At this year's Game Developers Conference, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai (not to be confused with Pichu), went in front of all of the game developers in attendance, declared he doesn't play games much, and then announced the Stadia. “A game platform for everyone.” It's not a console. It's a whole set of data centres that you can access from any Chrome browser-enabled device, be it a laptop or a smartphone.
Google has gone from organising the world's information and making that information accessible for everyone, to “making technology accessible for everyone.”
The whole presentation is here. I watched it all, and the rest of the article will be summarising what I find to be the key points, as well as key omissions:
Google makes a point to repeatedly classify the gaming industry as three groups of people: game players, game watchers, and game makers. Interesting that they put passive watchers on the same plane of importance as the people that make up the supply-demand relationship in the industry. And since it's Google, you can bet that the watchers all happen to be on YouTube. Not, say, Twitch or Mixer or DLive or any of those. That's important, since their use case is you watching a YouTube video about a game, and then being asked if you want to play the game right then and there, without a download. (Or without paying, apparently.)
Speaking of people, the gaming industry vets (since Mr. Pichai isn't a gamer) behind the Stadia are Phil Harrison (who Rawk used to stand with back when he was part of Microsoft) and Jade Raymond (former executive at Ubisoft), who is now the head of the new first party gaming studio that Google has opened to make Stadia exclusives: Stadia Games and Entertainment.
A big part of this is that, since you can stream a game on whatever hardware you want (as long as it's Google-affiliated hardware or has Google affiliated-software), you can pull a Nintendo Switch and stop playing on one device and start playing on another. Seamlessly.
There is one bit of hardware, and that's the Stadia Controller. It's optional, and you can use whatever USB controller you want, or a mouse & keyboard or whatever.
|It's not a Nintendo console. Why are they putting a Direction Pad there?|
The value proposition of the Stadia Controller is that it uses Wi-Fi to directly connect to Google's data centre where your game is being hosted, so it supposedly minimises latency.
The button that looks like a broken square on the middle-right of the controller is the Capture button, which lets you share what you just did to YouTube. As opposed to the Capture button on the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, which is on the middle-left and doesn't let you share videos directly to YouTube. There is also “State Share”, where players (or developers) can build sharable moments of a certain game state out to people—akin to those special save files on Nintendo Switch Online's NES games, but with much more potential and anyone can make their own. It makes games more social. So does “Crowd Play”, which makes every YouTube livestream into a potential lobby.
The Stadia Controller also has a Google Assistant button that is like a Super Guide for every game.
Since the announcement was at Game Developers Conference, the talking heads also said that Stadia is the most friendly game development platform. You can develop games on the cloud, too. And they're partnering with popular game engines and middleware. And game developers only have to be limited by their budgets, since the data centres can run games at 4k resolution and at 60 frames per second... and soon, 8k resolution and 120 frames per second! And online gaming will be wonderful, powered by Google's servers, including cross-platform play. Couch multiplayer will be wonderful as well, with split-screen multiplayer with no performance penalty.
Stadia will be launching in 2019 in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and “most of Europe.” Pricing is a total unknown. That's a rather important thing to know for something that Google portrayed as industry-changing with no flaws. And while the cloud streaming can apparently work on all sorts of low-grade hardware, what about your Internet connection?
That said, there's an inherent flaw with any streaming service: You're at the mercy of the provider, which can discontinue your access to the game for any reason. You own nothing.
...Though that probably isn't an actual problem for whomever the target market of the Stadia is. If they wanted to own games, or be hardcore gamers, they already would have dedicated gaming platforms. But if the Stadia is for casuals, then Google already is in that market with the Android's Google Play Store.
The Stadia also isn't trying to displace the incumbent consoles, because why would anyone give up the hardware they already have in favour of playing games on... other, non-gaming hardware they already have?
Lastly, Google has a history of going big on ambitious projects and then abandoning them. The most recent example of this is Google+, which is discontinued in about ten days.
|Wait, no! I found Google Plus! It's...saved!|
Disclaimer: KoopaTV is ran on Google's blogging platform, using a domain purchased from Google Domains, which gets most of its hits from Google's search engine. He doesn't attribute the article's slant towards fact-reporting instead of opinionated commentary to that, but rather he wants to wait-and-see what happens.
Apple counters with Apple Arcade, a subscription platform for premium games!