For a while in the late nineties and early 21st century, the gaming industry seemed locked in a well-set pattern. Every four or five years the big players would release a new console that put the graphics on the previous iteration to shame and made you wonder why you’d been putting up with so much hassle on the old technology in the first place.
Some may remember the days when in order to save games on a PlayStation 2, you had to manually plug in a memory card and make sure there was space left over – and with the cards starting at 8MB, they filled up quickly. Those days seem unimaginable now with the PlayStation 4.
But one day it may be the very idea of the console which seems unimaginable. For last year, a path-breaking new gaming technology hit the market, that does away with the idea of the console altogether – Google Stadia.
There are many ways to play games on the internet, and within each game there’s a myriad of variety: take an online bingo site, for example. The standard 75- and 90-ball bingo games are spiced up with jackpots and themes of all kinds. This variety makes online play of all kinds a rich experience.
Starting February 20, you can play Stadia with even more phones. ASUS ROG Phone I & II, Razer Phone 1 & 2, and a variety of Samsung phones, including the Samsung S20 line, are all supported.
— Stadia (@GoogleStadia) February 18, 2020
The idea is that instead of buying a console (effectively a computer whose repertoire of functions is rather limited and which you know will be obsolete in five years or so when the next upgrade is released) you use your existing computer as a console and stream games through the internet.
Although people should be cautious when paying for anything over the internet, the idea makes a lot of sense. People are already used to streaming media content like TV shows, films, and music through the internet. They’re used to using their mobile devices for almost anything, whether that’s day-to-day life, gaming, or even business use.
The very idea of owning a physical copy of media or documents, having to store them, or playing them on dedicated hardware – despite that being the only way to consume them at home until very recently – already seems very foreign. Really, the gaming industry has been behind the times.
So the introduction of Google Stadia is an exciting step forward. But how far forward will this kind of technology take us? Google are not a traditional player in the gaming industry, but part of the excitement surrounding their involvement is that they have the brainpower and the money to get these kinds of technical innovations right.
And in one sense, Google did seem to get it right. Stadia is widely regarded as superior to competing streaming services, like PlayStation Now and Geforce Now. That’s because Google did manage to solve many of the formidable technical problems a games-streaming platform faces, like managing the ‘lag’ or latency a player experiences as the unfolding game is remotely broadcast to them over the internet. Games are highly responsive even in 4K HDR.
But to pull this off, players need to have a large bandwidth and data allowance. There’s no getting around the fact that to have a console-quality gaming experience via online streaming, users will need to be downloading a ton of data every second for hours at a time – and even the smallest hiccup at any point could ruin someone’s game. All that data costs money, limiting the accessibility of the platform.
Altogether, the success of streaming platforms in the gaming industry may be limited until the wider ecosystem of broadband providers and internet-supporting infrastructure has evolved to support much more efficient data transmission to the public.