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Stadia: Is it Game Over for Hardware?

On 19th March, Google announced Stadia, a new gaming platform that aims to change the way we play games by making them accessible to ‘any device with a Chrome browser and an internet connection’ at the click of a button.

Simply put, the player uses streaming technology to access the game. The game itself is run on Google’s own hardware, and the player connects to this using their Stadia controller, which is connected to the internet. The game can then be streamed instantly onto the player’s desktop, laptop, phone or TV screen. This method of accessing games removes the need for specialised hardware, and doesn’t require the game to download.

Google aims to make high-quality, graphic-intensive games more accessible: Doom Eternal has been announced as one of the first games to be available on Stadia, and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey was used to test the project. Stadia will have the ability to stream games at 4K resolution at 60fps (frames per second), and Google aims to increase this to 8K at 120fps in the future. This is a sign that the project will be constantly developing and adapting to the steady increase in game quality, without requiring a new piece of hardware to be purchased.

Another main focus of Stadia is making the sharing of gameplay faster and easier. YouTube, also owned by Google, is full of gaming content: its gaming director, Ryan Watt, claims that “gaming has always been the backbone of YouTube since the platform was first founded.” While Amazon’s Twitch is the most popular site for live-streaming games, these streams are frequently edited into short ‘highlights’ videos that are posted onto YouTube, and these videos appeal to a larger, more general audience.

Other game-related content such as reviews, game theories and e-sports highlights show that YouTube is an integral element of the gaming community and industry, with companies sponsoring YouTubers to make videos on their games. Stadia aims to increase the platform’s popularity and influence by making content-sharing easier: gameplay footage can be shared onto the site with the aid of the ‘screen catcher’ button.

The controller also includes a button for Google Assistant, so players can look up walkthroughs or hints without disturbing their gameplay. The emphasis on combining gaming with Google-owned media exposes the aim to make Google’s services the core of the gaming community.

If Stadia takes off, the way we access and view gaming will change: the streaming technology challenges companies such as Sony, who are rumoured to be releasing their fifth PlayStation console in 2020, 7 years after the release of the PS4. The constant release of new consoles means that gamers need to spend increasingly extortionate amounts of money on hardware just to access certain games, which is off-putting for some. Stadia is a service that aims to be more accessible than its hardware-based competitors: the trailers put an emphasis on the casual side of the gaming community, implying that it will appeal to a general audience, not just intense gamers and those who can afford to keep up with new consoles.

As convenient as Stadia sounds, Google is yet to release a price for the controller and the service, so its accessibility in terms of cost can still be questioned. The streaming service to play the games could either be a subscription or a single payment, the controller could be included or separate, and the games themselves would still need to be purchased.

Phil Harrison, Vice President of Google and leader of the Stadia product, claims that Stadia will ‘stream at a number of different resolutions that match the bandwidth of your home,’ and will ‘deliver the highest quality experience to you at the best possible bandwidth.’ However, if this fails, people that cannot afford high-speed broadband will not benefit from the service.

Will Stadia really change how we access and play games? When Stadia was announced, I immediately regretted spending nearly £900 on a gaming PC when I could potentially play Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey on my laptop, which crashes when I try to load anything released after 2010. However, while my new gaming computer will be expensive, I know it will be reliable. Game lag when playing online is frustrating enough, but the potential of experiencing lag even while playing a solo campaign is enough to put me off. Furthermore, companies such as Nintendo will continue to bring out games that require their unique style of consoles and controllers that Stadia would not be able to adapt. This means that it is unlikely that Hardware will become a thing of the past, as innovative design can be integral to a company’s image.

Stadia is due to be released later this year, available to the US, Canada, Western Europe and UK .