Google’s Stadia looks like an early beta of the future of gaming

"The future of games is not a box," according to Google. "It is a place". Just as humans have built stadiums for sports for hundreds of years, Google believes they are building a virtual stadium, nicknamed Stadia, for the future of games that will be played anywhere. You will not need an expensive gaming PC or a dedicated gaming console. Instead, you'll only need to access Google's Chrome browser to play instantly on a phone, tablet, PC or TV. It's a bold vision of where the games are going, and Google expects its Stadia cloud broadcast service to make it happen.

It is possible that Google has revealed the future of games in the Game Developers Conference (GDC), but it is a future that the company has left us with very little knowledge about.

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Google Stadia driver.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

At the heart of Google's Stadia cloud data transmission service are YouTube and Chrome. Google is leveraging YouTube to rely heavily on the popularity of clips and creators of games that regularly broadcast games to millions of people on services like Twitch. These communities and games like Fortnite have become virtual places where children gather to chat, play and watch live broadcasts. It is also a big business. Fortnite earned about $ 2.4 billion just last year, and one of the most popular streamers earns more than $ 500,000 a month.

The premise of Stadia is that you can watch a clip of a game and then play it instantly or even launch at the same point in the game of the clip you were watching. Users will be able to create lobby groups for fans to join and play with on YouTube, and Stadia will support instant trimming of the video service. This is a gaming console that runs in the cloud and is designed for the generation of YouTube, and is the big push from Google here.

Chrome also plays an important role as Google's dominant web browser. Stadia will only be available through Chrome, Chromecast and on Android devices initially. Google has promised more browsers in the future, but it is not clear when it will arrive. Google only demonstrated the service on their own devices, and did not mention iOS support through a dedicated application or Apple's Safari mobile browser.

googles stadia looks like an early beta of the future of gaming

Google project flow test.

Google has some important obstacles to overcome if you want However, master the game for the next generation. The biggest among them is getting games on your platform. Google showed a single new title, Doom Eternal that runs on Stadia, and promised that more than 100 game studios already have development kits. Google even introduced its own studio Stadia Games and Entertainment to create exclusive titles for Stadia, but did not mention any details about what games it will build.

Google uses Linux as the operating system that feeds its hardware on the server side. That means that game developers will have to bring their games to Stadia, and you will not be able to bring games you already own as other cloud games services (Nvidia's GeForce Now or Shadow). Google is partnering with Unreal and Unity and even with middleware companies like Havok, but developers will have to do something to get the games into Stadia. Google must convince the big publishers to subscribe, but could not detail how much it costs to develop, publish and run games on Stadia.

We do not even know how much the service will cost to consumers or when it will be launched, only that it will come in some form in 2019. Will it be based on subscriptions? Can you own your games in the cloud? These are important questions that Google needs to answer, and he omitted them yesterday to promise more details in the summer. I feel that Google has rushed to beat a self-imposed GDC deadline to attract developers' interest here, and it's likely that the company was able to show only a handful of games yesterday.

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Inside a Google data center.

aside, Google also stealthily avoided the big questions about existing game transmission services: Internet connectivity. Google is using its own compression technology to transmit games in 1080p or 4K to devices, and part of the typical latency will be reduced by having the client and the game server on the same machine. Even so, you will need a reliable and active Internet connection to access Stadia, and Google recommends a connection of "approximately 25 Mbps" for a resolution of 1080p at 60 fps.

In the interview with Kotaku the head of Google Stadia, Phil Harrison, says: "[W] we can get to 4K, but only increase the width of band at about 30 Mbps ". That means the average fixed broadband connection in the US. UU According to some estimates, it will currently be around 96 Mbps, but if you live in a state without broadband coverage or do not trust Internet speeds in rural areas, you will have to wait for the Federal Communications Commission to increase the minimum speed of broadband in rural areas. Standard at 25 Mbps. You will also need a broadband connection without limits, because if you are going to play a lot, you will soon enter the data limits. We still do not know the exact bit rates of Stadia, but watching a normal Netflix broadcast in HD uses about 3GB per hour, and this more than doubles for 4K transmissions.

