Here comes a new challenger
Sometimes it takes a new player to change the game. There was a real buzz yesterday in response to Google announcing Stadia
, its game streaming service.
Streaming games over the internet, rather than downloading them to play locally, is widely accepted as the future of game distribution. But to date, no one has nailed the big issue – making games feels as fast and responsive over the cloud as they do running locally.
Google, with its cloud expertise and enormous data centre footprint, has a real advantage here, and it certainly seems like Stadia will have less latency than other streaming offerings.
In a genius move, the optional Stadia controller will connect directly to the internet rather than to the device you stream the game to. This should reduce the lag between pressing a button and seeing an action on screen – vital for making the game enjoyable to play.
And Google isn’t tied to any particular hardware, like some other streaming providers. Stadia will work on your TV via a Chromecast dongle, on your smartphone or tablet, or via a computer’s Chrome web browser – even if you’re using a low-powered Chromebook. Being able to play the latest triple-A titles on a bargain basement laptop would be huge for the game industry – if it works.
In short, Stadia is very promising indeed. But it’s still not clear what users will have to pay to use it, or how slow the rollout will be. It seems likely that the promised 2019 launch in the US, Canada, UK and much of Europe will be limited. They’re not going to let gamers across the Western world loose on it all in one go, are they?
And Google has a habit of launching products and then killing them after a year or two. Will that happen here? Maybe it doesn’t matter. If they show the games industry how to do streaming really well, that will have been a worthwhile contribution. Google’s shareholders – and Alphabet’s financially cautious CFO – may not agree, of course.