One of the more oddly surprising announcements during this year’s Game Developer’s Conference a few months ago, was none other than Google Stadia. The tech giant’s first significant foray into the gaming realm that promises the best of what a cloud-based gaming platform could do.
However, last month, as more information for the upcoming service unveiled via the first Stadia Connect live stream, opinions on its implementation became even more polarized. A simple YouTube search on Stadia alone will currently yield varying results, depending on how the reviewer perceive the concept of the technology.
Specifically, the announcement on the bandwidth requirements and subscription plans made the service a lot less appealing to those who were already skeptical about it since March.
As announced, connection speeds would have to be at least 10 Mbps to play at 720p resolution, which goes upwards to 20 Mbps and 35 Mbps for 1080p and 4k gaming sessions respectively. Perfectly doable for a regular gaming streamer, or if you have ISPs that provide such speeds reliably. However, not so much for the rest of the world’s gamers.
Most games today with up-to-date graphics are usually played at 1080p resolution. This means that if you want to get the same experience via Google Stadia, you need to have way more than “just” 20 Mbps to account for other devices connected to your local network. Otherwise, you risk losing the precious 60 fps experience that the subscription confidently advertises.
The second issue, aside from the gap between the advertised and the actual practical bandwidth requirement of the service, is the continuous data being streamed as you play. While Google insists otherwise, the risk of consistently reaching your internet data cap quickly than normal while gaming via Stadia is still a real possibility. The issue gets compounded even further if more individual subscribers are connected to the same network.
As for Stadia’s subscription pricing, $10 per month sounds like a relatively good offer. But when it was explained that the majority of its available games will still have to be purchased separately, the deal begins to fall apart.
Keep in mind that games played on Stadia will be saved onto some cloud-based server, away from any hardware that would traditionally let you own the copy of the purchased game.
This essentially makes it inferior at the moment to PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold. With these services, not only do you get to play certain games for free like Stadia, but you also get lots other deals and promos, as well as getting to own the game via data saved onto your physical console. You know, just in case the internet somehow becomes unavailable during your planned gaming sessions.
Which brings us to the last, and possibly the most important concern for Google Stadia: its existence as an online-only service.
Typically, if a game is not an MMO, or is not focused on multiplayer, such online-only availability, will usually never be met with a unanimous positive opinion. This is perhaps best exemplified by the fiasco introduced by Hitman and Hitman 2‘s online-only saves and content. Even as the game was universally praised, it was also in equal parts hated, due to how unnecessary its always-online DRM was perceived compared to its offline playability.
Even potentially riskier is that your data, your game saves, and thus all your progress is also inaccessible locally. Though to be fair, even with Google’s recent major service hiccup, this one would perhaps be of our least concern. At least, if we consider Google’s track record on other data management services thus far.
All in all, this boils down to the issue of Google Stadia being implemented within a system that is not yet ready for it. Countries like Japan, for instance, have already shown that cloud-based gaming is not as bad as it sounds, given a more robust internet infrastructure. Internet speeds will also continue to improve further around the world, even as 5G gets more and more delayed, so the issue of latency will get less and less critical.
Furthermore, supporters of Stadia still maintains the optimism that it could become a literal game changer due to the concept’s presentation of efficiency and convenience. After all, being able to switch platforms on the fly with just one game and one service is — as an idea at least — everything that we time-compromised adult gamers will ever hope to experience.
That being said, a major shift in our current data infrastructure would be heavily required before we start to view its concept — as well as other similar ideas in the future — as something ultimately positive.