Google Stadia: Game-Changer or Game Over?

November 11, 2019

Google seemingly came out of left field when they announced Google Stadia. According to Google, this streaming game service is going to revolutionize how all of us play.

That sounds really great. But the more details we get about Stadia, the more questions we have. Is this really going to be a huge game-changer? Or a failure on an epic scale?

Here’s our full breakdown of Google Stadia’s potential as well as its potential problems.

What Is Google Stadia?

Basically, Google Stadia is a streaming game service. With a fast enough internet connection (more on this in a bit), you can play games on your desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone. And because it’s streaming, you don’t need a phone with beefy specs to play really demanding video games. Google sees this as the ultimate way for players to game wherever they go.

Of course, Google is touting this as a revolution in gaming. But the basic concept is one that gamers have seen a few times before from other companies.

Is This A New Idea?

So, is Google Stadia a new idea? The answer is both “yes” and “no.”

The basic idea of streaming gaming has been tried before. You can do it on your PlayStation 4 and you could do it with OnLive. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to stream games via Xbox as well.

However, most of the previous solutions were still limited by device. I may be able to stream on my PlayStation, but I cannot easily take that experience on the go.

Stadia is promising streaming on just about anything that has a screen and an internet connection. And Google is promising high-quality streaming up to 4K resolution. If everything works like they claim it will, then you could be playing games with the horsepower and graphics of a powerful PC directly on your smartphone.

What Will It Cost?

If you’re interested in the tech, you’re probably asking the obvious question: what will it cost? That really depends on how you want to play.

Google has seen the writing on the wall: everything is moving to a subscription model now. Understandably, they are pushing an option where you pay $9.99 a month for a StadiaPro subscription. This lets you play an available library of games in 4K and at 60 FPS. And it even has HDR and 5.1 surround sound to let you jam out.

Subscriptions not your thing? You can still buy individual games. However, your streaming will be limited to 1080p resolution and standard audio. You will still have 60 FPS, though.

And if you’re willing to play with a keyboard or smartphone, that’s all you’ll need. But if you want a controller in hand, you’ll need to pay the “nice” price of $69 per controller.

When Is It Coming Out?

It feels like we’ve been hearing Google Stadia hype forever. So, when is this thing actually coming out?

Just in time for the holidays, of course! Google is projecting a November 19, 2019 launch date. That means interested players may be able to distract themselves from those awkward family conversations at Thanksgiving.

This should serve as an interesting worldwide test of Stadia’s power. They’ve made big promises about speed, including some that defy physics (see our “negative latency” thoughts below). More people than ever will play the game around the holidays, so we’ll get a quick answer to whether this technology is all it’s cracked up to be.

It all comes down to speed. And this is what has many of us concerned about Stadia.

What Is Negative Latency?

The biggest concerns about Stadia concern latency. A low latency level indicates a strong and reliable network connection that is essential in online gaming.

If Google Stadia’s latency is high, then you’ll get the worst of both worlds: even single-player games will be a laggy mess.

According to a Stadia VP, that won’t be a problem because Google is developing something called “negative latency.” It’s a very unfortunate term because actual “negative latency” would be in defiance of physics.

In reality, this seems like a hype term for using A.I. as a compensation buffer. If done well, this means that A.I. could help provide a smoother experience to compensate for high latency.

However, we don’t know exactly how such a buffer would work. And the fact that Stadia executives are making up physics-defying terms for a process they won’t (or can’t) explain does not inspire consumer confidence.

Speed Issues?

Let’s say that the “negative latency” works as intended. There are still some fairly major speed considerations gamers will have to make.

Want those juicy 4K games? It may be easy on a desktop that is using an ethernet cable. But those kinds of speeds may not be easy for many devices to achieve over wireless.

Stadia defenders say that future smartphone innovations such as 5G will provide the necessary speed. If this is true, though, then players would need unlimited data from their cellphone carrier. Otherwise, streaming these games would utterly destroy a standard data cap.

So, you may not get the speed you want… and if you do, it may come with a hefty extra “unlimited data” bill from your ISP or cell provider.

What If It Flops?

There’s another big concern with any “digital-only” gaming platform: what happens to my games in the future?

In the retro gaming scene, old carts, CDs, and DVDs continue to thrive. This is because gamers can still enjoy a classic game for decades after stores stop selling it.

If Google Stadia goes the way of Google Glass, you may have no way of playing your old games. In fact, there will be no servers to even stream the things! You will effectively have paid them a ton of money with nothing to show for it.

Our Verdict

So, what’s our verdict on Google Stadia? Ask us again in December!

In all seriousness, there is a low price point to try it out. And we’ll definitely check out a month of StadiaPro for $9.99 and see if it lives up to the hype.

However, we’re still unimpressed with the launch games and unconvinced about Google’s solution to speed and latency problems. We ultimately hope it’s all a success: if Google can live up to a fraction of their own hype, this really will be a revolution in gaming.

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