The future is here — or at least companies like Google want you to think so. The Google Stadia releases on November 19th, and everyone is waiting with bated breath to see how it performs. Is it as convenient as they say, as functional as they claim, or as groundbreaking as they hope?
We here at Culture of Gaming may remain skeptical of the Stadia, but we’re still paying close attention to anything that has the potential to change the very landscape of gaming. However, I don’t think that the Stadia is going to be as a game-changing (pun very much so intended) as its creators think.
What is Google Stadia?
For those of you who don’t know, Google Stadia is a cloud gaming service — think Netflix for video games (although Google doesn’t particularly like that comparison). Though it has its own controller, the Stadia is not a console. It is rather like a program that allows you to play video games on any system that has Google Chrome. Yes, that means not only your TV or your laptop, but also your phones and tablets.
To run a game like Destiny 2 or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on your phone sounds like a dream come true, especially for $10 a month. But maybe that’s exactly what it is: a dream.
Connectivity and the Google Stadia
First and foremost, there is the issue of latency, or, as we all like to call it, lag. As gamers, we all hate lag. It breaks immersion and, if you are playing online, can make the difference between winning or losing a match. Lag is frustrating, that’s the bottom line, and the Stadia can’t avoid it.
Think about it: sometimes, you can experience lag even with a good connection via an ethernet cable. Now, imagine that the game you are playing is on the Internet, and every button you press has to go through dozens of different systems just to register in the game, and that others across the world are also connecting to this service as well. With all that going on, the Stadia simply can’t offer a lag-free experience.
And this is all if you have a good connection. Some people can have trouble hitting that recommended minimum outlined in the above image. If you live in an apartment, or in an area with generally lackluster wifi, your experience will get even worse.
Also, the concept of playing the biggest games on your phone anywhere, anytime is certainly attractive, but that doesn’t mean that my data plan can handle it. Who knows what the rate is to play these gigantic games on the go. That central feature may not be a feature for people who do not have unlimited data.
Games on the Google Stadia
At the moment, the Google Stadia has a limited library, although there are some big names. Red Dead Redemption 2, Destiny 2, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will provide players with hours upon hours of play-time, while some of the other titles are pretty low profile and rather small.
However, small games may actually be exactly what you want. The issue with streaming services is that you only have access to the titles available through the service. A deal between two companies must be reached to keep those titles on the streaming service; if a deal can’t be met, the titles are taken off. Think of the situation with Disney and Netflix. Netflix had Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney films and TV shows until, that is, Disney decided to start their own streaming service. If you were in the middle of a Disney-owned TV show or film on Netflix, you would be disappointed to find out that they have been removed from the service.
Now, imagine you are 50 hours into Red Dead Redemption 2, and you boot up the game one day only to find out that the entire thing is gone. The deal fell through, contracts expired, so the game is no longer available through the streaming service. Sounds frustrating, right?
Of course, you can still buy games for Stadia but think about that for a second. Why would you pay the regular price for a game when you are already paying for a subscription service? Not only that, but why pay the regular price for a game that is going to most likely look and perform worse than it would on any other console?
Power and Resolution on Google Stadia
See, that’s one of the key issues with the Google Stadia. It will never look as good or perform as well as a PC or console for the majority of people. Because it relies on internet connection rather than hardware, it will never have the power to push a game to its limits. If you have a high definition monitor, it doesn’t matter. If you have a 4K TV, it won’t make a difference. The game will never reach optimal resolutions unless you have the Internet speed to make it happen.
Same goes for how the game runs itself. Issues with latency aside, stability is a huge concern. If your internet crashes often, even if it’s temporary, your game crashes. It seems as if Google expects most people to have stellar Wi-Fi, but that’s just not the case for most people. Again, I also cannot see how my phone itself can run Assassin’s Creed Odyssey at 4K resolution when, at times, it can barely open a tab. And no, I don’t have an old phone, but that’s simply the nature of Wi-Fi and data. It isn’t consistent, so how can the Stadia be?
Developers and Streaming Services
Another concern is what something like Stadia, a streaming service for games, means for smaller developers that produce smaller, shorter games. For example, a pay-per-hour model is becoming a more and more common method of paying developers whose products are on streaming services.
If that is the case with video game streaming services in the future, games like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will get a significant amount of money while smaller, indie titles might get barely anything at all. Then, what motivation do small developers have to make incredible, perfect, but small experiences if they know they won’t make any money? What kind of culture would the gaming world be if we didn’t have gems like Inside or The Stanley Parable?
Is Streaming the Future of Gaming?
No, it’s not, or at least I really hope it won’t be.
Google argues that the Stadia is for more casual gamers, which is all well and good. I encourage people to game any way they want so long as they have fun. My gripe with the Google Stadia is not that it aims to include more casual gamers (the more, the better), but its that I believe it is threatening the future of gaming.
Streaming services like the Stadia don’t make gaming more accessible, but rather make it more exclusive. Those with tremendous Wi-Fi, with unlimited data, can play the Stadia and experience something much closer to the 4K performance, lag-free performance Google promises. For most of us, though, we simply get a sub-par product, a method of playing incredible games in frustrating circumstances.
For the sake of gamers, for the sake of developers, and for the sake of the diversification of both groups, gaming should be hardware-oriented. I don’t care if you play video games on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch, or your phone. None of these pose a threat to me or video games as a whole.
Streaming, however, risks giving bigger pay to only the largest games, providing gamers with only frustrating methods of playing, and more. If that becomes the future of gaming, I’ll be heartbroken.
What do you all think? Does the concept of streaming games scare you as much as it does us? Or are you excited for the convenience of a system like the Stadia? Let us know in the comments below!