Google Stadia – the pros outweigh the cons?With an eye on E3’s hope-for next gen revelations, a reader takes another look at Google Stadia and the potential pitfalls it faces.
Earlier this year, Google showed their cards and finally lifted the lid on one of gaming’s worst kept secrets with the introduction of Google Stadia, their new streaming gaming service.
In a nutshell, game streaming services process everything in large warehouses, bigger than your local garden centre, each filled with super-charged servers. Meaning your perfectly timed Mortal Kombat 11 combo is no longer calculated five feet away in the box under your TV, but now thousands of miles away or so, depending on where you live.
Google does have more data servers scattered around the world than any other tech company so they could possibly support such server demand, but they have to clarify exactly how this will work in relation to Stadia. So it’s still safe to assume that your controller input will be processed outside your living room.
With Sony and Microsoft recently announcing a gentleman’s agreement that will see both use Microsoft’s servers to support their own streaming services, it’s clear the battlegrounds are being drawn for the next generation.
With E3 being around the corner we might start to see how these companies, Microsoft and Google in particular, are playing their cards. With this in mind, I have set out five pros and cons for a streaming-only gaming service.
Demos – With the introduction of optical gaming back in the mid-90s and the cheap production of CDs, it was incredibly common to get a new set of demos every month attached to the big gaming magazines at the time.
The current generation hasn’t really embraced demos in the same way. Data has suggested that supporting your game with a demo actually reduces sales, but if you ask most gamers, demos are often appreciated.
Google highlighted how demoing a new game on Stadia is as easy as watching a video in YouTube or clicking on an advert. It’s still unclear if game developers will actually still support this idea, but most gamers, myself included, would find this feature attractive, especially if a game has piqued your interest but is too expensive to take a gamble on.
No Downloading – Internet speeds are increasing but so are game sizes. It’s frustrating knowing that you have to wait hours for the newest release or update before enjoying your new purchase. Stadia, in theory, will be as easy as Netflix for playing your games. This ease in accessibility might mean that gamers will try more titles and shine a light on a lot of underappreciated games.
Hardware – Up until now, almost all gaming is restricted in terms of graphical and processing fidelity by the console or PC in your house. If you are a PC gamer than you have to fork out hundreds of pounds for a new graphics card every two or three years if you want to keep ahead of the game. Consider yourself a console gamer? Well, you have no choice. You have to wait for another generation.
Stadia should, in theory, improve the hardware for you. My prediction, is that if Stadia is still prominent in two years, then it will be the version setting the benchmark compared to Microsoft or Sony’s alternatives.
If your Internet speeds are fast enough to support the service then getting the best looking version without the costs of hardware is incredibly appealing.
Unlimited Hard Drive – Details on how this will work exactly is still unknown but, in theory, you won’t be restricted by the size of your hard drive any more. If you are like me, then whenever I want a new game on either my PlayStation 4 or PC then I have to play my own version of storage Tetris which usually results in some games getting deleted.
This might not be a huge deal for some, but this problem alone has stopped me from getting back into Red Dead Online due to the limited hard drive space on my PlayStation 4. That game alone was taking almost a third of my hard drive and had to be deleted in order to play A Plague’s Tale: Innocence. It’s a never-ending cycle I could do without.
Play Anywhere – One of the big cards in Google’s hand is the concept of being able to play any new AAA game on almost any device that runs Chrome.
What stops me from playing games on my phone is not the size of the screen, but the on-screen button input. It feels like eating soup with chopsticks.
As most of us have compatible devices in our pockets, then the only additional hardware you would need to pack to have a decent experience is a compatible controller.
Big question marks still sit heavy on connectivity when away from Wi-Fi but with 5G being around the corner and currently advertising speeds which could make this a reality, this has the potential to be a real game changer for Google’s new service.
Data Heavy – Stadia is going to eat data faster than a hungry dog eats dinner. This might not be a big problem for a lot of Europeans, as most data providers on the continent provide affordable uncapped data plans. However, this is not the case in North America, which makes up a lot of Google’s customer base.
For Google to make its money back and thrive in the competitive gaming market, it has to succeed in its home market. With data limits being strict and with expensive penalties, gamers may choose to steer clear of the service to avoid unwanted bills at the end of the month.
Internet Required – Internet and connectivity is quite reliable in most European countries, so requiring an Internet connection is not a big problem for most gamers here.
America on the other hand not only has issues with data caps, as previously mentioned, but also with connectivity. There are large parts of the country that don’t have fibre or broadband, which would make Stadia an impossibility.
Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony will almost certainly still keep some games offline, which would give them a larger market share than Google from day one.
More and more games require an Internet connection to even start the application, therefore gamers are getting more accustomed to always being connected, even if people protest at the idea.
However, we have all suffered from Internet shortages from either router problems or service provider issues, so having your single-player game stop or lose progress in Stadia with no local save option, would be quite frustrating.
No Ownership – Even now on any online gaming service such as Steam, Sony, or Microsoft, when we purchase the game, we don’t really own the product. We own the right to play it, as long as the service still supports the game.
We don’t know yet how Google will be priced or how it will structure its pricing model. It could be based on a Netflix style model, where you play a flat price every month and can access any game in its library. However, my money is on it being similar to the existing models, where you pay per game.
In a world where Stadia struggles to crack the market and where it pulls support for the service (Google does have a tendency to jump ship on new ventures) then all your games, or access to games, could completely vanish. Not cool.
Latency – Latency is the time during which your input is read by the computer/server and sent back. It’s never been a problem for traditional gaming because its normally processed five feet away, under your TV or in your PC tower. This of course, will not be the same for Stadia.
This could be the deal breaker for a lot of hardcore gamers, with one eye on Stadia and streaming in general. It was also the first thing under fire when Google first announced Stadia and let media and press go to town on its new controller and service back in March.
Early signs were not good for the Google service, with early reactions stating latency resulted in early and unfair deaths on Id’s 2016 version of Doom.
Latency might not be a problem for all games, with real-time strategy and turn-based games being perfectly playable with high latency. However, the most popular games today are heavily reliant on twitch reactions, such as any battle royale, first person shooter or sports sim. Introduce any latency to gamers and they will leave in their droves and will go back to traditional methods of playing. It’s that simple.
Lag and Frame Rate – Sitting in the same boat as latency is lag. We have all suffered some kind of lag when playing online games, with players teleporting into thin air or the opposition scoring a goal without even seeing kick off happen. It’s infuriating.
Stadia has to not only deal with gameplay lag but also resolution and frame rate problems. If you decide to play your game during peak Internet hours, you might find the frame rate and resolution so low you could count the pixels on one hand.
Netflix has to cope with the same problems and has its own black magic at work and can work wonders on even the most modest of Internet connections at peak times, so maybe Google can cast its own magic to counter this issue.
In my opinion, Internet speeds and data restrictions just aren’t ready for such a data heavy service, particularly in America.
Stadia will only succeed if it can break the American market.
If it opts for a similar pricing model to Steam or other similar digital markets where the consumer has their own downloadable library and pays RRP for a single product, then I can’t see how it will appeal to most avid gamers, who will most likely still choose the familiar, tried and tested path of local console gaming.
The new generation of consoles might start introducing streaming services alongside local consoles, a kind of hybrid solution, which in turn might just introduce the idea of a streaming future to the public. But for now, I think Google is just too far ahead of itself to make its investment pay dividends.
By reader Nick McElroy (@NicElroy)
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