Stadia’s games need to be heavily optimized to work best on the platform

Google Stadia Founder’s Edition launches on 19th November. Is cloud-streaming going to take over from console gaming?
Google Pixel phone testing Stadia playing Mortal Kombat
Tested tried out Stadia playing Mortal Kombat. Image: Tested

What is Google Stadia?

Stadia launches as a Founder’s Edition on 19th November. This has already sold out. Stadia is Google’s new cloud-based game streaming platform. The service will run with the Google Pixel 3 and 3A, or be used to stream to your TV via Chromecast.

This new vision of gaming has been in development since 2013/14 with the Chromecast streaming device having launched back in 2013.

Since then, Google have been working to create a robust enough infrastructure and develop fast enough technology to allow high levels of compression, but with a low level of latency. With now 80% of people in the US having access to 1GB per second internet connections, Google feels like now is the right time to launch.

Stadia controller and Chromecast
Stadia Premiere Edition is available to pre-order on the Google store. Image: Google

What does the service cost and what can it do?

The concept is to create a new gaming service which out-performs traditional hardware. Google say that Stadia is ‘more powerful than any console you can buy’.

Stadia Premiere Edition costs £119 to pre-order as a package. Stadia itself is free, but with an optional subscription of approximately $10 per month to upgrade.

Currently Stadia is limited to Google devices, compatible with Pixel phones and Chromecast, at a cost of £59 for a Stadia Controller. There will be both Standard and Pro Stadia editions available.

What do you get if you upgrade to a paid subscription?

Whilst Stadia itself is free, the hardware is not. Should you upgrade to a paid subscription, you get:

  • 3-months free, paid thereafter approximately $10 per month
  • Additional features
  • Games included in your subscription
  • Future roll-outs and upgrades
  • Ability to run at full 4k
  • Monthly games
  • Discounts on other products & services

The basic subscription sounds quite limited; Destiny 2 is included as a free game, but any others you wish to buy will cost around $60 each. There are plenty of games which will be available such as DOOM, but most will be available either through paid subscriptions or will have to be purchased separately.

This is based somewhat on the traditional model of gaming systems such as PlayStation. The service is free, or at a low cost subscription, but developers aren’t going to suddenly offer high spec games free of charge.

Google say that the biggest benefit here is there ongoing drive to evolve and optimise Stadia. The service will keep enhancing, and evolving, as the technology behind it is finessed and developed.

What latency issues have been identified?

Tested interviewed John Justice, Google VP and Head of Product and Majd Bakar, VP of Engineering. This took a really close look at the technology behind Stadia, and how Google have tried to balance efficiency and speed.

Firstly, John and Majd were careful to stress that Stadia is expected to evolve over time. The extent to which latency can be minimised depends on the user device and connection.

The issue is how real-time interactions and game responsiveness can run at a fast enough speed but also at a high enough quality to optimise user experience.

How are Google working to overcome this?

The interview itself is really interesting. There are a huge number of ways in which Google are developing technology and hardware, aspiring to a seamless service which – isn’t quite! – at the speed of light.

Specialised GPU hardware provides Stadia with its own standalone processing power and tuning. This hardware is able to encode every frame within a sub-millisecond.

Both Pixel phones and the Google wifi controller have inbuilt low-latency modes, which support the network requirements of Stadia.

Using a faster refresh action of 120 frames per second which displays at 60 frames per second allows the data servers to process information faster. Intuitive responses, which anticipate user actions, are based on 90Hz VR systems to forecast what options a user will see, and analyse the options then available to them.

A larger data centre network of 7,500 units reduces latency by ‘pushing servers closer to users’ and thus reducing the transmission time required.

Other developments such as using roll-back and late stage adjustments to show the player immediate responses, and then go back and make fine-tune tweaks improves multi-player functionality and allow games to run in-cloud with a low latency.

It’s fascinating stuff, and hearing first-hand from Google about the number of technological innovations which have come together to facilitate high quality cloud-based gaming gives us an idea about why it has taken 6 years to launch.

What are the future plans for Stadia?

We’ll wait and see what future compatibility might be available. It feels quite limited to only be able to use Google devices, and given that Chromecast works with Android, Apple products and Windows, it would be surprising if Stadia isn’t developed in the same way.

One big draw is the idea of re-launching classic games. In the interview John Justice talks about the passion for these games, and how difficult it can be to find hardware which still works and can run them.

Google also have their very own in-house content team, who are developing AAA cloud-streaming games. These will be able to ‘showcase the power of Stadia’.

It’s been a long time coming; we stream TV, movies and music all the time, and it makes sense to expand this to gaming. Whether the user experience will match expectations is something we’ll all be waiting to see on November 19th.

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