Last week, Google announced their entry into the video games industry by unveiling their new cloud gaming platform, Stadia. This new platform will run entirely console free through a web browser and will be a subscription based service. Cloud gaming isn’t exactly a new concept with various attempts by small companies and start-ups to ditch the console and deliver current gen quality gaming, to standard low powered devices including pcs, notebooks, tablets and mobiles.
Sony were the first to get a decent foothold in the cloud gaming platform by releasing their Playstation Now service back in 2014 which currently offers around 600 different games for streaming. Nvidia has also already launched a cloud gaming platform with EA and Microsoft also reportedly busy developing their own cloud based service offerings. However, even though cloud gaming platforms are already available, considering the size of the global video games market, the uptake has remained muted. Most gamers still seem to prefer purchasing their games outright, either physically or digitally and the play them on their own hardware. So, is Google’s new cloud gaming service the video games platform of the future or just a foray into ideology? Well, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons:
No need to keep up with expensive, ever changing, hardware requirements.
Truly mobile gaming without any loss in graphics quality.
Increased graphics quality over current gen consoles with games processed in more powerful data centres.
No ability to offline play.
A high-quality Internet connection will be needed and any disruptions would lead to disrupted play.
Will add a further layer of latency to online games. Games will need to be streamed first to the player and then player’s inputs back to the server.
If the service is ever discontinued, access to any games purchased will be lost (assuming a not entirely subscription based service).
While the cons list is longer, the pros of no longer needing to purchase new hardware has significant money saving potential. The ability to play on the go, where internet connection permits, is also an intriguing possibility. I, personally, have little doubt that in the long term, despite the current drawbacks, that cloud gaming will likely be the platform of the future. However, I question if the time is currently right for this platform to take off. In the UK, at least, we still suffer from very patchy broadband services, in terms of quality, with some people receiving data transfer speeds barely any better than the old dial up speeds, particularly those in rural communities. I would consider my current internet speeds to be good but still question if that bandwidth would be enough to run the 4k/ 6k resolutions that Google are talking about. 4k gaming is already available at home with current gen consoles. Anyone who has tried remote connecting to their ps4 through another device, would already understand the bandwidth required just to stream that resolution in high quality, let alone the further 6k that Google are talking of.
Google made their argument quite compelling in their announcement, when they indicated the jump in processing power their Stadia platform offers over current generation consoles, PS4 and XboxOne. However, what they didn’t mention is that we are now, almost certainly, in the last quarter of the current console generations’ life with both Sony and Microsoft both expected to announce their new consoles soon. The release of the next generation of consoles will without a doubt narrow the gap in processing power between the available platforms. Despite that Google Stadia has some interesting features including the ability to share game states, allowing other player to jump into their game exactly at the point you are with your items/ character specs, everything identical. It will also allow the return of split screen gaming, which due to the processing requirements of current games has largely been dropped, in favour of online connectivity.
In my opinion, Google Stadia certainly looks like cloud gaming’s best chance to break into the industry, but the practicality of streaming such large volumes of data across the current broadband network remains to seen. No release date or price has yet been announced, and I’ll certainly be watching this project with interest.