Google has joined the video games industry with its own high-tech streaming platform, but how does it work and what are the games?
For the first time in 20 years a major new company has entered the games industry, but Google are not releasing a new console. Stadia is a separate platform, that runs its own games, but there’s no physical hardware beyond a controller; instead it streams games just like Netflix streams movies.
It’s an idea that’s been floating around for years, and already exists in limited form via services such as PlayStation Now, but Google are aiming to make it the foundation of everything they do in games.
They announced Stadia during an hour-long presentation on Tuesday, 19 March but inevitably that ended up leaving more questions than answers. But here’s everything we know so far.
So, what exactly is Stadia?
Stadia is Google’s new video game platform, the equivalent of a new console but one that doesn’t require any physical hardware. Instead, games are streamed via broadband, just like Netflix or Spotify, and you can play them on devices like a laptop, desktop, tablet, or smartphone. The games are special versions exclusively for Stadia but the graphics are at least as good as a high-end PC and run at resolutions of up to 4K and at 60 frames per second.
What devices can I play Stadia on?
You can run Stadia on any laptop or desktop PC, regardless of how powerful it is. You can also run it on a TV but that will require a Chromecast media player attached, which costs around £30 for the basic model or £70 for the 4K version. The only mobile devices it will work on are Google Pixel phones and tablets, so not just any Android device. Google have implied more devices will be made compatible later but didn’t give any details of what or when.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsaenNSjclY?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent&w=640&h=360]
What kind of broadband connection do I need?
Google has suggested a download speed of at least 25 Mbps. That’s pretty fast, although most built-up areas in the UK should be able to provide that sort of speed… for a cost. If you want to check how fast your current Internet connection is visit the site Speedtest and check to see what your download speed is.
Is there a specific Stadia controller?
Yes. The controller shown during the presentation looks pretty similar to any other but it does have two special buttons that allow you to stream directly to YouTube (which Google also own) and a Google Assistant button that can look up game hints for you automatically. The Wi-Fi controller also connects directly to your game stream to minimise any input lag. Alternatively, you can use whatever controller you already have for your PC. That presumably goes for Bluetooth controllers for phones, although Google hasn’t clarified that yet.
What games will Stadia have?
Oddly, Google hasn’t really said yet. 2018’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was used as a demo last year and on-stage at the presentation but the only upcoming game that was confirmed was Bethesda’s Doom Eternal. Many other games were promised though and Google has set up its own games studio to create its own exclusive titles and oversee those from other creators. However, nothing was actually shown up and running and there won’t be any more information until this summer.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AffodEEF4ho?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent&w=640&h=360]
What other things can Stadia do that a normal console can’t?
Not only can Stadia run on multiple devices, no matter how powerful they are, but you can switch between them in an instant and carry on the game just where you left off. So, for example, you can switch from the same game phone to TV to desktop with almost no pause. This also allows for clever tricks such as multiple split-screen views of a game – which is especially handy for couch co-op and should prove very useful for VR. Although the more screens the more strain it’ll put on your broadband connection.
There’s also some neat social features, such as State Share where you can capture a moment – a boss battle, for example – from a game and send it as link to anyone else you like, so that they can play the same thing. Meanwhile, Crowd Play allows you to watch a YouTuber and then just click a button to join a queue to play them yourself.
How will this affect Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo?
That remains to be seen. The new generation of consoles is fast approaching and expected to be released next year, so hints about the new formats may start to appear at E3 in June. Although Microsoft has insisted that they are making a normal console as well they’ve also announced Project xCloud, which sounds very similar to Stadia. Sony and Nintendo have also experimented with streaming, so it’ll almost certainly become a standard part of gaming from now on – even if it’s not the only option for most companies.
When will Stadia be out?
Stadia will launch this year in North America and Europe, but there’s no specific release date so far. It sounds like it’ll probably be late summer at the very earliest, but there could be beta tests and the like before that. Google mentioned providing more information this summer, so you may not hear much more about it until then.
How much will Stadia cost?
Google isn’t saying yet. Not only did they not mention anything about price but they haven’t indicated whether you can buy individual games or if everything is subscription based. Even if they follow the Netflix model for subscriptions, with a similar pricing scheme, there’s likely to be additional costs on top for microtransactions, DLC, and perhaps even big-name games.