Software:Google Stadia

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Google cloud gaming/streaming service
Stadia
Stadia logo.svg
Stadia Wordmark.svg
Google Stadia Cloud gaming (48605754611).jpg
Mobile device running Mortal Kombat 11 on Stadia with official controller
DeveloperGoogle
TypeCloud gaming service
Launch dateNovember 19, 2019; 20 months ago (2019-11-19)
Operating system(s)Cross-platform
Websitestadia.google.com

Stadia is a cloud gaming service developed and operated by Google. It is advertised to be capable of streaming video games to players up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second with support for high-dynamic-range via the company's numerous data centers. It is accessible through Chromecast Ultra devices, the Google Chrome web browser on personal computers as well as other Chromium-based browsers, the Stadia mobile app on supported Android smartphones,[1] and Chrome OS tablets.[2] There is also an experimental mode with support for all Android devices capable of installing the Stadia mobile app.[3] In December 2020, Google released an iOS browser-based progressive web application for Stadia, enabling gameplay in the Safari browser.[4]

Stadia requires users to purchase games from its store in order to stream them. While the base service is otherwise free, a Pro tier monthly subscription allows users to stream in up to 4K resolution, 5.1 surround sound, and offers a growing collection of free games that the user has access to while they are subscribed. Both tiers allow users to play online multiplayer without any additional costs. Stadia is integrated with YouTube, and its "state share" feature allows players to launch a supported game from a save state shared by another player via permalink. The service supports Google's proprietary Stadia game controller, along with various non-Stadia controllers through USB and Bluetooth connections.[1]

Known in development as Project Stream, the service debuted through a closed beta running Assassin's Creed Odyssey in October 2018. Stadia publicly launched on November 19, 2019, in select countries. On April 8, 2020, Google launched the no-cost base service of Stadia. The service competes with Sony's PlayStation Now, Nvidia's GeForce Now, Amazon's Luna, and Microsoft's Xbox Cloud Gaming. Stadia initially received a mixed reception from reviewers, with most criticism going towards its content library and lack of promised features.

Features

Stadia is a cloud gaming service,[5] and does not require additional computer hardware, only requiring the device to have an Internet connection and Google Chrome support. Stadia works atop YouTube's functionality in streaming media to the user, as game streaming is seen as an extension of watching video game live streams, according to Google's Phil Harrison; the name "Stadia", the Latin plural of "stadium", is meant to reflect that it is a collection of entertainment, which the viewer can choose to sit back and watch, or take an active part in.[6] As Google had built out a large number of data centers across the globe, the company believes that Stadia is in a better position for cloud gaming compared to past endeavors like OnLive, PlayStation Now, and Gaikai, as most players would be geographically close to a data center. Stadia supports the streaming of games in HDR at 60 frames per second with 4K resolution, and anticipates eventually reaching 120 frames per second at 8K resolution.[6] Players can start games without having to download new content to their personal device. Players can opt to record or stream their sessions onto YouTube through Stadia. Viewers of such streams can launch the games directly from the stream with the same save state that they were just watching.[6]

The streaming technology enables new features on Stadia. Stream Connect allows Stadia players, cooperatively playing the same game with friends, to have picture-in-picture inserts on their display of their friends' point-of-view in the game. This feature was first launched with the release of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint.[7] The streaming technology allows for larger number of concurrent players on a game server; for example, servers for Grid are normally limited to 16 players, while the Stadia version allows up to 40.[8]

While Stadia can use any HID-class USB controller, Google developed its own controller which connects via Wi-Fi directly to the Google data center in which the game is running, to reduce input latency.[6] Google is also exploring further ways to reduce latency, using an idea called "negative latency" which involves prediction of user input through various means so that any apparent network lag between controller and game response is minimized.[9] During its GDC 2019 keynote reveal, Google confirmed that the controller would also feature Google Assistant, which will automatically search YouTube for relevant, helpful videos related to the game they are currently playing at the touch of a key.[10]

Stadia offers two tiers of service, a free level (initially at launch known as "Stadia Base" but after April 2020, simply "Stadia") and a monthly subscription Stadia Pro level. The free Stadia level limits streaming to 1080p resolutions. The Pro tier costs approximately US$10 per month, but allows users to access higher streaming rates up to 4K resolution, access a library of free games over time, and get discounts on other games offered for Stadia.[11] Harrison stated they are also looking into offering publisher subscriptions and other models in the future;[12] for example, Ubisoft announced its Uplay Plus subscription service will be available to Stadia users. Since April 2020, new users to Stadia are offered a limited period of free access to Stadia Pro features, and retain any games purchased this period to their account if they fall back to the free Stadia level; initially, new users received two months of Pro access, which was reduced to one month starting on June 3, 2020.[13][14]In march 2021, Google announced that they are adding Touchscreen Controls on Android.[15]

The internet speed requirements for the different types of picture quality from Stadia's service is as follows:[16][17]

Bandwidth required Video quality Audio quality
10 Mbit/s 720p, 60 FPS Stereo
20 Mbit/s 1080p HDR Video, 60 FPS 5.1 Surround
35 Mbit/s 4K HDR Video, 60 FPS 5.1 Surround

