writes copy 19 Mar 2019

A console in the cloud: Google unveils Stadia streaming service looks to shake up video games

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Google unveiled a new gaming streaming service called Stadia on Tuesday morning, looking to shake up the video game world by leveraging its experience in cloud technology, and posing a new threat to its fellow tech giants that operate the dominant gaming platforms.

The search giant’s announcement promises to accelerate the industry’s evolution away from high-end hardware in the living room and toward streaming technology in the cloud.

Google’s move could have big implications for existing game platform providers such as Nintendo, Microsoft, Valve, Sony and Apple, some of whom are operating or planning their own streaming services. Microsoft, for example, is preparing to launch its own Xcloud game streaming service as part of its vision for cross-platform gaming, and the company is reportedly planning a version of the Xbox without a disc drive.

Stadia goes even further, getting rid of the console entirely. Google says the service will launch this year in the U.S., Canada, UK and most of Europe, according to the company. No pricing was announced. Google is promising more details this summer.

The company also announced a Stadia controller with a dedicated button for sharing and saving gameplay on YouTube, and another button to get help from Google Assistant, using a built-in microphone. The connection to Google’s dominant video platform illustrates the potential threat to Amazon’s Twitch.

Google gaming exec Phil Harrison shows the new Stadia controller. (Screenshot via YouTube.)

The search giant previewed its gaming ambitions with Project Stream, a test that allowed gamers to play a streamed version of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in Chrome web browsers, with the game streamed from a Google data center rather than running on the user’s hardware.

“Internally, we were actually testing our ability to stream high fidelity graphics over a low latency network,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, in his opening remarks at the event this morning. “We learned that we could bring a Triple-A game to any device with a Chrome browser and an Internet connection, using the best of Google to create a powerful game platform.”

Sundar Pichai unveils Google’s plans. (Image via live stream.)

Phil Harrison, the former Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation executive who now leads Google’s gaming initiatives, said the company was able to stream games at 1080p and 60 frames per second in that test.

“We will be handing that extraordinary power of the data center to you, the game developers.”

Previewing the features of the Stadia service, Harrison showed the ability to jump directly into a game from a YouTube trailer, without any download required.

“This new generation of gaming is not a box,” he said. “With Stadia, the data center is your platform. There is no console that limits the developer’s creative ideas, and no console that limits where gamers can play.”

Features include a capability called “Stream Connect,” unifying multiple streams for multiplayer and cooperative gaming. The service will work across PCs, TVs, tablets, smartphones and other devices, including the ability for cross-platform play. Harrison promised “comprehensive parental controls,” as well.

Jade Raymond will head Stadia Games and Entertainment, Google’s new first-party game development studio. (Image via YouTube)

In addition to partnerships with existing game developers, Google announced its own first-party games studio, Stadia Games and Entertainment. It will be led by video game veteran Jade Raymond, founder of Ubisoft Toronto and Motive Studios, a new addition to Google’s executive team. “Stadia will be a driving force defining the future of games and entertainment,” she said.

As the operator of a large-scale cloud platform, Google is in a unique position to launch a streaming service. Kotaku reports, “It's not a new technology, but past stabs at it have fizzled mostly because of latency issues, a problem that Google's decision-makers think they can solve thanks to the data centers they've got all around the world.”

Watch the archived live stream below.  

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