Stadia the new home of cloud gaming if Google succeeds
Google Stadia is the latest attempt at cloud based gaming, i.e. rather than draw all the graphics using the PC or console in the home this is all done remotely in a data centre and streamed as video to the player.
Some will remember we have been here before back in 2009 when OnLive launched but this service never really became massive but a decade later a lot more people have faster connections and the rise of game streaming where you can embed a small video of yourself playing has increased the audience for gaming.
The trailers for Google Stadia and and previous trial in the US gives some hints of what to expect and Google seems to be aiming for much higher quality imagery than previous cloud gaming launches, the service is talking of wanting 25 Mbps of bandwith for a 1080p experience and considers 15 Mbps to be the abolute minimum at which point things are dropping to 720p resolution.
Previous cloud gaming services have suffered because of two things, variable latency and the picture never looked as good as locally rendered scenes particularly when playing first person shooter style games. In short while a console or PC game will have individual blades of grass blowing in a breeze, the streamed games have in the past lost some of the crispness. The latency issue is one Stadia claims to have improved on compared to previous cloud platforms but until it has launched it will be hard to know for sure, most likely the latency issues in terms of time between button pressed on controller, mouse or keyboard and action observed on screen will be enough for casual gamers but the dedicated PC gamer community may feel differently.
The biggest positive to cloud gaming is that you avoid the long wait for updates to install and even with standard superfast connections the updates sometimes are already faster to download than they are to install on a console or PC. Where cloud gaming can also win is allowing you to dip in and out of many different titles until you find the one you like, previously people would do this by downloading and playing the demo version before parting with hard cash, what we don't know yet is what the price of the subscription will be.
The only bit of hardware that will be Stadia branded is a dedicated controller that connects to your broadband over Wi-Fi or via a device with USB, but the controller is not required other controllers will work and the aim is that any device that can run Google Chrome will be able to use the Stadia service so you can play on your big screen TV or tablet or mobile phone. For those who have embraced streaming their gameplay the Stadia platform will offer the ability to broadcast your game play which is likely to be much better quality than most people upload to platforms like twitch today, though we don't know how Stadia is going to handle the picture in picture webcam video or voice over yet.
If 25 Mbps is a realistic minimum for 1080p then the 4K HDR Stadia streams are going to require a lot more bandwidth and if the service is popular it could prove a big driver for people upgrading to ultrafast connections, be they DOCSIS, G.fast or FTTP based but the problem then will be whether the local networks and links to the Google data centres can cope with thousands and maybe millions all wanting streams in the 25 Mbps and faster region at the same time while keeping latency performance stable. For individual connections it is probably best to suggest that for the 1080p stream you have a connection of double that speed to ensure that the actual video stream itself is not saturating the link and leave plenty of headroom for all those other little things that might blip the latency eg. a mobile phone app downloading an update or someone else in the home web browsing or streaming some video.
Ten years ago we worried about the impact on usage limits, but for fixed line broadband usage limits are largely a thing of the past, but if 4G transitions to 5G goto plan then gamers eating 12 GB per hour gaming is really going to really test the new 5G masts and infrastructure behind them.
Will this kill the games console? Only time will tell once all the quality and pricing battles have played out.