Google Stadia: Your Gaming Console in the Cloud

Google CEO Sundar Pichai with the Google Stadia logo in background
Google CEO Sundar Pichai | Background: Stadia Logo

Cloud computing has taken the world by storm in the last decade. Nearly 83% of enterprises will migrate their workloads to the cloud before 2021, according to Forbes. Digital transformation is not a matter of if, but when for enterprises. And undoubtedly, one of the largest names in the cloud computing space today is Google.

As an individual consumer, you may have experienced the transition to cloud before experiencing one in a grander realm, where entire organizations are making the move. It could have started with iCloud to store your memories, or Google Drive to back up your devices. Cloud storage and computing went from being an alternative to the primary choice. An example being that of Google smartphones and Google Photos (cloud photo storage and sharing service) which has become the default application to manage your image and video files on Android phones out of the box. This demonstrates the conventionality of cloud usage for storage, for millions of users round the globe.

We already use many cloud services for documents, photos, and movies in the form of Dropbox, Google Photos, Netflix, etc. And the next addition to this list is Stadia — a cloud gaming service by Google.

Google Stadia

In March 2019, at the Game Developers Conference, Google’s VP Phil Harrison announced Google Stadia. And only recently, it has become available for users to sign up for free trials. In this article, I will share my experience with Google Stadia, and whether it can challenge the legacy of established console makers such as Sony and Microsoft.

Phil Harrison at GDC 2019

What is Stadia?

Can you imagine playing top of the line video games on your web browser or your smartphone? Or pause a game on your PC and pick right where you left off on a different device, say, your smartphone? How about getting some help from Google assistant mid-game to pass a difficult mission?
That is what Google Stadia can do for you.

Google Stadia is a cloud gaming service available through a monthly subscription. Think about Netflix and how it changed the way you accessed movies and TV shows at home. With a monthly subscription, it gave users access to its vast library of movies, TV shows, documentaries, etc., while also being location and time independent. This revolutionary service freed users from the reliance on DVD’s, VHS tapes, and brick & mortar video stores. And therefore, it surpassed Blockbuster in the video at home industry. Eliminating the need for storage of the video files, and a seamless multi-device transition such as switching from TV to phone to tablets while viewing content, are some of the most attractive features of their service.

Google Stadia does the same with your video games. It gives you a platform to host video games that you normally would purchase and play on consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation or Microsoft’s Xbox. But Stadia isn’t quite like Netflix. A subscription for Netflix gives you access to all the movies and TV shows on the platform. On Stadia, your subscription only gives you the ability to purchase games from the Stadia store and host it in Google’s data centers. Simply put, users curate their own games to play on Stadia by purchasing titles available in the store.

Game Titles Available for Purchase

Well, you might ask, why should I pay for a subscription then? Stadia also offers a variety of games at no cost i.e. free to play for its users, including some of the world famous ones like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, commonly known as PUBG.

Free Games, Party with Friends, and Multiplayer Invites

Google Stadia’s brilliance lies in its potential to transform the gaming industry by democratizing storage and computing power in the gaming community.

Google Stadia does what cloud computing does best, it removes the barrier of storage space and computing power. And this is what your subscription is worth. You get access to a seemingly infinite storage space and high performance computing power at a fraction of the price of a console. No console can do this today. With just a web-browser or a compatible smartphone, you can access a strong and reliable platform to meet your gaming needs, and beyond.

Technical Specs and Pricing

Source: Google Stadia
Source: Google GDC

Stadia offers Google’s data center performance prowess for a subscription cost less than Netflix. A fast and stable internet connection paired with a web-browser is all that is needed to experience Stadia. It makes video gaming simply affordable.

Source: Google

The Stadia Experience

Stadia is a visionary platform which underlines Google’s competency in engineering excellence.

Although it is fairly new and unchallenged, Stadia has already set a fantastic benchmark with a burgeoning growth trajectory.

Ratings —

  • User Experience : 5 / 5
  • Pricing : 4 / 5
  • Game Play : 3.5 / 5
  • Game Titles : 2.5 / 5

1) User Experience (5/5)
Google products reflect the user-centric approach in their world class engineering, and Stadia is no different. I am not an avid gamer, but it took no googling or head scratching to sign up, claim a video game and start playing. The UI is clean, guides you whenever necessary and most importantly, it’s intuitive and quick.

