We’ve been expecting Google to make a big gaming-related announcement since they launched (and closed) the Project Stream service last Fall. This was a thinly veiled test for a future mainstream service, and today, at GDC 2019, Google took the wraps off that service. Stadia is a full cross-platform game streaming service that doesn’t require special hardware.
What is Stadia?
Google Stadia can stream games on everything from Android phones to Chromecast devices. You and your friends probably already own several devices that can stream games with Stadia, which is great for multiplayer. Google put a lot of emphasis on the fact that you don’t need specialized hardware. The “console” is essentially their centralized servers and data centers. And since everything is streaming over the internet, your progress and saves are synced across platforms.
Another emphasis of the service is limiting the barrier to entry. They demonstrated an example of watching a trailer for a video game on YouTube. You could tap a button at the end of the trailer to quickly jump into the game in as little as 5 seconds. No booting up your console or waiting for game updates to install. It doesn’t matter what platform you’re using, the game can easily be transferred mid-game to other devices.
Google wants Stadia to be the central community for gamers, creators, and developers. They’re really flexing their muscles with YouTube in this regard. Google says there is no current gaming platform where gamers and YouTube creators can get together. Creators can easily live stream directly to YouTube and viewers. The “Crowd Play” feature works as a lobby for viewers to jump directly into the game and play with the creator.
Now, most of the presentation was about how the service relies on software and internet, but Google did announce one piece of hardware. The Stadia Controller is not necessary to use the service, but it does include a few special features that will make the experience more complete.
The controller connects to Google’s servers over WiFi for a low-latency, lag-free experience. This is something that can be a problem with similar game streaming services. The controller also has a built-in Google Assistant button and a Share button to upload sessions directly to YouTube. Again, this controller is not a requirement. You can use standard USB controllers or a mouse and keyboard. Google will offer the controller in three colors later this year.
One of the first games that will be supported is DOOM Eternal, which will be playable at full 4K 60FPS. Every user playing the game will get their own dedicated GPU. We can also expect Assassin’s Creed Odyssey to be available as it was with Project Stream. Google did not go into detail about the number of titles that will be available at launch.
Obviously, performance is a big issue when it comes to these types of services. Can they really compete with suped-up PC gaming rigs? Google certainly seems to think so. At launch, Stadia will support 4K @ 60FPS gameplay and they are working on adding 8K @ 120FPS support in the future. They partnered with AMD to build a custom GPU for their data center. That GPU has 10.7 teraflops of power, 56 compute units, and HBM2 memory. The CPU has a custom x86 processor clocked at 2.7GHz, hyperthreaded, and AVX 2. Memory comes in at 16GB in total with up to 484 GB/s transfer speed, and L2+L3 cache of 9.5MB.
As with any platform, developers will play a big part in Stadia’s success. Google is trying to make it easy for developers to bring games to the platform. Developers no longer need to worry about building their games for specific hardware requirements. And any game that is available on Stadia is instantly playable across a multitude of devices. Google’s data center can scale games to match the device that players are using. Google will also be selecting developers to receive free development hardware. Visit this blog post to learn how to apply and check out the Developer Blog for more resources.
Google did not share very much information about launch details and pricing. It will be coming to the US, Canada, and most of Europe sometime this year. Google will be sharing more details about that and pricing later this Summer. Follow Stadia on Twitter and join the Reddit community to follow along.
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