Hands On With Google’s Stadia Video Game-Streaming Service
Google didn’t have a booth at E3, the annual video game trade show in Los Angeles. Nor did it have any signs inside the convention center in which it was held or any nearby.
But Google was all anyone talked about.
The company’s highly-anticipated Stadia game-streaming service is set to debut in November. Game players (and investors in Google’s parent) wondered if the company that has revolutionized so many aspects of technology could have the same impact on video games.
Fortune had the chance to try out Stadia at E3 2019, and while it’s not a flawless system, it does have significant potential. It also positions Google well for the long term in video gaming, though the short term may be rockier.
The game I tried was Doom Eternal, the latest incarnation of the well-known first person shooter, and a good test for a streaming service. Doom is a game that is all about lightning-fast movement, and any hesitation or lag in the streaming can, and often does, result in your character dying onscreen.
Many gamers fear that Stadia, and game streaming in general, risk a slight delay between what players do with their controllers and the action onscreen. It’s something that players don’t have to generally worry about when using consoles or PCs, the primary tools for playing high-bandwidth games today.
Google wanted to show that those concerns about lag time were unfounded.
During my test of Stadia, I used a Chrome browser on a Pixelbook. The Internet connection was hardwired to the low-powered laptop, and Google representatives said the connection speed was around 25 Mb/s.
That was enough for a high-definition resolution of 1080p. But it didn’t show off the 4K potential of Stadia that Google has marketed for its upcoming launch.
So how did it play? Pretty good.
In general, while I played, there seemed to be slight lag, but it was hardly anything most players would notice. For example, the load time was sluggish when my character respawned after being overwhelmed by demons (due to my own failings, not the system’s).
I initially wrote this off to the game still being in development (it’s due to release Nov. 22). But when playing Doom Eternal on a gaming PC later that day on the show floor, the load times were faster.
Overall, Doom Eternal ran smoothly on Stadia, and without showing any visual glitches. My character could run, jump, shoot, and eviscerate enemies without any problems.
It’s difficult to say, however, how much Stadia has improved since early public tests of it in the fall, when it was known as Project Stream. That experience, too, was a smooth one, though as home Internet speeds fluctuated, the game I tested then (Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, a much slower paced title than Doom Eternal) did suffer occasionally. It’s unclear whether the Internet connection in the makeshift studio Google created for the tests had more consistent speeds than for some home users.
As it stands now, the hiccups with Stadia, at least in a controlled test environment (a distinction worth making) are minimal. Still, they could be enough to keep skeptics on the sidelines initially after the premiere until they hear or see for themselves how the service performs in real life. until
But the potential of Stadia is tremendous. And several game publisher CEOs who Fortune spoke with at E3 referred to game streaming as the industry’s future, signaling there will be heavy support for Google’s efforts, along with upcoming ones from Microsoft and, if rumors are true, other tech giants.
Stadia will launch with two tiers of service—a subscription version and a free version. Initially, though, the only option will be the Stadia Founders Edition, a $129.99 package that includes a controller, a Chromecast Ultra, a three-month subscription to the paid service, and a three-month pass for a friend. (The free model will be introduced in 2020.)
Users will be able to buy games on an individual basis, but some publishers, including Ubisoft, will also offer a Netflix-like all you can eat model, giving customer access to a catalog of 100+ games for $10 monthly.
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