Google Stadia heralds gaming revolution

The future of gaming? Google’s Stadia is introduced using Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.

Netflix has transformed TV and film. Spotify has revolutionised music. Now Google aims to do the same for gaming with a new streaming service, Stadia. But too much choice is stressing us out.

First there were large, clunky arcade games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders, which enticed teenagers to restaurants and arcades. Then smaller game consoles arrived, ready to be used with a television at home. Hand-held consoles made gaming portable.

Now, Google is hoping to start a new era of gaming — one which uses streaming to transform the industry, just as Netflix and Spotify did with TV and music.

To do this, it has unveiled a new gaming streaming service, called Stadia, which will be released later this year in the US, UK and Europe.

The idea is that gamers will no longer need to buy expensive hardware, like PlayStations or high-powered PCs. All they need is a web browser and a WiFi connection, and they can instantly start playing high-resolution games on their laptop, tablet, mobile or TV.

There is no downloading necessary. This is because all of the heavy lifting is done by the company’s own vast data centres, which then send the audio and visuals back to your device.

Google has not yet said how users will pay for Stadia. You might subscribe to all of the available games for a flat monthly fee, like Netflix or Spotify. Alternatively, you may have to pay extra for the biggest games, as with Amazon Prime’s video service.

Is it a good idea? It could certainly make gaming cheaper and easier — but only if you have a strong enough internet connection.

Phil Harrison, the man in charge of Stadia, told the BBC that it could stream 4K games using download speeds of “around 25mbps”. This is roughly the average in US homes, but the UK’s average is 18.5mbps — and over half the world’s countries have average speeds of less than 5mbps, according to research published last year.

As for the gaming companies, “the big fear will be in succumbing to what has happened to the music industry,” wrote the BBC’s technology reporter Dave Lee yesterday. “Streaming has meant royalty payments have been squeezed so dramatically, even elite musicians can struggle to make a living through record sales.”

Fair game

Can Google change the gaming industry, following in the footsteps of Spotify and Netflix? A lot will depend on the games available through Stadia, and the internet speeds required to play them. But say Google overcomes these hurdles — will a streaming service be good for gamers? What about the people who make games?

And has streaming been good for culture in general? It is convenient for everything to be available on demand, but does this take away from the excitement of buying a new album or going to the cinema? Do we live in a golden age of TV and music (and soon, possibly, gaming)? Or is there such a thing as too much choice?

You Decide

  1. Could Stadia overtake traditional gaming consoles like Nintendo, PlayStation or Xbox?
  2. Has streaming been good for TV and music?

Activities

  1. Try designing a plan for your own video game! Think about the game’s story, characters and the world in which it takes place.
  2. Write a report which compares the video game industry to music, TV or film. How has streaming affected the latter, and will the same thing happen to gaming?

Some People Say...

“We want Google to be the third half of your brain.”

Google co-founder Sergey Brin

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Google has been working on this project for several years. We know that Doom Eternal will be available on Stadia, and it streamed Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey during testing phases. Other companies are working on similar services, such as Microsoft’s xCloud. Others are already available, such as PlayStation Now. However, getting fast enough internet speeds for high-definition games has always been the biggest issue.
What do we not know?
When Stadia will be released, or how it will make money. We also do not know which other games will be made available, although Phil Harrison has suggested that they are going after big names. And is this really the future of gaming? Or could it be free-to-play games like Fortnite, which make money from micropayments?

Word Watch

Data centres
Buildings which house computer systems and data storage. Google has built data centres all around the world.
4K games
“4K” is a type of high definition display, also known as “Ultra High Definition” or UHD. It means that the picture on display is made up of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. As pixels are the building blocks which make up a digital image, more pixels mean sharper and more detailed images.
25mbps
“Mbps” is an acronym for “megabits per second”. A “bit” is the smallest unit of data in a computer, or a single unit of binary code (either 1 or 0). A megabit is one million bits.
Research
Conducted by Cable, a UK-based broadband comparison company. The research was based on more than 163 million speed tests in 200 countries. You can compare them using the Guardian link under Become An Expert.
Squeezed
According to the latest research by Digital Music News, Spotify pays $0.00437 per stream. Lee specifies that it is not stars who are “worst hit” by this, “but the trumpet players to the stars, and so on.”

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