be picking up the pace when it comes to device streaming, yet their program has been in beta for quite some time. The earliest information I can pull is from January 2018. In that Engadget article, Devindra Hardawar goes into great depth with his experience with GeForce Now. I linked the article above, because I am quite frankly too lazy to copy and paste the entire thing here. Plus there is a whole lot more article to go.
We know that streaming is a possibility by the evidence provided to us via that amazing article. Perhaps much easier than we expect, so that in turn would give Google, one of the largest companies in the world the possibility to actually execute this well. Although I still have my doubts about the high end resolution, especially when you start getting more people involved in the platform.
Another challenge we face is the current state of the internet around the world. We know one thing about the state of the internet in the United States: it’s not that fast. I don’t know if Google has what it takes to deliver these games at a speed good enough for the typical household. Gamers and those who are generally tech savvy most likely have the internet speeds to accommodate streaming. But we also know that the state of the internet is under a constant back and forth with the lack of net neutrality which is becoming a state based issue as opposed to a federal issue.
You also have companies like Verizon and Comcast who have countless problems properly providing people phone and cable service now having to take in the speeds of people streaming. For example, if I watch Hulu at 10:30 pm every night, it tends to disconnect me from the service because apparently that is a peak time for internet usage. So sometimes I get disconnected and it takes some time for me to reconnect despite everything else around me working absolutely fine. Very strange but I chalk it up to Verizon just being a bunch of dicks for no reason but to make Steve mad while he binge watched Brooklyn 99.
As we all know, the FCC struck down Net Neutrality, leaving companies open to adjust any aspect of the internet as they deem fit. Granted, we haven’t experienced the same kind of censorship as China, where they can’t even search for pictures of Winnie the Pooh. This could be because the topic is still being discussed all over the country.
If we can count on the internet remaining in the current state where companies have yet to fully commit to implementing data caps, things look pretty good. But not for the people outside the US. Canadians have data caps on their internet and it has been causing problems for customers. Caps start at around 200 GB and once you go over, you usually pay a fee of $1 to $4 per gigabyte of data you go over. This all depends on what service provider you have. But just by streaming your videos, you can quickly amass a ton of fees in just data usage. But once again I want to iterate that is not the current state within the US at the time that I write this piece. I am not attempting to fear monger or anything, but this could eventually become a gigantic downside to those outside of the US.
To jump back briefly, standard video streaming per hour takes up on average 1 gb. High definition video can go up to 3 gb an hour. That is easily $3 to $9 in fees if you go over. Streaming an interactive experience over a network could possibly affect your bandwidth. Games like World of Warcraft and Destiny 2 use up about 10mb to 600mb of bandwidth per hour depending on what you are doing in the game. If Google could keep bandwidth usage around this amount, I couldn’t see it being a major problem down the road. Then again, I am in the US and I have no real experience when it comes to dealing with foreign telecommunication bills.
Another aspect to be cautious about is how Google is a company that likes to abandon projects. Google+, Google Glass, and many more. But don’t let that drag you down because most of the projects like Google’s own parcel service just wasn’t used or it was too expensive for the average user. After all, after April 2nd the Google+ service will be gone. But that also doesn’t mean that Google can’t turn around one day and decide that the Stadia isn’t running up to their standards and just shut it down months later. This is less about their reputation of abandoning project but more about Stadia not running well enough that it keeps people from using it which ultimately causes the downfall of the platform. ONCE AGAIN, I AM NOT TRYING TO BE A FEAR MONGER, I AM JUST LOOKING AT A LOT OF ANGLES!
There are other situations to look at as well that is both a good and bad thing. For example, because the games are being run on computer systems way more powerful than both the Xbox One X and the Playstation 4 Pro, that means that hacking isn’t possible. There is no hardware to modify, making the platform very inviting. But at the same time that also kills any connection to modding communities and the like. That means you won’t be able to download mod after mod to make your Skyrim character a transforming Thomas the Tank Engine that curses and shoots rainbow colored force lightening that plays “Disco Inferno” when used. I am not into that sort of thing, but I am sure there is someone out there who is.
When I look at the platform and I think about the possibilities that the technology could achieve, I am then slammed with the coup de grace; Epic Games working with the platform. It is rare to see a developer work with such a platform. Specifically with the upcoming Doom: Eternal. If you don’t know, Doom has been one of the most praised games of 2016 that yours truly couldn’t play for longer than twenty minutes without throwing up due to the game being so smooth and fluid. If the Stadia could handle Doom without lag, then that is a fantastic start.
With every pro and con of the Stadia, I weigh the essentials of what really matters: fun and accessibility. Google could have every developer behind it, it could have all the computer technology in the world pushing graphics and delivering colossal experiences to gamers all over the world. People who cannot have the optimal performance of games now could get the chance to see what it is that others who have poured thousands of dollars into a box get. It’s a big leap, and where others have failed in the past, Google might be able to make up. At this point, all we can do is wait and see what others say outside of a controlled environment. At least the controller doesn’t look terrible.