The announcement of Google's Stadia platform at the GDC Conference last week has opened a rather large cloud gaming-related can of worms. It's the idea that you can play your favourite AAA games without any discs or digital downloads; all of the save files and games are played remotely from a server. The new Google Stadia platform aims to run games from any web-browsing platform instantly, whilst also allowing players to simultaneously watch broadcasts. It's a unification of gamers, content producers and developers alike to create one platform for everything.
The service itself is reliant upon Google's powerful cloud service that already houses the G-Suite selection of applications, such as Gmail and Google Drive. They've said that their new services will have specialised graphics chips and processors to handle the large amounts of expected traffic. The systems should be capable of 4K, 60FPS gaming right out of the box and the Mountain View-based firm have said that they will be capable of 8K, 120FPS gaming in the near future. Unlike other gaming peripherals, Google has developed a special controller that connects directly to WiFi, as opposed to connecting to a console, as most games consoles do. This new WiFi controller lark is designed to offer a seamless and instantaneous connection; this seems to be the main selling point that Google are going for.
There's already partners on board such as AAA developer Ubisoft, known for the highly-successful Assassin's Creed franchise, along with id Software, makers of the revived DOOM series. Google have their own game-making studio, like that of Sony and Microsoft and there was only one title shown off - Doom Eternal. The appointment of industry legend Jade Raymond, formerly executive of both Electronic Arts and the aforementioned Ubisoft, should put them in good stead for the future. As well as game developers, Google has partnered with software makers such as Unity and CryEngine to ensure that developers can take full advantage of the Stadia's system capabilities.
Google's new systems will run on the largely popular Linux platform, meaning that developers will have to port their games over to Stadia, and there will be no cross-platform porting from other services, such as Nvidia’s GeForce Now or the Shadow PC system. Unlike GeForce Now for instance, there are no developers onboard for the Stadia service and it'll most likely take a lot of persuasion for such large firms to get on board with the project, especially with the stalwart of console and PC gaming royalties that these firms thrive off. Google disclosed no potential costs for the development, running and publishing of games on Stadia, leaving a lot of firms in the dark with regards to affordability.
The fun of cloud gaming isn't something that's been explored, although other firms such as both Nvidia and Sony have their own cloud platforms, and the Xbox side of Microsoft are in the midst of creating their own, Project xCloud. With such stiff competition, it might be hard for Google to 'keep up' with the gaming giants. To be fair, Microsoft did recently launch their 'Xbox Game Pass' subscription service that looks to bridge the gap between subscription-based online gaming and a digital service. Subscribers get access to a large library of games for a monthly fee and can download an unlimited quantity for their enjoyment. Cloud gaming services run along a pretty similar pathway. Again, subscribers pay a monthly fee (for Shadow's PC service, it costs £26.95 per month) to gain access to an individual bench on a server cabinet in their gaming facility so that they can have access to an extremely high-spec gaming PC on any platform that connects to the Internet, from their own PC right down to their smartphone. These benches are consistently upgraded so that the gaming experience is not flawed in the way of hardware, although a remote connection to a PC on a server far away could cause some latency issues, so that inputs are not as quick and instant.
There is no doubt that the cloud gaming experience comes at a hefty price tag, especially when people can go out and purchase a mid-spec gaming PC that will run most, if not all games (perhaps besides the original Crysis that still plagues all high-spec machines to this day) at a decent frame rate, maybe with multiplayer options or AI presence reducing frame rate by a negligible amount. These computers will be roughly the same price as a two year subscription to Shadow and for a little bit more money, the consumer can purchase games to play themselves on their own PC and unlike with the cloud services, none of the hardware or games are being 'leased' so you can't own them come the end of your subscription, or at any point during that subscription.
In truth, cloud gaming looks like the future, but personally speaking, it seems like a future that is continuously cultivating a 'lease culture'. With increased leasing in the gaming industry, as well as others such as the automotive sector, the world is taking a step-back rather than a forward one. With such a transient society, it's hard to imagine that this cloud gaming will last long. Despite the losses in physical sales, it's rather difficult to see such a digital world without resale value on gaming products.