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Price? Bandwidth? Exclusives? Here's what Google failed to say about Stadia

Google fired a shot across the bow of every major console manufacturer as it unveiled its Stadia gaming streaming platform. The company wants everyone to be able to play games, and believes that the answer to this is streaming. However, there are a number of issues that Google needs to address before this becomes a viable platform. These concerns mostly deal with internet limitations, image quality, and input lag.

The folks at Digital Foundry released a detailed analysis of how Stadia compares to other platforms when playing Assassin's Creed Odyssey. On an excellent connection, the input lag drops down to 166 ms, which is quite comparable to 145 ms on the Xbox One X. However, when you compare it to a PC setup, it falls behind as dedicated hardware reduces input lag to just 79 ms. Assassin's Creed Odyssey is the only game that was tested, and numerous gamers complain of horrendous input lag on consoles. Hopefully a clearer picture will emerge when other titles are examined.

Unfortunately, as the connection deteriorates, the input lag gets worse. If you're on a standard internet connection — the United States average is around 18 Mbps — the input lag increases to 188 ms. It's unclear how high this goes if you're on a slower connection. Hopefully the input lag is consistent because erratic input lag is the major concern here. That's what actually makes a game completely unplayable.

While input lag can be overcome, the other problem Digital Foundry encountered was artifacts. A video artifact is a noticeable distortion in the quality of video brought about by data compression. Stadia is sending a video stream to your display which isn't the same as rendering individual pixels directly from dedicated hardware. Playing on smaller displays (like a laptop) is ideal because it reduces the literal size of the artifacts. However, if you're on a massive 4K display, the artifacts are quite apparent and can be quite jarring to witness.

Google says that Stadia supports 4K 60 FPS gameplay, a stat repeated by id Software when it announced DOOM Eternal was coming to the platform. Google told Eurogamer that it expects 1080p streaming to be more likely for connections around 25 Mbps. If you're on a 15 Mbps connection, the resolution and frame rate will drop down to 720p 60 FPS. However, Google's Phil Harrison had a different take on Eurogamer's report. During the event, he said:

To get 1080p 60 FPS required approximately 25 Mbps. In fact, we use less than that, but that's where we put our recommended limit at. But with innovations that we've made on the streamer side and on the compression side since then, when we launch, we will be able to get to 4K but only raise that bandwidth to about 30 Mbps.

It's unclear how prevalent artifacts will be at 4K 60 FPS at this moment. Hopefully the compression won't take away too much from image quality. This is a bold claim from Google, and it'll have to prove it when Stadia fully launches, because right now the results aren't even close. The Telegraph states that the service will use 20 GB per hour. Those who played DOOM Eternal discovered that they were missing shots and couldn't melee easily.

Aside from input lag and image quality, Google completely forgot to mention Stadia's connection limitations. How will internet service providers (ISPs) react to users using up so much bandwidth? These are important topics that need to be clarified by the company. In many regions around the world — including the United States — many ISPs have caps on the amount of data you can use every month. It seems like the highest quality visuals will be out of the reach for the majority of gamers on this planet. Additionally, mobile phone users face the same issues and have even smaller data limits. Google needs to be clear about the bandwidth requirements because that seems to be the biggest barrier to entry.

Lastly, Google failed to discuss how much games will cost or how monetization will work on Stadia. Will it be free and supported through advertisements? Will there be an Xbox Game Pass-like subscription model or will gamers have to pay $60 for "AAA" titles? If Stadia is indeed a free service which features a subscription and game purchases to access various titles, where is Google recuperating the revenue? There is a lot of distrust right now on how companies like Facebook and Google handle private user information so there would have to be assurances that your purchasing and playing habits won't be shared with others.

Owning a physical game gives you access to the title for perpetuity. Even if a console manufacturer goes out of business, you still own a product and can play it whenever. What will happen if Stadia is ever shut down like some other Google products? Complete ownership is another major concern when it comes to this platform. While physical game sales are declining, they're still quite popular and keep companies like GameStop in business.

During the presentation, Google announced that it has created its own games studio which will not only produce first-party experiences, but also coordinate with third-party studios. Unless this studio employs thousands of individuals, it's unlikely that it can match the might of what Microsoft, Nintendo, and PlayStation have in their arsenal. Microsoft recently more than doubled its first-party studios through aggressive acquisitions and it doesn't seem like that's the end of it.

First-party games are a key to a console's success and Google will need a lot of high-quality titles on the level of Forza Horizon 4, God of War, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to compete with the competition. Not a single exclusive was announced. For that matter, even the videos showcased during the presentation didn't have great frame rates.

