Does the Future of Game Streaming Truly Start Now With Google Stadia?

The concept of streaming games to home platforms is not new. Off the top of my head, Sega was trying to do it in the mid-90s with the Sega Channel, but I know there were efforts even before then. More recently, services like OnLive and PlayStation Now have been trying their hand at the approach.

At the keynote for GDC 2019, Google unveiled Google Stadia, their new game streaming platform. In short, it will allow players to game from any instance of Google Chrome or Chrome OS, running games with modern graphics at resolutions up to 4K, at frame rates up to 60 fps, with almost whatever controller you have. It’s also got deep hooks with YouTube streaming, allowing gamers to stream and interact with viewers in all new ways. All of this will be playable for those in the US, Canada, UK, and Europe later in 2019.

I have some serious reservations about what Google’s promising here. However, my concerns about controller input delay, game library, broadband access, and data caps might be a moot point in the long run. What Google just showed us appears to be the future of gaming.

The appeal of a streaming infrastructure is clear. Having the ability to play my games on any device without any hits to performance is the dream. The Nintendo Switch gives us a taste of what that can be like, and having the benefit of playing my games on a big TV or on the built-in screen while sitting on the train is amazing. Google’s proposed solution would seemingly be the endgame of that approach.

Others have tried game streaming services in the past with mixed results, but Google has a few major advantages over the competition. One, odds are, they’ve already got you. You probably already have a Google account. You’re probably using Google Chrome to view this post right now. If you’re not, you probably already own multiple devices that can run it. Just like that, you can play whatever the high end games are of today and the future without any dedicated hardware costs upfront. At worst, you can buy a Chromecast Ultra for under $100, playing a game on hardware that’s more powerful than today’s consoles and can always scale ahead of what local hardware manufacturers are selling. The barrier to entry is in theory, lower than ever.

Data transfer speeds are a valid concern, but Google has a leg-up on that too. Through all the work they’ve done for other aspects of their business, they already have a massive server network that serves over 200 countries. I’m hyper-sensitive to input timings as a fighting game player, and I will nope out of this as soon as it feels less than ideal. But at some point, speeds will inevitably get there. Google is already one of the first in line with the infrastructure already in place. Microsoft might have it. Sony probably doesn’t. Nintendo definitely doesn’t.

Money and resources aren’t everything. From Google Wave, to Google Plus, to Google Glasses, there are no shortage of Google products and services that failed in spite of the company’s power. Maybe this will fail too. But I feel like they just laid out the blueprint for the future in gaming, and they have the best shot of bringing that vision to life. If they don’t get it, I feel strongly that someone will eventually make a service like this a reality. With Google Stadia coming out later this year in the US, Canada, UK, and Europe, we’ll get a chance to really put their service through its paces.

3 thoughts on “Does the Future of Game Streaming Truly Start Now With Google Stadia?

  1. Pete Davison March 20, 2019 / 11:00 AM

    I hate everything about this. If this is the future of gaming and I will no longer be able to collect games to curate my own personal “library”, I’m out, at least of modern stuff. I will become a strictly retro collector and player from that point on.

    I can see the value of this when it comes to big-budget triple-A stuff, because it will lower development overheads if teams only have to develop for a single universal platform. But I don’t trust certain publishers to not suddenly make their games unavailable when, say, the next iteration of an annual series comes out or a licensing agreement expires.

    Personally, I value games as possessions as much as experiences; I avoid digital wherever possible and will favour console versions over PC just so I can hold them in my hands and display them proudly on my shelves. Having them as physical possessions reminds me of the great experiences I’ve had and the experiences that are yet to come. This whole setup threatens to deprive me of that significant and important part of my hobby, and I want no part of it.

    Realistically, I see this pootling along as an “alternative” to dedicated gaming hardware for a while rather than the replacement Google seems to be trying to pitch it as. But I won’t lie; I sincerely hope that this whole concept dies a miserable death.

    • Jett March 20, 2019 / 12:30 PM

      Scathing words, but I appreciate you sharing your opinion on the matter in a respectful manner 🙂

      You’re not alone in the value of curating a personal library. Many place value on the boxes, the manuals, the resale value, the way it looks on the shelf, full ownership over the product, and all of those tangible things that wouldn’t come from a service like this. I don’t necessarily identify myself as being a collector, but I still have hundreds of games on shelves and I lean physical more often than not.

      But I also see an audience, especially going forward, who won’t value those things the same way. Music and gaming aren’t exactly the same thing, but once the music industry provided a music streaming service that listeners couldn’t refuse, music being distributed primarily in physical form became an relic of an earlier time. There are gamers now who have grown up without any sort of emotional attachment to games in their physical form. At some point, whether I like it or not, I feel like gaming will get to a point where the streaming option will be the best and most convenient for most.

      I highly doubt Google will flip the switch tomorrow and all of physical gaming is gone. I think your notion that this form of streaming gaming will exist as an alternative is probably where this lands…in the immediate term. However, my gut keeps telling me that at some point, quite possibly way in the future after we’re long gone, the inherent quirks that come with a streaming game platform will be sorted out, and that the industry shifts more in the direction of streaming.

      • Pete Davison March 20, 2019 / 1:19 PM

        Thanks for responding! There aren’t many things that make me mad and upset, but this whole thing has really pushed my buttons in all the wrong ways 🙂

        I agree that people have sort of adjusted to the idea of streaming movies, music and TV shows… but at the same time, even people who are well and truly invested in those forms of distribution are aware of how much they devalue the content. This is especially true for music; music these days is completely disposable and, as someone who grew up as much of a musician as a gamer, that saddens me.

        In some ways, the modern way of doing things is cool, because it means people experience a broader range of different things over the long term — at least in theory, anyway. In practice, though, I think there’s plenty of cultural value to be had from really getting to know an individual work in detail — and the streaming future threatens that proud part of creative, artistic tradition and analysis.

        Still, as you say, it’s not as if a switch is going to flip overnight and things are suddenly going to be awful. You can still buy CDs, after all, and vinyl is even making a comeback. I think — well, I hope, anyway — that gaming will learn from music: that streaming and its inherent impermanence is fine for experiences that are designed to be disposable, but there is and probably always will be a significant (and profitable!) market of people who like to keep literal hold of the things that are important to them… and are more than willing to pay for the privilege of doing so.

        I sense outlets like Limited Run and their ilk are going to be doing a roaring trade going forward… if only from me, haha!

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