Google has released most of the crucial details about its streaming games service, Stadia.
The release was provided via what is promised to be the first of regular Stadia Connect videos, posted on YouTube. The half-hour presentation was hosted by Phil Harrison, Google Vice President and General Manager, who came to the company in 2018 after many years' experience at both Sony and Microsoft's games divisions.
In case you haven't heard, Stadia is Google's attempt to transform the world of electronic gaming. Instead of purchasing games and running them on a computer, games console or mobile device, players will purchase access to games running on Google's data centers around the world. The game display will be streamed to the user's device, while the user's inputs are sent back to the data center. Google feels that it has the infrastructure to make this work smoothly enough for even the fastest twitch-based games.
"Google's mission has always been to make information more accessible for everyone," said Harrison. "With Stadia, our goal is to make gaming more accessible for everyone too. Stadia makes it easy to play your favorite games on any screen in your life." That will include TV, desktop computer, laptop, tablet and Pixel smartphones (starting with Pixel 3 and 3a).
Facts and Figures
Google says that Stadia will launch in November. Initial availability will include Canada, as well as 13 other countries: the US, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finald. More regions are expected to come onboard next year.
Subscription pricing for the Stadia Pro service has been set at $11.99 CAD (US$9.99) per month. This will allow purchase of games, offer discounts "on select games," and provide access to regularly-released free games. The first of these will be Bungie's Destiny 2: The Collection, which includes the base game, all existing expansions, the new Shadowkeep module and a Shadowkeep Annual Pass - with the ability to transfer player characters from other platforms (such as the PlayStation).
Stadia Base, set to debut some time next year, will be free. It will provide up to 1080p resolution, 60fps framerate and stereo sound, as well as the ability to buy games - but no free games and no discounts.
Stadia Pro subscribers who sign up for a recurring subscription will get their first three months free. Users who cancel Stadia Pro will retain the ability to play their purchased games via Stadia Base, for free.
Google is also offering a Founder's Edition bundle, for $169.99 CAD (US$129, available for pre-order now). It includes three months of the Stadia Pro service, plus a limited-edition Night Blue Stadia gamepad controller, a Chromecast Ultra, a three-month Buddy Pass that will allow gifting Stadia Pro access "to a friend or family member," early choice of Stadia nickname, and other extras.
"The latency and speed demands of online gaming aren't far off from the demands we've been meeting for years," said Harrison. With connections of 35Mbit/second or better, Google says that games will stream at up to 4K resolution, with 60fps framerate and 5.1 surround sound. At 10Mbps, the recommended minimum connection, Google expects that users will still be able to get 720p resolution, 60fps and stereo sound.
For TV access, Google is stating users should use a Chromecast Ultra streaming dongle. For computers or tablets, access will be via the Chrome web browser. Initially, there will be a Stadia app for the Pixel 3 phone, with plans to expand to more smartphones "down the line."
Google's Stadia Controller is said to be "designed specifically for streaming games." It includes a Capture button to save game videos, and a button to access Google Assistant. However, Google says games will be playable with any supported controller, or with mouse and keyboard.
However, it's not clear which combinations will work. Google's FAQ suggests that TV users will need the Stadia Controller and Chromecast Ultra, while "many popular HID compliant controllers" would work via USB "on Chrome or mobile."
The first wave of games available on Stadia will include "more than 30 titles" from Ubisoft, Take 2, Square Enix, Warner Bros., Bandai Namco, Bethesda and others. What Google conspicuously did not announce was pricing for individual games.
Players have become accustomed to ‘owning' downloaded copies of their games, via either consoles or services such as the Steam online games store. ‘Purchasing cloud access' seems like a bit of an oxymoron. It's not clear what valuation gamers will place on a product they can't ‘possess' in any sense, even as data on a disk drive.
However, Google seems to have a solid grip on the technical issues, and has the proven track record to suggest it will be able to deliver the gaming experience it's promising. If consumers buy into Stadia, it could turn gaming into a more TV-like shared experience, while seriously disrupting the existing market, based on ownership of hardware and executable files.
Both Microsoft and Sony have said they're working on streaming games services of their own.