Opinion: It’s Still Too Early for Cloud Gaming, Sorry Stadia, and Google
Google recently announced its anticipated game streaming platform, Stadia, on Tuesday at the Game Developer Conference in San Fransisco. They claim the servers have twice the computing power of a PS4 and can stream games at 4k 60 FPS. I’m not going to go into full detail about the technical aspects of Stadia, this is more about the platform as a whole and how they may or may not succeed with it.
Google is selling Stadia as a replacement for your Console or PC. It can run on nearly any device and seamlessly switch between them. Along with the Stadia announcement, they also revealed a controller that many people were speculating about based on a patent that was filed. An artist made a render based off of the patent, and everyone went crazy assuming that this picture was the actual controller. Jason Schreier said on Twitter, ”
It’s amazing how many people I’ve seen sharing and commenting on this “Google controller” – it’s not real! Someone mocked up these images based on Google patents from 2014. Patents are misleading and rarely reflect reality”. The actual controller is much cleaner and looks more like a Playstation controller. Besides the button layout, the two look completely different. Moving on, one thing that I found interesting was that the controller uses wifi to connect to the actual server that the game is running on, instead of the device you are playing the game on to reduce input lag, which to many is a big concern of cloud gaming. This does not seem to be the case.
One of the big sells for Stadia is that it can stream the game to you in 4k and at 60 FPS. This is great…If you own a 4k monitor or TV AND have the bandwidth to support 4k. While I think most people will be streaming in 1080p and lower, it is worth noting that there are many requirements to get to 4k. Netflix advises you to have at least 25 Mbps to stream 4k video, and if other people are using the internet at the same time, you will need to have even higher speeds. This might only be a problem in certain parts of the world as the average internet speed is climbing well above that, but is still a problem if other people are using the internet at the same time you are streaming a game. Besides internet, you still need a 4k monitor. On Amazon, a decently rated one will cost you about $250 – $300, which seems a little pricey considering you can buy a PlayStation 4 for $300 and not have to worry about streaming games in the first place.
Many Internet Service Providers have now put data caps on your monthly internet usage. I currently have CUX (Cox Communication and yes I hate them), and I have a data cap at 1 Terabyte, which seems to be standard now. After you go above the cap, they charge you for varying amounts. For most people this is fine, but for someone who could potentially be using services like Netflix, Twitch or similar on top of streaming their games now, that data cap will be approaching pretty fast. Streaming 4k video uses about 10GB of data per hour (This is about average as some sites use more and some less). Doing some simple math that’s about 100 hours worth of streamed 4k content to watch or play, assuming you do nothing else but stream content, which is most likely not the case. Even 1080p uses several gigabytes an hour. If you are streaming a game for 3 hours at 4k, that’s about 30gbs of data used. That game on Steam may only be 20gbs to download, so you have used more data streaming it that it took for you to download once and play for however long you want without continuing data usage. Google also claimed you could stream the 4k at 60FPS across any device, which is probably true with several asterisks at the end because there is no way you can stream 4k consistently on a mobile network. I sometimes have trouble getting a 1080p video to load consistently on my phone when using a cellular network. You probably can on a phone connected to wifi no problem, but why would you want to play Apex Legends or Doom Eternal on your phone using a controller when you can use a TV or even better your console or computer. Realistically 1080p will be the dominant choice as it’s much more convenient and more accessible to view and much lighter on your data usage each month.
Something they failed to mention is how much all of this will cost, which is probably the most crucial factor in deciding if you want to use Stadia. There can be several ways they structure the payments. They can have a straight up flat fee that gets you some games, and you can stream them in 4k 60FPS. It can also be a tiered structure where they charge you more for the quality of the game you want to stream. For example, it cost $19.99 a month to only stream in 1080p and $29.99 a month for 1080 and 4k. I think this option seems like the most likely that Stadia will use as it is pretty straightforward. They can also charge by the minute and by bandwidth usage, which is similar to how traditional cloud computing pricing structure works. If they do go with the tiered pricing as I mentioned, and you are paying for the 4k tier at a very modest estimate of $30 a month, that’s $360 in one year, just for the service. With that money, you can once again buy almost buy a PS4 Pro, which does much more than just playing video games. You can probably get one on sale for even less than that. Google was very adamant about not talking about the pricing for Stadia, which is worrisome for me because I think once they announce the price, it’s going to scare many people away.
Now for the worst thing I think Stadia will bring to the game industry: Exclusivity. I fucking hate when a game is exclusive to one platform, not store, and when one platform gets content earlier than the other. This separates the community, and the developer usually ends up favoring one platform over the other because of this(I’m looking at you Black Ops: 4). It was mentioned during the presentation that Stadia partnered with AMD to make some exclusive hardware for their data centers, but they also partnered with developers to create games using technology that is only available through Stadia. This is a red flag. Google has deep pockets and spending a couple of million dollars to get developers to make games for their platform using the new technology to draw in customers would not be surprising. They had several developers come and talk about projects that they were working on using this technology, but said nothing about exclusivity or the game they are working on, probably not to make people hate them right away. If the PC gaming community goes crazy about devs switching to the Epic Games Store, imagine what they will think about the devs switching to another platform that you have to pay to even use.
Cloud gaming may just be ahead of today’s current technology. Until 5G rolls out on mobile networks, ISP stop being scummy and lower internet prices and remove data caps, and 4k monitors prices drop, I don’t think Cloud Gaming or Game Streaming is a realistic option. Unless Stadia reveals the cost is insanely low, I don’t think they will even turn a profit until several years from now. I also don’t think this will be a budget option either because, in the long run, you will end up paying the same amount if not more than what someone paid for a medium tier PC or an Xbox or PlayStation.
I skipped over many things that were announced as I did not think they were relevant to this at all. If you don’t have people using the platform, the new technologies you release do not matter. Overall, this gamble may pay off and everyone may just love this platform. Google is a tech giant and it can pave its way into new emerging industries with a loss and not be worried about it. I wish Google and Stadia the best of luck.
I don’t think I will ever use a Cloud gaming platform unless it is my only option. I love the novelty of maintaining and upgrading my PC and knowing I own the hardware and don’t have to pay to use someone else’s. If you disagree or want to continue the conversation, you should join the GamesGrove Discord. We talk about all kinds of gaming topics and share some spicy memes. Click here to join.
Also worth mentioning, the GamersGrove crew is still alive. We are all busy people, but we still have some things planned for the future when schedules free up.