Google Takes Aim at PlayStation, Xbox With Gaming Streaming Service, Stadia

Launching later this year, Google's pitch is simple but ambitious: press play and start playing a game immediately and anywhere.

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Mar 19 2019, 6:23pm

What if you could press a button and start playing a game immediately? No waiting for 50GB to download, no patches to install, and you aren’t limited to only playing on a TV or computer monitor. How about your phone? That’s the ambitious pitch behind Stadia, Google’s heavily rumored—seriously, everybody knew it was coming for months—video game streaming service, which was just announced at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

“The future is not a box,” said the company, a shot at the traditional way of selling consoles.

Given where the event took place, it’s not shocking Google’s presentation was technical—it opened with Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, joking he’s “not a gamer.” It was an announcement light on games, and big on unfulfilled promise. Google said Stadia would eventually launch in 2019 in the US, Canada, UK, and most of Europe, but provided no details on whether it’d cost anything, beyond what players will understandably be asked to pay in order to access individual games. More details are, apparently, coming this summer.

Google rolled out an experimental version of Stadia last year, allowing people to play Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Players were able to click a button in a web browser, load up a copy of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey in just a few moments, and begin playing. It’s gaming for people used to hitting a button on Netflix, and largely taken as a preview of things to come.

At the event, Google announced a very limited number of games supporting Stadia, including the upcoming (and very action-focused!) Doom Eternal, which will reportedly be playable at 4K resolution and 60 frames-per-second. They did not actually show the game.

They did, however, announce an in-house development studio, Stadia Games and Entertainment, run by former Ubisoft producer and executive Jade Raymond, who helped oversee the development of the original Assassin’s Creed. It was a key acknowledgement by Google that exclusive games, not technology, drives player interest.

At launch, Google is promising that games will stream up to 4K resolutions at 60 frames-per-second, but the company claims it’s already planning to support 8K resolutions at 120 frames-per-second.

That’s a lot of frames, and leads to a lot of unanswered questions. How much data are you burning through while streaming a high-end game? Data caps aren’t something the average Internet user deals with at home, but rest assured, that will change soon, and Stadia is a harbinger of it. How long will Google support Stadia? The company has a long, troubled history of getting really excited about new projects and ideas, only to run for the hills when things get hairy. That might give you some pause to spend $60. What kind of Internet connection will you need to power Stadia? Most of us don’t have Google Fiber.

Those answers will have to wait until later.

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Notably, you can use a number of controllers you already own to play games via Stadia, but Google has also developed their own peripheral. It more or less looks like an Xbox controller, but with a few wrinkles. It connects directly to your wireless network, presumably to cut down on latency? Google was vague on the details. The controller also has dedicated buttons for capturing moments from the game and accessing the company’s voice-driven assistant.

Not surprising, Stadia is built with the notion of streaming in mind; Twitch is one of YouTube’s primary rivals. You can stream your game experience, naturally, but even if you’re not sharing what’s happening moment-to-moment, Stadia is recording your entire playthrough, so if you happen to miss something that happens, you can always go back and pluck it out.

One of the potentially cool features is “state share,” a way for players to literally share the exact moment they’re at in a game, and allow someone else to jump in and pick up from there. (Too bad Stadia is coming later this year; there’s a new From Software game out this week.) Google also showed the ability for players to jump into multiplayer lobbies straight from YouTube, a way for streamers to connect with fans or friends to link up with each other, and the ability to ask Google’s assistant to pull up tip videos if you’re stuck at a puzzle.

Google also promised cross-platform multiplayer, though it didn’t announce any specific partnerships with Nintendo, Microsoft, or Sony.

Still, it’s clear the video game industry is in for some big changes, and cloud-based streaming is a huge part of it. Microsoft, Sony, and Valve have already pushed their chips in, and now Google’s done the same. What shakes out next, though, is anybody’s guess.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com.

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