Google made quite the splash back in March when it announced it’s foray into gaming with Stadia. While the presentation did not show any impressive games, the suite of services announced for the platform for developers combined with the focus on ease of access for the consumer meant that Google was serious about this. However, despite a corporate behemoth like Google backing up the platform, Stadia had, and still has garnered a great deal of scepticism from both industry analysts and gamers alike. Mainly due to it being built under the foundation of cloud and streaming. That said, the recent announcement of a partnership between Microsoft and Sony to better accommodate their cloud/streaming infrastructure has raised some eyebrows. This actually changes the complexion of the situation completely and Google could be sitting on a gold mine big enough to take over gaming completely. Let’s take a closer look at whether this may or may not happen.
The notion that cloud gaming is the future has been floating around since the PS3/360 era. Several analysts have predicted it and some companies like OnLive actually took a shot at it way back in 2010. But thanks to barriers in technology and hesitancy from the consumer towards adopting the platform at the time resulted in cloud gaming never taking off. Fast forward nine years and not much has changed since. Cloud gaming still feels like a far-fetched concept to consumers. But the difference this time around is that companies like Sony and Microsoft have had experience in this area for a good portion of a decade now and they have a renewed focus in offering cloud-based gaming, now that a major entity like Google has entered the gaming landscape. For better or worse Google has shown the world that the technology available today could cater to cloud gaming much better than it did in 2010. And the fact that Sony and Microsoft are coming together despite their individual stance in the market only cements it even further. The only real questions are – Is the customer ready? And, Is the internet infrastructure good enough to handle it?
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At least one of the two questions is easy to answer. The customer will be ready as long as he is provided with value for money. While the monetization method of Stadia is still a mystery, anything that sounds like an incredible value is sure to be appealing to customers. So, the real question is about bandwidth and the availability of it. To be fair, the internet today is far better than what it was a couple of years ago. Whether it is cable-based or wireless, things have been on an upward trajectory. And with 5G on the horizon, it is only going to get better. If Stadia could keep its promise of getting the games to run with a 25mbps connection, then things are looking much better than they did some time ago.
What about the games then? Well, Google has stated that there are numerous games being developed for its platform. The platform has been portrayed as developer-friendly and seems to aim squarely at the indie development community. Throw in third-party developer support and a good library of games does not seem impossible on Stadia. It would all come down to the quality of games that would be available exclusively on Stadia. Here’s hoping that they emulate Sony in this case and not end up turning into the next Google Play.
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But when all things are said and done, there are still a couple of looming factors that would make or break Stadia and cloud gaming in general. Convenience. And there are two ways to look at it. While getting to play your games when you want and where you want is a convenience in itself, it does need a constant internet connection. That isn’t the case with playing a disc-based game on a console. Especially the ones which do not have any multiplayer aspect. Story driven games which have its own chunk of the audience never did need a mandatory internet connection. And cloud limits that convenience. Yes, data shows that sales of digital games have been on the rise year on year, every year, but so has the number of people that play games. And the ones that prefer disc-based games still represent a good chunk of that population.
Then there is the question of owning what you purchase. This is a risk that is inherent with any game that is not in physical form. Several games have been pulled off online storefronts for various reasons. And the prospect of these games being run on cloud only amplifies this risk.
As with any new product or service, we will have to wait and see. Google seems to have entered the cloud gaming scene at the right moment and it might come right down to how it is all executed and handled. Google definitely has the resources to pull it off, and here’s hoping that they succeed, as at least some, if not many, are going to find some kind of value in the service. How this is going to play against Sony and Microsoft will also be interesting to see. Whatever the case, it will be an interesting next few years.