Hopefully Google will talk about all of these in the coming months. The company promised that more information would be revealed during the summer, but with E3 2019 coming up, it gives its competitors — especially Microsoft with Project xCloud game streaming — a chance to dominate the scene and talk about all of these problems. Google didn't even discuss if the Stadia controller features rumble and other benefits that enhance immersion. Lastly, the bold claim about cheating doesn't seem to take into account pixel-based aimbots.

In my opinion, a game streaming service can only catch on if it offers all of your existing games and compelling exclusives. For example, let's say that I bought a code for Anthem on Xbox One at GameStop. I should be able to play it on the go through streaming — for grinding or accomplishing other tasks — but come back home and experience in the highest visual fidelity possible. Right now, it doesn't seem like Stadia has nailed any of this. And with next-generation machines right around the corner which are rumored to offer more than 10.7 teraflops of computing power, Stadia might be a hard sell or left behind.

There are a lot of game streaming platforms coming in the future, but the fight between Microsoft's Project xCloud and Google Stadia will be an interesting one. According to Microsoft's Kareem Choudhry, "Project xCloud and Xbox Game Pass are going to coexist in some reasonable way." There are many who think that access to Project xCloud will be part of either the Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass subscriptions. If this is the case, Microsoft already has an install base of tens of millions. Google needs to provide more answers because its competitors having massive advantages from the get-go.

Asher Madan handles gaming news for Windows Central. Before joining Windows Central in 2017, Asher worked for a number of different gaming outlets. He has a background in medical science and is passionate about all forms of entertainment, cooking, and antiquing.