However, speeds do not cover the aspect of latency. This is the key to any game streaming service. While services such as Netflix can download and buffer the fixed content you are transmitting, a game service is based on capturing the movements of your controller and transmitting them in real time between you and the server on which you are playing. This means that the closer to the server you are playing on, the better and the less you jump through Internet traffic, the better.

Google has a strong advantage here because of its cloud infrastructure, but if it's not close to a big city where Google's data centers are located, then you will not get the most ideal experience. Google is addressing part of this by connecting its Stadia driver directly to the server where it is playing over Wi-Fi, but has no control over the thousands of ISPs and how they route traffic to their data centers.

Google's Stadia service is also completely cloud-based, which means you can not play offline. While you may normally synchronize some Netflix programs with your phone or tablet because you know that your LTE connectivity stinks, you will need a constant connection with Stadia to play games while traveling. 5G will certainly help here, but only partially and not soon.

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Google servers are more powerful than an Xbox One X.
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Google also revealed that their servers will be powered by a custom AMD GPU that will deliver 10.7 teraflops of power, which it's more than the 4.2 teraflops of the PS4 Pro and the 6 teraflops of power on the Xbox One X. This graphics power is impressive but largely irrelevant. The final outcome of the actual game will depend entirely on your Internet connection to Stadia.

Google will compress the image of its servers to its client, which will result in a loss of image quality. We do not know the exact bit rate that Google will use for Stadia, but if you have ever seen a 4K version of a Netflix program, you will know that the image quality is not as good as a Blu-ray copy. The same will apply to Stadia, and the way you notice it will depend on your Internet connection and the device you are using to access Stadia. Smaller screens will make the decrease in image quality less noticeable, and a greater Internet bandwidth will give it a higher bit rate and, therefore, a higher quality image.

game title to the title, and Google has not shown enough game variation to really understand how well Stadia will perform. Eurogamer's Digital Foundry was able to test Stadia, but the test was limited to Assassin's Creed Odyssey instead of a demanding title as a first-person shooter that required A quick response time from the player or a fast moving action games where the artifacts are much more obvious.

All this makes Stadia look like an early beta version of what will be part of the future of the game. Google has hired many industry talents for this ambitious project. Phil Harrison, a former Sony and Microsoft executive, leads the charge for Stadia, and Jade Raymond, who previously worked at Sony, Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, directs the company's first-person games. The creator of Xbox Live Arcade, Greg Canessa, is also working at Stadia, along with Nate Ahearn, former Xbox Gaming partner. All this experience should help Google in its fight against games in the cloud.

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Sony already runs PlayStation Now.
Image: Sony

Sony already transmits PlayStation games to their consoles and PCs through its PlayStation Now service. Sony acquired the service of transmission of Gaikai games to turn it into PlayStation Now, and even acquired the rival OnLive only to close it. Microsoft is also planning its own xCloud gaming service, which it recently demonstrated, with public trials starting later this year.

The Sony and Microsoft approaches are not native to the cloud like Google's, and do not require developers to do so. Port your games or rebuild them for your cloud broadcast service. Both companies are using console hardware on blade servers. That is a benefit for now, since both Sony and Microsoft can offer large libraries of games without the need for developers to change anything. Google's ambitious effort will require more effort from developers, but Google has the long-term advantage of being able to easily change its hardware in the future and implement changes that do not affect the hardware of the legacy console.

Amazon also seems to be a great competitor of games in the cloud for Google, and Nvidia also transmits games. Even Valve is expanding its Steam Link gameplay feature to allow you to stream your Steam games from a PC to anywhere via the Steam Link hardware or the Steam Link application.

Sony, Microsoft, Amazon and Google will be the key Players in any game of war in the cloud. Sony has the games and PlayStation Now, Microsoft can take advantage of its Azure data centers and Xbox Game Pass for xCloud, and Amazon can rely on its cloud domain, Prime and its massively popular Twitch service to attract players. Google has a fierce competition, but it seems that this war of games in the cloud is just beginning.

Update March 21, 2019 10:00 AM ET : This article was originally published on March 20, 2019 and has been updated to include video.

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