Google launched the Project Stream demo last year, allowing players to 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 that for sure. At GDC 2019, Google 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 aims to make games more accessible. Playing a high-end game right now involves buying expensive dedicated hardware and waiting for long downloads. Some people just won’t take that much time and effort to get ready to play the game. Stadia will help developers find titles in Google Search, the Play Store, and other locations. Then you’re just one click away from launching the game. Google says it can take as little as five seconds to play.
Initially, Stadia will require the Chrome browser engine. So you can play Stadia games on your PC, Chromebook, tablets and even Android smartphones. Although Chrome is available on iOS, it uses Apple’s standard web engine due to App Store restrictions. So 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 connected to millions of TVs. Playing AAA games on your TV or phone will require a proper control interface, and Google has one out of the box. The Stadia Controller uses Wi-Fi to connect directly to the cloud, eliminating some of the latency in transmitting your commands to the remote box.
Similar to services like GeForce Now, Stadia will render games in the cloud and stream the video to your device. Your control inputs flow back to the server in almost real time. It requires a ton of processing power in the data center, and Google turned to AMD to make it happen.
Stadia runs Linux with custom 56-core AMD graphics hardware and a custom 2.7 GHz processor, as well as 16 GB of RAM. This single Stadia instance has a computational power of 10.7 teraflops, compared to 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 cool features.
Project Stream allowed players to stream Assassin’s Creed at up to 1080p and 60fps. Stadia will support 4K and 60 fps resolution at launch, and the platform is fully scalable. Going forward, Google says it will be able to support up to 8K and 120fps. Google hasn’t mentioned what kind of bandwidth you’ll need for Stadia, but it will be substantial. However, Stadia could once again make split-screen gaming experiences usable. Currently, this is a constraint on local rendering hardware. Since Stadia renders in the cloud, multiple instances can work together to render players and deliver a combined video to your screen.
Google is also making game watching a major focus of Stadia. While streaming your game, data centers can produce a separate 4k60 stream directly to YouTube in real time. So game streamers don’t have to rebroadcast from their local connection. Streamers can also play with their fans with a feature called Crowd Play, which I have no doubt will be heavily monetized. Stadia also supports the sharing of gameplay situations through a technology called State Share. So a viewer can click on a link to start playing exactly where you are with the same variables like health and inventory.
Google has asked game industry veteran Jade Raymond to be a part of Project Stadia. Raymond will head the new Stadia Games and Entertainment, a development studio that aims to create exclusive titles for Stadia. It will also help third-party developers implement custom Stadia features in the games coming to the platform.
Google has presented a handful of games that will work on Stadia, the most important of which is Doom Eternal. Game selection will determine Stadia’s success, but price is also part of the equation. Google is targeting a crowd of casual gamers with Stadia, the kind of people who don’t want to waste a lot of money on hardware. Stadia does this by streaming over your existing hardware, but what about the cost of the software? Google didn’t even mention a business model for Stadia. We don’t know if this will be a Netflix-style all-you-can-eat situation or a Steam-style one-to-one shop.
Presumably Google will have more details as we get closer to the launch. When will it happen? It is not clear either. All we know is that Google plans to launch Stadia to some extent in 2019.