Google Stadia - exciting new gaming platform
Google Stadia is Google's bet on cloud gaming, allowing you to play games in up to 4k on just about any device. Exciting! But will it work?
This post won't discuss the often-discussed speculations of latency, or often misunderstood pricing - which best resembles other platforms like PlayStation and Xbox.
The post will instead focus on, what I think are, under-discussed exciting new features and pain-points exclusive to cloud gaming.
What is Google Stadia
It's Google's cloud gaming service (launching November 2019) that will allow you to stream any Stadia-ready games to just about any device that runs Chrome. Meaning it will require a very good internet connection (20MB+/s depending on your preferred resolution) and a device that supports Chrome or Chromecast. If you have those 2, you buy a game through their service at a regular price and play it on any device that meets the requirements.
Here's Google showcasing Assasin's Creed on multiple devices. Neat!
Games have to be ported to Stadia
One of the downsides to Stadia is that developers have to port their games to Stadia. There's a (supposedly light) API that developers have to use in order for their game to be Stadia ready.
I don't know what exactly that means, but I assume it has something to do with:
- a) frequently sending the current game state to Stadia - which is required for seamless switching between devices
- b) saving game progress to Stadia servers
- c) sharing the progress through a URL
- d) enabling people to join your game in multiplayer games
The fact that it will require first-party developer resources for games to be available on Stadia means, as a general rule of thumb, that we can mostly expect upcoming and current game releases on Stadia. Some of them anyway
Exciting new features
Save & share
This is the feature I'm most excited about. Let me explain.
There's a subset of games that rely heavily on randomness. One that instantly comes to mind is Binding of Isaac . Dungeons, enemies, weapons, bosses, rooms - all generated randomly. Every time you start the game all of the above will be different and every new room you enter or weapon you pick up will be different from playthrough to playthrough. In practice, this means that once in a blue moon you'll encounter incredibly hard and/or fun game builds. Not only would I like to replay those builds, even more, I'd like to share them with my friends!
Then there are strategic games (Civilization for example), where the randomness might not be the largest factor, but the number of possible permutations that can happen depending on how you allocate your resources is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. Again, not every game is great, but once in awhile, you run into extremely demanding and fun situations.
Another thing is speedrunning. There are people speedrunning all sorts of games. But why stop there, why not save at a particularly difficult spot in a game - and have speedrunning competitions from that point. This could easily make speedrunning shorter, focused on the demanding parts only (and skipping the boring ones) and thus more accessible and fun to watch.
I can see new communities being made around Stadia speedruns. Maybe websites tracking the best players. But maybe, with proper integration on Google's end, a YouTuber could post one of those checkpoints - and there could be automatically generated scoreboard of viewers trying it out, next to the video description.
Need a Twitch-killing feature? ^^^^^ :)
While I'm sure there are hacky ways to do some of this in a lot of current games, the effort is just not something your average player will go through. But when it's 2 clicks away - I'm extremely excited at the possibilities this will offer.
Jump into a streamer's game
Another cool feature will be the possibility of jumping into a stream's current game. Say that they're playing some multiplayer game and they would like to invite their viewers to join them. Supposedly Stadia will make this super easy.
To be honest, this doesn't seem like a killer feature. It's already relatively easy to do with other platforms and it has a high chance of backfiring by inviting people that aren't compatible for whatever reason (trolling, completely different skill level, ...). But it's there. And maybe it could be great for certain specific game-types, such as massively multiplayer online games.
Only time and ideas will tell whether this will be as good as Google likes to promote it to be.
Current business model is ... weird
As a consumer, I love the current business model. You buy a game and you play it indefinitely, just as you would on a PC/Xbox/PlayStation, except on whatever device that runs a browser. You can also subscribe to a PS+/XB like subscription service that gives you a game or two a month + 4k streaming. As I don't own a 4k device, I'll just buy the few games I'm interested in and that's it. Love it!
As for Google, however, this is a bit weird. This is the only business model in gaming, that I can think of, where the cost for the provider only starts after the purchase.
Basically, Google gets its margin from the game you purchased - and from there on needs to run the game on their machines and stream it to you. Technically, it would be possible for you to play the game so much that, at some point, they're losing money on your purchase. Not likely, but it definitely makes it one of the few business models in game-industry where they're not incentivized to make you play the game more. Which kind of goes against the game developer's interests.
Maybe I'm overthinking this, but it is kind of ... weird?
Another downside is that currently, the most popular games in the world have a business model that doesn't play that well with Stadia's - they're free to play with in-game microtransactions. League of Legends (Riot), DotA2 (Valve), Fortnite (Epic Games), CSGO (Valve) all make their money from microtransactions.
How would Google go about adding those? Or rather, why would those companies want to be on Stadia?
For one, these games are (intentionally) not very graphically demanding, so a half-decent Windows computer can run them. Which takes away from Stadia's selling point of not requiring a high-end computer.
But more importantly, should these games be ported to Stadia, Google would most likely take a cut from every microtransaction. That takes the incentive away from the company to port it to Stadia. Should they port it to Stadia, they would very much be incentivized that the players don't make purchases on Stadia, but instead on their native (Windows) client. So Google would be left with the players that don't make in-game purchases meaning providing the service for those game would prove hard to be profitable.
It's hard to think of a path where both parties would have incentive for the game to be ran on Stadia.
Some games can be played both with a controller and a mouse + keyboard. It's obvious that in some games mouse + keyboard provides clear accuracy advantage. This makes it hard to create a competitive environment if a percentage of the players have a disadvantage purely by playing with a controller.
And as history has shown, a competitive environment gives games staying power (Counter-Strike being a great example). It makes people watch the game, which in turn makes more people play and for longer.
I'm excited. Considering I travel a lot, don't have a gaming computer, don't own a console, don't even game a lot - but still enjoy spinning a game once in a while, my choices are very limited. As a matter of fact, my main computer for the past 10 months has been PixelBook and I'm super happy with it. I just wish I could spin up a game every now and then. And Stadia might be my answer.
However, I think we need to think of it as a new platform. Every platform has its limitations and Stadia is no exception. There will be games that are tailored for it and will strive on Stadia better than any other platform, but there will also be games that just won't make the cut. Unfortunately, the most popular games in the world probably fall into the latter category. But hopefully, Google and game developers realize the potential of games that can make use of all these new features and put more resources into developing and porting such games.
I've got my hopes up!
If anyone at Google is looking for more ideas on how to best reach Stadia's full potential (or are looking for an ambitious software developer) please shoot me an email at devkordes at gmail.com ;)