Google rolled out the Project Stream demo last year, letting players experience the new Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey in a browser. We all suspected this was just the start of a major game streaming initiative for Google, and now we know for certain. At GDC 2019, Google has unveiled Stadia, its new cloud-based gaming platform. It lets you play AAA games on any device with Chrome including laptops, phones, tablets, and TVs.
Stadia is all about making games more accessible. Playing a high-end game right now involves buying expensive dedicated hardware and waiting through lengthy downloads. Some people simply won’t put that much time and effort into getting set up to play the game. Stadia will help developers surface titles in Google search, the Play Store, and other locations. Then, you’re just a click away from launching the game. Google says it can take as little as five seconds to get playing.
Initially, Stadia will require the Chrome browser engine. So, you’ll be able to play Stadia games on your PC, Chromebook, tablets, and even Android smartphones. While Chrome is available on iOS, it uses Apple’s standard web engine because of App Store restrictions. Thus, Stadia probably won’t work on iDevices.
Google has also made Stadia compatible with the Chromecast Ultra. And just like that, Google has a game console attached to millions of TVs. Playing AAA games on your TV or phone will require a proper control interface, and Google happens to have one ready to go. The Stadia controller uses Wi-Fi to connect directly to the cloud, eliminating some of the latency in getting your commands to the remote box.
Similar to services like GeForce Now, Stadia will render games in the cloud and stream the video down to your device. Your control inputs go back up to the server in close to real time. This requires a ton of processing power in the data center, and Google turned to AMD to make it happen.
Stadia runs on Linux with 56-core custom AMD graphics hardware and a 2.7GHz custom CPU, plus 16GB of RAM. This single Stadia instance has 10.7 teraflops of computing power, compared with 4.2 and 6.0 teraflops for the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, respectively. Of course, multiple Stadia instances can work together to render a game in parallel, which unlocks some exciting capabilities.
Project Stream allowed players to stream Assassin’s Creed at up to 1080p and 60fps. Stadia will support 4K resolution and 60fps at launch, and the platform is fully scalable. In the future, Google says it will be able to support up to 8K and 120fps. Google didn’t mention what sort of bandwidth you’ll need for Stadia, but it will be substantial. However, Stadia could make split-screen game experiences workable again. Currently, this is a strain on local rendering hardware. Because Stadia is rendering in the cloud, multiple instances can work together to render for the players and stream a combined video down to your screen.
Google is making game spectating a major focus of Stadia, too. While streaming your game, the data centers can output a separate 4k60 stream directly to YouTube in real time. Thus, game streamers don’t have to re-broadcast from their local connection. Streamers can also play with their fans with a feature called Crowd Play, which I have no doubt will be monetized heavily. Stadia also supports sharing gameplay situations via a technology called State Share. So, a viewer can click a link to begin playing a game in the exact place you are with all the same variables like health and inventory.
The Unanswered Questions
Google tapped game industry veteran Jade Raymond to be part of the Stadia project. Raymond will head the new Stadia Games and Entertainment, a dev studio that aims to create exclusive titles for Stadia. It will also help third-party developers implement Stadia’s custom features in games that come to the platform.
Google showed off a handful of games that will run on Stadia, the most prominent being Doom Eternal. The selection of games will determine how successful Stadia in, but the price is also part of the equation. Google is targeting a casual gaming crowd with Stadia, the kind of people who don’t want to drop a lot of money on hardware. Stadia takes care of that by streaming to your existing hardware, but what about the software cost? Google didn’t even mention a business model for Stadia. We don’t know if it will be a Netflix-style, all-you-can-play situation or a Steam-like individual purchase store.
Presumably, Google will have more details as we get closer to launch. When will that be? That’s unclear, too. All we know is that Google plans to launch Stadia in some capacity in 2019.