Google announced the Stadia at a press conference. They revealed that Jade Raymond, an alumni from Ubisoft and Electronic Arts, will be heading up the company’s Stadia first party game studio. The company is also making connections with third-party publishers for game streaming, identical to what Onlive, Gaikai, PlayStation Now and other game streaming services have tried and failed to make popular in the past.
There is no client-side hardware other than a wireless (or optional USB wired) gamepad. The design is identical to a lot of other Xbox-style ripoffs, with a digital pad, two analogs resting underneath the four face buttons, with a left and right bumper on the top of the controller along with two triggers on the left and right side of the controller. The only difference is that there’s a Google Assistant button on the left side under the select button, and a share button on the right side underneath the start button, very similar to the home and share buttons on the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons.
A information-free promotional video was aired during the conference to explain the Stadia, which is based on the idea of people congregating at a stadium, but it’s a completely vapid marketing ploy to raise awareness of the service. You can check it out, courtesy of GameSpot.
While the promotional trailer doesn’t explain anything, there’s a more in-depth breakdown of the specifications and the hardware capabilities that was put together by Digital Foundry’s Richard Leadbetter.
He explains that Google’s server hardware for Stadia is running a custom 2.7GHz hyper-threaded CPU with AVX2 SIMD and a 9.5MB L2 and L3 cache. According to Richard Leadbetter, Google is using a custom AMD GPU solution at 10.7 teraflops with 56 compute units and HBM2 memory.
The RAM specifications are 16GB HBM2 shared between the GPU and the CPU, with a memory bandwidth of 484GB per second.
Leadbetter suggests that the GPU and memory setup is very similar to AMD’s own RX Vega 56.
The Stadia will supposedly be able to allow gamers to access any game and boot it up within five seconds. This is due to Google’s data storage running on petabyte SSDs.
The hardware is designed to support streaming capabilities up to 4K UHD at 60 frames per second at 166ms latency.
You can check out the video below over on the Digital Foundry YouTube channel, where Leadbetter covers all of the specs in detail.
As mentioned in the video, the controller connects to the cloud through any Wi-Fi setup, but you can also connect the controller to any USB-compatible device.
Obviously the most important part about the whole setup is input latency. What’s the point of playing games if everything feels like it’s moving microseconds behind your intended button presses?
Input latency has always been a huge problem with streaming, in addition to client-side connectivity issues.
Well, according to Leadbetter, when testing it on a Pixelbook and measuring the input latency against other systems, you’re basically getting double the latency of what you would get if you were playing on a PC at 60fps.
That’s not to mention that the lower your net quality the lower the performance quality of the stream.
So the way it works is that as you’re watching a video of a Let’s Play on YouTube, you’ll be able to click the “Play” button and join in on the session and play yourself using the Google Stadia controller. However, if your connection is weak or you don’t have a very fast service option with your ISP, you’ll be relegated to streaming the game through YouTube’s lower quality streaming option. This means that even while dealing with 166ms as a standard, you’ll also have to content with artifacts and image distortion based on the quality of the stream, which will be dependent on your connection to YouTube, no different than when you’re watching videos on the service.
Also keep in mind that your ability to connect to the service will also be dependent on your ability to connect via an active account. If you don’t have an active account, you won’t be able to play certain games through the YouTube service since sometimes you have to log into an account in order to access mature content.
There’s also the obvious issue with preservation. There is no way to preserve games through Google Stadia. So anything exclusive won’t be accessible through physical means unless there’s some way to download a physical hard copy of the game and make an offline backup, but so far Google hasn’t revealed any kind of way to physically preserve games. What this means is that much like MMOs and other online-only games, when the servers go down or the company goes bust or anything happens that makes the software unavailable through Google’s platform, you 100% lose access to that game and it disappears from history for good.
So far there doesn’t appear to be any actual upside for consumers with this service that hasn’t already been tried before with Onlive and every other streaming service that was announced in the past. And any developer or publisher attaching exclusive software to Google Stadia will have a limited shelf life dependent on however long Google decides to keep their service active. Judging by the limited lifespan afforded to the Google+ social media service, any developer worth their salt would do well to avoid any exclusivity deals with Stadia.