Searching for its chance to break into the highly lucrative world of game streaming, Google may have changed the way we consume digital content once again.
As the GDC, or Game Developer’s Conference, comes to a close this week, Google stole the spotlight with the announcement of its highly anticipated, somewhat secretive gaming platform Stadia.
In non-techy terms, Stadia will be Google’s standalone game streaming service that can be accessed on your Pixel device, PC, or any Chromecast TV. There won’t be a standalone box and the only hardware set to released will be a WiFi enabled controller that looks exactly like what you’d expect from the masters of minimal, flat design. And yes, it will have a headphone jack.
Google spoke about the decision to forgo any physical console, highlighting the key selling point of the Stadia platform: It can be accessed and enjoyed by anyone, anywhere, at anytime. * (Typical bandwidth restrictions apply, read the fine print.)
Certainly a better option than lugging your Playstation, Xbox, or high-end gaming PC around with you.
Google also unveiled some pretty incredible tech behind the streaming service, ultimately promising the ability to stream games in full 4K HD at 60 fps – with minimal latency. (You’ll be able to stream games at a quality identical to that of using a physical disc or digital download, all with little to no ‘lag’.) All of this combined with AAA titles is sure to be a game changer in the industry. Imagine turning on your TV and within minutes being able to stream the latest Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed – at more than playable speeds. A far cry from spending hours downloading digital copies of games or buying a physical disc and installing it on your system’s hard drive, which could take hours, as well.
But beyond this, the folks from Mountain View have packed in some pretty cool features that will certainly have you thinking twice before laying out hundreds of dollars for another bulky device to sit under your TV.
With the addition of their signature, “Hey, Google” voice command, you’ll be able to access services like YouTube mid-game. So the next time you get stuck on a difficult mission or level, a quick voice command will have Google do the rest. This feature provides an overlay of relevant YouTube videos that have been auto-scrubbed (or fast-forwarded to the part you need to see) on-top of the game, pausing your progress in the background. Think of it like a next generation picture-in-picture mode. Then without missing a beat you can exit the YouTube video and jump right back where you left off, finally solving that puzzle in Tomb Raider. Pretty incredible and incredibly convenient, if you ask me.
There is also a button on the controller that lets you instantly stream your gameplay to YouTube, an attempt to upend the juggernaut that is Twitch. And there will be support for multiplayer as well. However, it will be interesting to see how the streaming quality holds up with more intense multiplayer games and just how Google plans to mimic the great community atmospheres that are found on Xbox Live or Playstation Network. Some sort of integration with their own messaging platforms is almost a guarantee, but no formal announcement about a proprietary gaming social network was unveiled. Cross-platform play is all but essential, too, in order to lure and acquire large amounts of users early on.
Google also revealed that current social media platforms will be deeply integrated, allowing gamers to access content from nearly any link they find across the internet, possibly eliminating the need for standalone digital ‘stores’ on current hardware. Talk about a truly open market.
Now if you’re reading this or watched the keynote, you may feel like you’ve heard this all before. That’s because this isn’t the first time a major developer has tried to turn the industry on its head. Devices like the Nvidia Shield and Alienware “Steam Machines” both attempted to make cloud gaming cool quite recently, but found little success as they were limited by hardware and price, respectively.
So far the response from the gaming community has been mostly positive, with Engadget calling it the “Moonshot game streaming needs.” But other tech sites like The Verge have painted a bigger picture of Google’s announcement: That this isn’t the future of gaming but the future of YouTube. The business of watching other people play video games may sound ridiculous, but it has become unbelievably lucrative. Rivals like Amazon’s Twitch holds valuable real estate in the digital landscape, with millions of viewers per day. And in February of this year, non-players committed nearly a billion hours of real world time to watching other people play games on the service. With the potential for advertisers and influencers, this is only the beginning.
The decision to break into the world of gaming has certainly been in the works for years, and with the technology that Google has invested into the Stadia service it’s clear that they wanted to get it right the first time. As for how quickly it will be adopted remains to be seen. No price was announced, but Google is aiming for a release date sometime this year. It may very well stay a secondary platform for some users while positioning itself as a more accessible daily driver for gamers just starting out. If all goes as planned this could seriously shake up a market that has traditionally been dominated by only a handful of players. But the recent pressure to innovate and give the playing community what they want has had many of the industry’s old dogs pressing the reset button. So this was only a matter of time.
With Google’s Stadia announcement the tech giant could once again takeover an industry that is in desperate need of a refresh. This could be the change that we deserve but maybe not the change that we need right now. Without any beta software it’s way too early to tell. However, if all goes as planned we might be looking at not only the future of gaming, but the future of all streamable, shareable content – and how we all consume that content on a daily basis.