Usually, when you purchase a game, you must download it, wait for the installation to complete and only then launch the game. No waiting in Stadia. I counted, and it took, no more than 5 seconds for me to claim a game on Stadia and launch it.

And that is why, not just the UI, but also the UX impressed me immensely.

2) Pricing (4/5)
The monthly subscription fee of $9.99 is quite affordable and Google is also offering a 2-month free trial to new users. Although, I do expect the subscription to increase once Google builds the user base, but so far it seems fair and attractive.

3) Game Play (3.5/5)
I was particularly impressed by close to no lag in medium-paced games such as Destiny 2, The Turing Test and PUBG. Stadia’s worst enemy is the network. The internet connection can truly enhance or ruin your game play. Simply put, Stadia does all the computing but relies on you, the user, for the inputs to the game. Then it sends back the audio-video output to your device. This is done over the web via the HTTP protocol. In a nutshell, it is no different than video streaming except your inputs decide the fate of the characters on the screen.

The performance limitations associated with Stadia, can be subjective. For example, a strong and fast internet connection will enable a smooth experience and high game resolution while a weak connection will introduce lags, delivering a less than exciting experience and ruining your game.

Stadia is able to render games with high resolution, as seen in my screenshot of Destiny 2 below. A fast paced racing game like GRID, also passes the resolution test. But there were times when the internet slowed down, and consequently the resolution suffered along with frequent lags.

Destiny 2 in-game screenshot
GRID in-game shot at Eiffel Tower (Paris)

4) Game Titles (2.5/5)
An area of improvement for Google Stadia at this time is diversifying and broadening its range of available games. There is just not enough variety in games that are available for purchase or free to play. But this hardly comes as a surprise, given how recent Stadia is and the fact that it takes considerable time and commitment to dedicate resources for game publishers to build games compatible for the Stadia platform.

In an attempt to overcome this shortcoming, Google has played smart by securing titles like NBA 2K20 and Red Dead Redemption. Most interestingly, Stadia offers PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, popularly known a PUBG, which has 227 million active monthly users and is one of the most played battle royale game worldwide. Time will tell if this strategy will bear fruits for Google Stadia.

Google claims to be working with many more name brand game developers and publishers to bring their innovative products to Stadia, and when that happens, Stadia will be fully equipped to compete with the giants in the gaming console industry.

The Verdict — Is Stadia the future?

Destiny 2 in-game capture on Google Stadia

Google Stadia is the future of gaming, which is in line with the ongoing trend of migrating traditional software and services to the cloud.

However, it cannot be said just yet if it’ll be Google or someone else who will take the crown in the cloud gaming service industry. If Google is able to secure deals with popular game publishers like EA Sports and Rockstar Games to gain exclusive rights in the future, only then can Stadia give its competitors, Sony and Microsoft a run for their money. That is, if Sony and Microsoft don’t launch Stadia-like endeavors of their own. We have already witnessed similar efforts in the content streaming industry between rival streaming platforms Netflix and Disney. And although Disney took its time to enter the arena, it has garnered 55 million subscribers in a mere 6 month time frame, which is 10x faster than how long it took Netflix to reach the same subscription level when it launched. Netflix was a new player in the video content creation arena, as compared to the already established long-term giant Disney. Google stands in a similar situation here. It must create a strong base quickly before other competitors enter the arena.

To conclude, Stadia has it all up for grabs right now, and as for you the reader, my recommendation is to give Stadia a definite try if you intend on experiencing the future of gaming!

If you are interested in learning more about Google Stadia, here’s an informative video on Stadia’s announcement at the Game Developers Conference in 2019.

Google Stadia Announcement (March 2019)

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SAP | Engineering | Supply Chain | Digital Transformation. Sahil is an Engineer, passionate about Technology with multi-national Enterprise Cloud expertise.

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Sahil Shaikh

Sahil Shaikh

SAP | Engineering | Supply Chain | Digital Transformation. Sahil is an Engineer, passionate about Technology with multi-national Enterprise Cloud expertise.

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