Will Stadia be the end of Consoles?

Earlier this week, Google announced more details about the soon-to-be-released Stadia platform. The condensed version is below but you can see the full one-hour Game Developers Conference presentation here.

At a high level, Stadia is a game-streaming service that will allow gamers to gain instant access to video games without high-powered hardware. Google said you’ll need at least 25 megabits per second of download speed to get 1080p and 60 frames per second. 

They have a bold tagline to match their ambitious gaming goals:

The future of gaming is not a box.

The details sound impressive but is this too good to be true? Does Google have a shot of stealing market share from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo? Here are the top criteria that I think will lead to success for the internet juggernaut.

People Have the Proper Internet Access

Game-streaming is not a new thing. Onlive tried this and failed. Geforce Now is in beta mode but has received fairly positive reviews. Jump focuses on bringing indie games to the table.

At the core of everything is a reliance on internet access and, more importantly, a stable connection with decent speed. As of a couple years ago, the average internet speed in America was roughly 19 MB/s. While this puts the US at the number 10 spot, even the top country is just a few MB/s over the Stadia-recommended 25.

This means the barrier to entry rules out the majority of people with internet access to use the product at it’s highest settings. I expect that anywhere from 10-20 MB/s will still let gamers play at a reasonable game settings. The frames and resolution would be lower but the fluidity of the game should be maintained.

On top of the speed, stability has been an issue for the other services. Imagine being in a tense game of Apex Legends and having your match cut short due to connectivity breaks! It’d be awful.

If anyone knows internet infrastructure, it’s Google. However, I don’t see a way to keep consistent bandwidth for 100% of their user base. I’ll be especially interested to see how they handle online multiplayer games. 

Last year, a good chunk of Google’s $26 billion capital expenditure budget went towards servers and cloud-computing equipment. This should help to maintain a more reliable network but only time will tell.

I see this being the highest priority for Google to focus on leading up to the roll out of Stadia. Without a consistently high level of gameplay, people will play a few times for the novelty and then never return to the service.

Compelling Game Library

The announcement presentation showed Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in the demo but didn’t say much else about what would be included in the game library. Google announced that players will be able to go from watching a game streamed on Youtube to playing that game in a matter of seconds on Stadia. 

My guess is that the service will launch with a few dozen AAA titles and a handful of indie games. *Hopefully* there will be at least one or two exclusives within the first year of access. 

One selling-point to developers is that they won’t have to worry about hardware specs given Google will power gameplay on their hardware. This may result in higher interest to create software for the platform.

Google is a master at collecting data and using it to inform their product decisions. There will likely be a recommendation system to suggest games to players as well as wishlist functionality that allows users to request new games.

The company is starting their own game-making studio but they didn’t give much more detail there. Microsoft gave us Age of Empires when they went into studio development mode so I have high hopes for google.

Having the Right Peripherals

Whether your a PC or console player, you know the struggle of keeping up with video game accessories. At minimum, you end up purchasing an extra controller.  On the more involved end of the spectrum, you’re buying cameras, sensors, mice, memory cards, screen protectors, etc.

What I love here about the Stadia is that you can bring your own controller to use with the platform! Based on the Google presentation, you can use most current-gen consoles via USB as well as a mouse+keyboard.

BYOController

Google also introduced their own controller into the mix. The Stadia controller uses WiFi to automatically connect to your game running in the Google Data Center.

The design reminds me of a modified version of the Nintendo Switch Pro controller, with the keypad and left joystick swapped. I’m a little disappointed that Google didn’t innovate more on the design of their controller. They played it pretty safe but did introduce some interesting features:

  • Home button, which will likely be similar to the Xbox button or PS button on those respective consoles
  • Google Assistant, giving access to game guides and other useful info
  • Konami code on the back, providing some good ol’ nostalgic fun

I fully expect Google to release a camera/mic combo which caters to video game streamers. I’m also excited to see how Stadia interfaces with VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Social Network Component

Google owns YouTube, so it makes sense that they will funnel gamers through the media sharing platform. YouTube game videos were watched for 50 billions hours in 2018, so there are plenty of eye balls to convert into Stadia customers.

Stadia boasts the ability to seamlessly move between watching videos and playing the game you were watching. You can also easily stream or record your gameplay on the platform.

What’s missing for me is a network component outside of sharing content. Discord has done a great job of allowing gamers to form their own communities. 

I don’t expect Google to partner with Discord anytime soon but I see how Stadia’s growth potential could be bolstered with a social network. They’ll need to combine the ease of Twitch chat, the commenting function of Youtube, and the group formation of Facebook. 

This isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, but it will be an indicator as to whether Google sees this as just software or an ecosystem of gamers. For any Googlers out there reading this, I prefer the latter.

My Predictions for Stadia
Timing

We know that Stadia will be publicly available “some time in 2019” so we should know more within the next 8 months. You can already sign up to be notified about updates on the Stadia website so make sure you do so if you’re curious to hear more.

Pricing

The announcement didn’t share anything on the pricing side but there will likely be a subscription model for the platform. Based on the current suite of subscriptions that people are used to, I could see this being anywhere from $10-$30 per month. I see a beta test on the horizon and the potential for a free month of usage for select users.

Console Generations

Game consoles are generally on a 5-7 year life cycle. With the PS4 and Xbox One both being released in 2013, we’re approaching the end of the current generation of consoles. The timing of Stadia makes sense here.

Sony won the latest battle against Microsoft, with 92 million PS4s sold vs about half that many Xbox One consoles. I’ve been a Sony supporter since the original Playstation but am curious to try Google’s offering. 

From what I’ve heard online about the Xbox One, many Microsoft gamers were disappointed by the aptly-named Xbone. If Google executes properly, they will likely steal a small portion of customers from Microsoft.

I see this being more of a compliment to PC gamers than a full-on replacement. People with gaming computers already have powerful hardware and may not want to give up the flexibility of installing mods on their favorite games.

Ultimately, the success of Stadia will come down to how well Google can create a new experience that is significantly better than the status quo. The gameplay will need to be consistently high-quality, and the game library needs to include at least 3-4 of the most popular games. May I recommend starting with Apex Legends?

Lastly, I do like the move towards cloud gaming. I think this is the future and really hope it works out. Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft have all been pushing more towards digital downloads and I don’t expect that discs/cartridges will be the norm far past 2023.

A year from now, we’ll either be talking about how Stadia changed the way we interact with the gaming world or there will be a eulogy for the failed service which never really got going.

What are your thoughts on Google’s announcement? Will you give Stadia a try? Leave us a message below!

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