The pretentious name aside, Google has given the world a glimpse at Google Stadia, their entry into the gaming world, and of course, Google are doing it in a way only Google know how. Before we go any further though, let’s take a look at exactly what Stadia is. Take it away, internet search services…
Google Stadia is a game-streaming service capable of streaming at 4K at 60 frames per second. The system will support HDR, with data centres scattered all over the world to do the heavy lifting the service will undoubtedly need. The system will incorporate a play-along game style using YouTube as a way to jump in on a game and play from the same point as your favourite streamer (YouTube exclusive).
The service is not dependent on any additional hardware, with the ability to use an existing controller to play, the only requirement is an internet connection, and is meant to be capable of being played on any device of your choosing. Smart TV, Chromecast, mobile phone, or computer, if it has an internet connection then it’s likely that Stadia will work.
So here is the Stadia controller. The design has clearly been inspired by the PlayStation controller, and that certainly isn’t a bad design to imitate. Personally, it looks like a hybrid controller of Xbox One and PlayStation, but the proof is what’s in the hand and how it plays. Whilst the controller won’t win any awards for aesthetic originality, it may win one for innovation. The controller connects directly to Google’s data centres to reduce the lag input issue that has plagued so many game-streaming services in the past. Whilst this may solve the problems in single-player games, it is the competitive multiplayer crowd that may be a hard sell to go over to Stadia, when the slightest increase in lag could be the difference between victory and defeat.
Initial reports of beta tests on the service have been positive, but with comments on stuttering and artifacting already surfacing, this could indicate that as revolutionary as the service is, the infrastructure outside of Google’s control may not be ready to accommodate Google’s grand plans for gaming.
There has also not been any comments on pricing, and that is a concern in itself. Whilst it likely won’t be extortionate (PlayStation Now is £12.99 a month and works very well) it will be the games that are on Stadia that will either make or break the service.
Let’s explore the facts as we know them. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has been confirmed, this was the game Google used to test the system last year, along with Doom Eternal, and a third game coming from the newly-founded Stadia Games and Development. The studio, under the direction of Jade Redmond of Ubisoft Montreal fame, will create original content whilst also helping third party studios transfer games to the service. This all sounds great on paper, but a games console lives and dies on the games available on it, the games that are exclusives. Nintendo has monopolised their own market by using Blue Ocean thinking to create their own sandpit to play in, and Google needs to do the same for Stadia to succeed. Google needs to ask the question of itself that what makes Stadia so different from every other gaming service. For Nintendo, it has always been their Disney-like portfolio of characters that you can only find on a Nintendo console, along with hardware innovation that keep their games feeling fresh and fun. Whilst it could be argued Nintendo are way behind with trying to appeal to the PlayStation and Xbox fans, they focus on fun as a main concept that allows them to be forgiven for their trespasses at hardly being cutting edge. Google, on the other hand, has a long list of failures to its name. This is where Google needs to invest by doubling down on Stadia.
Short term: Google needs to invest, invest, invest and declare a holy war on the gaming industry. In short term, they need to dig deep in their pockets and get existing franchises onto the service as exclusives. Much in the same way Microsoft did with Rise of the Tomb Raider, Google needs to put their money where their mouth is and deliver the games people want to play. For the moment, this will be existing titles people are familiar with, and only on the Stadia service. If it is just a service where I can play any title I already have in my Steam library, why would I bother playing it on something that could stop my enjoyment if my internet connection goes down? Whilst there is an argument that it is a saving on hardware, I personally like having the hardware in-house to fuel my gaming fix. If Google can get enough exclusives onboard before launch and market it the right way, then they could get the attention of the finicky gamers out there.
Long term: This is where Google really needs to pull it out. Google needs to hire the best to develop games that are franchises and only available on Stadia. They need to create some serious first-party Google titles. Google needs to hire the ilk of your Peter Molyneuxs, Shigeru Miyamotos, and Hideo Kojimas to be the generals in their war. Google needs their own library of titles that will keep gamers coming back again, and again. We’ve seen this repeatedly over the console cycles, exclusives win wars, but the difference here is the console cycles have always been fixed hardware with software developed for that particular hardware, Google is going to be a continuous service that is going to have constant upgrades of quality. They will not win this with graphics alone, they will win it with developing a healthy catalogue of titles that will last the years and decades to come. In short, Google needs to be creating icons, legends, that people will be speaking about in twenty years or so to come, and that takes some doing.
The graveyard of gaming has seen many streaming services come and go. OnLive, Gaiken, to name a few. Google will need to persevere and stick with it to not have Stadia joining them. The past is littered with consoles that have tried to enter the market and failed, each one that succeeded has worked because they offer something different that allows a foothold.
So, Google, let’s see what you bring to the playing field…