Google Stadia wants to be the Netflix of gaming

– So now we are focused
on our next big effort, which is to build a game
platform for everyone. – Google, this week,
announced a bold vision for the future of gaming. It’s a cloud gaming platform called Stadia and it’s the culmination of years of work the company has been doing
around networking technology and streaming video. Essentially, Google wants to build the Netflix of video games. That way, you could play
any game on any screen, any time you wanted, regardless of what
physical hardware you have. You wouldn’t even need a console or a PC. We’ve certainly heard this before. Maybe you remember OnLive or Gaikai, but Google says it has the infrastructure, the technology, and the resources
to finally pull this off — for real. Of course, Google isn’t alone here. Every big tech and gaming company is trying to figure out this tech. But earlier this week, at
GDC here in San Francisco, Google, one of the most powerful
and cash-flush companies in the entire tech industry, made a convincing case
that it’ll get there first. – With Stadia, we can all dream bigger and together, build a playground
for every imagination. Thank you. (audience clapping and yelling) – So how does Stadia work? Well, it’s a simple concept that is notoriously difficult to pull off. Cloud gaming, unlike music
streaming or television steaming, requires you run a game
remotely in a data center. That’s a huge shift and I talked to Phil Harrison, who now leads up the
Stadia project at Google, about what it all means. – We just broke through
that glass ceiling today by giving the entire data
center to the game developer and being completely device agnostic. And so, no, we don’t need a console and that’s the whole point. – So you essentially have
a PC on a server rack running a game in some
data center somewhere and it’s sending a video feed of that over the internet to your screen. Then you, as a player,
are pressing buttons on a controller and sending that input back over the internet. And all of that is supposed to happen with no latency, no lag, at
1080p, 60 frames per second. That’s pretty much unbelievable and historically, it hasn’t really worked. – No, we can’t beat the speed of light, but we can cheat it
enough that we can deliver a very, very high performance experience. Hence the reason why
we had id on our stage saying, Doom Eternal– – Will be capable of running
at true 4K resolution with HDR color at an unrelenting
60 frames per second. – Essentially, the company is making use of every critical part of its business to turn cloud gaming into a reality. The first piece is the Chrome browser, and by extension, the Chromecast dongle. That’s going to be how Google gets the video from the game on the
server in the data center all the way to your TV or whatever screen you’re playing Stadia on. The second piece is the
Android operating system. It’s the most ubiquitous OS on the planet and it’s going to be how Google gets Stadia running on mobile phones and tablets. The third piece is YouTube, and will enable all sorts
of futuristic features that will be huge selling points when the service launches. The first feature will
let you launch a game using Stadia with the press of a button just by watching a
YouTube video or stream. You’ll then be taken to that
exact point in the game. Another feature will be, when you’re watching a streamer
live stream on YouTube, they can invite you into the game, so with the press of a button you can queue up and play
with your favorite streamer. A third feature is an interesting one where you can use Google
Assistant to even cheat. You can press the Google Assistant button if you’re stuck on a
particularly hard puzzle on, say, Tomb Raider or a game like that, and it’ll overlay a YouTube video with a tutorial showing you how to beat that particular puzzle or
solve that particular problem. The fourth piece is Google’s
cloud and its data centers. That’s the backbone of the service and it’s what’s going to make it all work. And lastly, there is going to
be a bit of hardware. Google built its own Stadia controller, one that actually connects over Wi-Fi to Google’s data centers. That way, when you’re switching devices from a tablet to a phone, from a phone to a laptop, from a laptop to a TV, you won’t need to re-sync that controller to a new device every time. It’ll just communicate over the internet with the Stadia servers
and connect automatically. We saw most of these pieces
work together last fall in a trial run of sorts
called Project Stream and it did work quite well. It let players test the new
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on any device with a Chrome browser, so long as they had a 25 Mbps internet connection. But it wasn’t at anywhere near the scale Google is hoping for with Stadia when it’s supposed to launch and that has me a bit
uncertain and skeptical, and there’s good reason to be. Cloud gaming has been the holy grail of the industry for decades and a number of companies
have tried and failed to make it work. In this case, Google
hasn’t even talked about how much Stadia will cost or even if it’s a subscription service. It could just be a way to
play games you already own or games that you buy elsewhere in the cloud and on any screen. That’s a really interesting concept, but it’s not quite as ambitious as a full-blown, cloud-based
game-streaming service. There’s also a huge amount of
technical uncertainty here. Sure, Google has
state-of-the-art infrastructure and a data center operation that’s one of the robust
and biggest on the planet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be able to
stream millions of instances of games at 1080p, 60 frames per second to people with internet connections
that are varying wildly. And even then, even if you get
all that technical stuff down, well, you’re going to need games. Right now, the only launch
title confirmed for Stadia is id Software’s Doom Eternal. Now, id is saying Doom
Eternal’s going to be available on Stadia at 4K, 60 frames per second. That’s very impressive, but Google is going to
need more than one game to get people to use this service. With Stadia, Google is trying to change, not just how games are played, but how they’re developed,
how they’re distributed, and how they’re funded and sold. Netflix did this for TV and film, and changed Hollywood forever. Games could change similarly, but it’s not going to happen overnight and it’s not clear Google is
going to be the one that wins. For instance, Microsoft
has its own xCloud service. Sony also has its own competing service called PlayStation Now, and you can even subscribe to that today. Not only that, but
Amazon, Verizon, Nintendo, and even EA, they’re all working
on cloud gaming right now. It’s a race to the future and Google has come out of
the gate harder and faster than any other company in the industry. But remember, it took years and years for Netflix and Spotify to
change how we consume TV, film, and music, and even then,
physical media still exists. By today’s standards,
it’s going to take us a while to get to where we’re going and gamers are notoriously stubborn when it comes to change, especially when the benefits
aren’t clearly obvious. But the promise of cloud gaming is there and with a company as big and
powerful as Google in the mix, that could give it the push
it really needs to happen. – One of the success
factors for me with Stadia is that three years from now, you and I meet here at
GDC or some other forum, and we’re talking about
a brand-new developer that none of us had heard of before who has built something so new that it’s pivoted the world
a little bit on its axis, then we would be considered successful.


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