Opinion: Google Stadia’s obstacles this year are connectivity and content availability

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Don’t get us wrong, we want to see Google Stadia succeed as much as the next gamer. Google’s announcement of its upcoming video game streaming service made some serious headlines in the gaming world last week. Stadia is a Netflix-esqe platform where gamers can access a library of high-res games at the push of a button, without any stress on their computer. It’s an absolute dream come true.

Due to launch later this year, games will be rendered in up to 4K resolution and 60 FPS. Google went on to promise 8K streaming at 120 FPS in the near future. It all sounds surreal.

And it may just be. All of Stadia’s goals seem to be unattainable with the kind of technology most of us have today. But the issue here isn’t just that we might not see Stadia working well this year; the problem is if it fails, gamers may lose hope – and demand – in game streaming altogether.

Internet woes

We previously talked about how Stadia wants to make consoles a thing of the past. Your video games are processed in datacenters owned by Google (think of these as buildings for gaming consoles), and then streamed via the internet to any of your devices. This offloads the strenuous work your device needs to do, so all it needs is a stable internet connection and a screen – you can play Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey on your mobile phone.

Google even promised games will render up to 4K, 60 FPS, with boot times less than five seconds when Stadia kicks off this year. Be very skeptical.

Stadia will require the very best of internet speeds to make it work flawlessly – the kind of connection most of us can’t find. Google stated the ideal connection to run games at this rate would be 25Mbps. But what about multiplayer games, which involves far more complicated interaction over the internet?

The good news is, the U.S. averaged download speeds of 96.25 Mpbs in 2018, a figure that has been rising over the years. But this is merely an average, many users outside of urban areas are struggling to hit Stadia’s optimal network speeds as fibre optics aren’t available in many of these locations.

Google has an internet problem on its hands. It seems that only a handful of privileged gamers will get to enjoy Stadia at its best.

Clocking in speeds over 25Mbps doesn’t immediately spare you from connection woes either. How often does high-res video lag on Netflix, taking a minute or so to polish up as you stream? Content here isn’t the same unanimous videos being played on multiple devices, but each player has her own unique content and interactions that need to be streamed. Surely this is a job for 5G.

Technology for 5G, not quite 2019

On paper, 5G works 120 times faster than what we currently have and promises 20GBps download speeds. Most crucially, it has a lag time of 1ms, which ensures near-perfect responsiveness when streaming and interacting with Google’s datacenters.

The problem: Rolling out 5G is going to take years, regardless of what the enthusiastic carriers are proclaiming. Getting 5G out for everyone involves a complicated replacement of existing infrastructure and overhaul, not to mention the tricky ethical issues that lie beyond the realms of gaming.

5G is most definitely not ready in time for Stadia’s launch this summer. So who exactly gets to enjoy this privilege on the go?

Titles and bundles left vague

Stadia’s success also lies on the business side of things. As gamers we want acceptable prices and great games. Right now, we don’t know much about either.

While much of the hype has been built around Stadia as a Netflix for gaming, Google hasn’t announced if it will be a subscription-based service, in which users pay a certain monthly fee for access to games.

Alternatively, games may well be individually sold, with the added benefit of playing across your devices. Considering how much game developers charge for their titles today – and how insanely profitable they can be – its highly unlikely that the biggest names today will dip down to a subscription service. Pricing is going to be a tricky bargain.

We also don’t know which game developers are on board. Given how vague Google’s been, we’re not too sure why they’d want to either. Without a clear target audience, contract model and developer tools, creators are still left in the dark about how profitable and efficient the Stadia system will be. Right now, there’s more risk than promise.

For gamers, it means there’s no guarantee our favorite titles will be streamed on Stadia.

Killing hopes before kicking off

Maybe all of this is possible in the long run. In a few years, technology would have caught up. With 5G rolling, contracts sorted out, Stadia could very well be the future of gaming, but it’s certainly not this year. Google may be promising too much.

And that’s deeply worrying, because Stadia represents the most convincing case yet for game streaming, a reality we’ve been wanting for years. But if Stadia fails, despite Google’s widespread network, connections and worldwide infrastructure, the gaming industry may just lose its faith in game streaming altogether, settling for current conventions.

Stadia is set to launch this summer. We certainly hope Google works miracles by then, or at the very least know what its promising and avoid getting our hopes too high. An industry is counting on them.

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