24 Comments
  • Not sold on this yet.... during the project stream beta on my connection (30up/30down) during "primetime" I couldn't even connect to the game, so maybe Google didn't have enough server power to handle the user count.
  • I had the same issue. For me it was 720p 30 FPS with a lot of artifacts and I’m in the United States. I’m not entirely sure how Phil Harrison can promise all of these changes when the picture quality has so many problems.
  • 30mb is kinda slow for game streaming. Project Stream would need almost all of it, I am not surprised it didn't work well. I wasn't able to use it on the road, but it worked well on my 60mb home connection.
  • I wish I had that kind of internet. Mine is incredibly erratic and usually is around 25 Mbps according to Bing Speed Test. However, I think it might even be lower when it comes to streaming on YouTube. I just don’t know how this is possible without stellar internet — which we probably won’t see for a decade in many parts of the United States even.
  • That kind of Internet doesn't even exist where I live so Stadia, xCloud, whatever else are a complete bust.
  • xCloud needs 5 Mbps according to Kareem.
  • Not sold on the concept as a standalone. I think Microsoft will position xCloud as an add-on service rather than as a whole package. Essentially, if you have Game Pass or own the digital rights to a game and an Xbox Live account, you get to use xCloud to play it. I tend to agree with Brad Sams that Stadia is going to end up being more of a demo service than a true gaming competitor to Sony and Xbox.
  • That’s the way they can quickly get a lot of adopters in my opinion. Bundle it with Xbox Game Pass or Xbox Live Gold. Maybe have a special bundle where everything is included for one price.
  • I'm actually really happy Google are entering. It will make the other companies go out of their skin to be better. It's also IMO the perfect timing for MS as well. Because they have E3 in 3 months. And have a massive opportunity to show Xcloud and just how much exclusive gane support they have. Hammer this point home, and Xoud is in a fantastic position going forward. Google announcing now was the best thing MS could have hoped for. Perfect timing.
  • Microsoft might not even be competitive here. I bet Google is more afraid of Amazon. Microsoft's current gaming business might be a hindrance more than an asset. It could keep them tethered and unable to think outside of the (X)box. This has been an issue with many Microsoft projects in the past.
  • ??? We already know about Xcloud. It's the same as Stadia. But with actual games. Hahahaha
  • I know, Google had some great ideas that should be implemented on xCloud in my opinion.
  • I honestly didn't expect the US average to be 15mb, I live in Newark and I get about 800mb most of the time. This sounds really promising but it's not the first cloud gaming system I've seen and it wasn't that impressive at the time.
  • There are a lot of rural areas that simply don't have any real broadband options. AT&T has started investing in running fiber in those areas because it is cheaper to maintain than the old POTS network and that has helped some areas. (Plus, I think AT&T received some grants to do so.) When my dad got fiber run down his street, his internet option went from 3 mbps to 1 gbps overnight.
  • There are even certain parts of cities that don't get better internet because they're old apartment buildings or are historic districts that can't be modified too much. It's not just rural areas.
  • Huge country, difficult (and ridiculously expensive) to lay the infrastructure nation wide.
  • I’m a little concerned about why it has to use 20 GB every hour.
  • Is Game streaming the future yes.... However, that future is definitely not now or the next 3-5 years. Just like digital vs physical, gamers will demand to make the choice themselves on their own schedule. Gamers will still flock to their hand held's, PCs and consoles but might be intrigued by the option to stream their existing library whenever they want if and only if input lag is solved. That is where Google will likely fail without hardware. This whole game streaming thing is really not the battlefield... The real reason Google is rushing into this before they appear to be ready is that the same hardware that is used for enterprise AI and remote 3D rendering in the cloud that Microsoft showed off with Hololens 2 is the exact same hardware that does game streaming. If Microsoft gets a huge unchallenged lead in game streaming because of their global cloud infrastructure & entrenched position in gaming (Havok + Playfab + Simplygon + Visual Studios + Directx api + Windows + Xbox), they would also have a massive install base of this hardware all over the planet ready for enterprise use where the real money is to be made.
  • Not needing hardware is the point of streaming. It is like saying that cars will be a failure because there is no where to hook up your horse.
  • Streaming can happen but a local solution is def needed. How do you stream on a flight, on a train or in the basement? Some coffee store, fast food or restaurant has basements. A streaming service with no local solution is not worth investing (money to build game lib and time to make game saves). Only good for cross-save f2p games or some indie games.
  • $croogle and transparency do not go hand in hand. This will be squirrel and they will be on to their next failure after they slurp the data from all the users that don't understand what they are giving up.
  • And what are they giving up exactly? Maybe you can enlighten us? I am sure you would never use Windows due to privacy concerns right? You know Microsoft heavily collects data too.
  • Price... 1st, it's running gaming PC on the cloud right? So... 500~700 watts, per game session? And you can link up more CPUs or GPUs right? If Stadia is a subscription service:
    Cloud PC electricity bill is covered.
    AAA games on day1? Devs or publishers who own their own store, would they want to support this? I'm selling my game on all consoles and my store, and I'm willing to let people play my game on YT day1?
    Can subscription generate the same or more revenue for publishers?
    I think the service is more cater to indies. Ads model:
    It's a video streaming, overlay ads is like piece of cake.
    Same question, AAAs on day 1? Enough revenue for devs?
    Can ads cover electricity bills hosting gaming PC HW on the cloud? No sub + buy once play forever model:
    Kids watching YT. Wanna play? Sure! Please pay $60 upfront... not gonna work!
    Plus, 1 or multiple gaming PC per game session... forever free of charge? Sub + buy game:
    What if you unsubscripted? Stream gaming on a flight/train or in the basement is unrealistic. When can human expect a "cheap, no cap, reliable, fast, available everywhere, across continents" connection to happen? In 10~20 years? At least, with Xbox ecosystem, you get to use XPA (xvc is maybe on its way) on your Alienwares, Surfaces or arm64 notebooks, to run your games natively. If your device is incapable (e.g. trying to play AAAs on a Surface Go) or incompatible (trying to play AAAs on a phone), xCloud has you covered. * I don't know what tech is Google using but we know xCloud uses techs like AI predicting user inputs, co-rendering and stuff to reduce latency. I think, ads or subscription model is more realistic. but then... you won't be playing AAAs on day1. I'll prob use Stadia for cross-save games if I don't have my devices around. I'm not gonna buy any games from Stadia, because streaming won't be available everywhere. There'll be compromise and trade-offs. In the living room, game natively on my newest Xbox.
    In the office, game natively on my older Xbox.
    On the train, xCloud on my phone.
    In the basement, on a flight or on a shinkansen, XPA or xvc on my Alienware, Surface or arm64 notebook.
    On a train, xCloud on my phone.
    Not streaming unless I have to. It's an additional perks, for conveniences, for me to game on the go. * And no matter how powerful the cloud console can be, devs cannot build a game with "8k texture, high-poly, crazy particles and stuff" or a game with "Crackdown 3 server physics running natively in-game with a lot of physics based particle", unless, you want to skip all consumer devices (consoles and PCs). btw, freemium culture is among the worst thing that can happen to console gaming. Mobile gaming market is already a toxic land for small capitals and indies. Freemium only benefits big capitals.
  • I think at the end of the day Google Stadia will be more expensive if you have internet restrictions.