Last week, Google announced a bold vision for the future of gaming with Stadia, a new cloud gaming platform that promises to upend the industry by changing how games are played, distributed, sold, and even built. While revealing Stadia to developers, Google did not provide any details on the business model of the service and the games that will be available when it inevitably launches.
Stadia chief Phil Harrison, a veteran of the game industry with experience working at both Microsoft and Sony, in a recent media interview declined to reveal the company’s business model for Stadia — whether it would be a subscription service or some other business model — instead hinting that it would be clear by summer. Harrison did, however, disclose that Google would not be going down the line of building its own gaming hardware.
“We don’t need it. I think this is a fundamental shift the game industry is taking. For the last 40 years, games were device-centric; they were packaged on a disc, or a cartridge, or a tape, or a download, or they were written specifically to take advantage of or up to the limitations of a particular device. We just broke through that glass ceiling with Stadia, by giving the entire data center to the game developer and being completely device agnostic. So, no, we don’t need a console and that’s the whole point,” he said.
The only hardware component of Stadia, beyond the Chromecast Ultra required to bring it to television sets, is the custom controller Google built. It is a surprisingly high-quality gamepad, and Harrison revealed that it would be a cornerstone for cloud-based features like Google Assistant support and the ability to instantly launch a game you are simply watching in a YouTube video. The internals of the Stadia controller are effectively a computer that is talking directly over Wi-Fi to the data center.
It increases performance, reduces latency, and has a direct positive impact on playability. One big hurdle for the entire cloud gaming industry will be broadband limitations and data caps, which will make using a service like Stadia difficult, both at home and on mobile, especially in a world where internet speeds struggle to meet the 25–30 Mbps requirements and streaming a 1080p or even 4K game will quickly chew through gigabytes of bandwidth. But Google appears unfazed by these challenges and is confident that it has the technology to make Stadia work as advertised even under less than-stellar connection scenarios.