Hardware

Upon launch, Stadia's cloud hardware used a custom Intel[18] x86 processor clocked at 2.7 GHz, with AVX2 and 9.5 megabytes of L2+L3 cache.[19] It also uses a custom AMD GPU based on the Vega architecture with HBM2 memory, 56 compute units, and 10.7 teraFLOPS.[19][20] The service also has solid-state drive storage, and 16 GB of RAM (supporting up to 484 GB/s bandwidth) shared between the GPU and the CPU.[19]

Controller

Stadia controller
Google Stadia Controller.jpg
ManufacturerGoogle
TypeVideo game controller
Release dateNovember 19, 2019
Input
  • 2× analog sticks
  • 2× analog triggers (L2, R2)
  • 2× shoulder buttons (L1, R1)
  • 9× digital buttons (Y, B, A, X, Menu, Options, Capture, Google Assistant, Stadia)
  • Digital D-Pad
ConnectivityWi-Fi, USB-C
exploded view of controller

Google developed its own controller for Stadia. It has two thumbsticks, a directional pad, four main face buttons, two sets of shoulder buttons, and five additional controller face buttons. To use the controller, players can either plug it into a compatible device with a USB cable, or connect it over Wi-Fi to a local network for a direct connection to Google's Stadia servers, which reduces input lag. The controller has been available since launch in three color schemes, "Clearly White", "Just Black", and "Wasabi"; the "Founder's Edition" bundle included a limited-edition "Midnight Blue" controller.[11]

Software

Stadia is built on Debian Linux servers and Vulkan is their graphics API.[21][22]

"This [Stadia] starts with our platform foundations of Linux and Vulkan and shows in our selection of GPUs that have open-source drivers and tools. We’re integrating LLVM and DirectX Shader Compiler to ensure you get great features and performance from our compilers and debuggers."[21]
— Dov Zimring, Stadia Developer Platform Lead

A progressive web application-based version of Stadia for iOS devices was announced by Google in November 2020 and released on December 16, 2020. This version runs through Chrome or Safari web browsers as to avoid restrictions Apple had in place for apps that directly stream libraries of games; the browser-based method had been similarly adapted by GeForce Now.[23][24]

At the Consumer Electronic Show 2021, Google announced that several upcoming LG smart televisions will include a Stadia Smart TV app.[25]

History and development

Launch (2018)

Stadia booth at the 2019 Game Developers Conference.

Project Stream was Google's first announced sign of interest in video gaming products. The company had previously been rumored as working on a service called Project Yeti since at least 2016. Google had also hired gaming industry executive Phil Harrison and was seen recruiting developers during industry events in 2018.[26] Project Stream's main differentiator from past services, such as OnLive, GeForce Now, and PlayStation Now, is its ability to run in any desktop Chrome browser, so no additional software needs to be installed.[27] The service uses AMD Radeon graphics hardware.[28] Internally, the service was developed around 2016's Doom to show that the proof-of-concept worked in realistic settings across the public internet.[29]

Google announced the service in October 2018[30] and soon after, opened invitations to beta testers with access to Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Players could apply for access and those who met an Internet speed minimum could run the game in their Chrome browsers.[31] Those who participated received a free copy of the game when the beta expired.[32] Stadia was formally announced during Google's keynote address at the 2019 Game Developers Conference in March 2019.[33]

Development studio expansion (2019–2020)

Alongside Stadia, Google established the Stadia Games and Entertainment division in March 2019, with industry veteran Jade Raymond as its head. This division focused on internal development of games for Stadia in addition to those they have obtained from third parties.[34][35] The first studio was established in Montreal on October 24, 2019.

In December 2019, the Stadia Games and Entertainment division acquired Typhoon Studios to develop additional content for the platform.[36]

A second Stadia studio, located in Playa Vista, Los Angeles, was opened in March 2020, led by former Santa Monica Studio head Shannon Studstill.[37]

Scaling back (2021)

Google shut down Stadia Games and Entertainment on February 1, 2021. The announcement came after decisions were made about Stadia's priorities for game development and delivery. Harrison stated that the decision would focus on making the platform more amenable as a publishing platform for third-party developers, stating "We believe this is the best path to building Stadia into a long-term, sustainable business that helps grow the industry."[38] The shutdown affected about 150 employees, including Raymond who left Google that day.[38] Sean Hollister of The Verge suggested that the shutdown may have been triggered following the release of Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia, which he described as a "make-or-break moment for the service",[39] while Kotaku writers reported that Google's decision to close the studio followed after Microsoft announced their intended acquisition of ZeniMax Media for Xbox Game Studios in September 2020.[40]

Reports from Bloomberg News and Wired, based on information from those that worked on Stadia, said that the concept of game development within Google was an unusual concept in contrast to building out the technology to operate Stadia, and never had the full support of the company. Further, under Harrison's leadership, Google had spent millions of dollars to get major titles on the service like Red Dead Redemption 2 as well as drawing in Jade Raymond to develop exclusive content for Google. Despite the investment at the launch, Stadia had failed to meet target user counts or revenues by significant differences, which contributed to Google's decision to close down the studios.[41][42] Video Games Chronicle also reported that several planned games for the service were cancelled leading up to the closure of the studio. These included a sequel to Typhoon Studios's Journey to the Savage Planet, planned projects led by Hideo Kojima and Yu Suzuki, and a large multiplayer title led by Francois Pelland, a former Assassin's Creed developer, and left in limbo a near-finalized game from Harmonix which Harmonix says may still be released.[43]

With the shutdown, Hollister suggested this may be a change of direction for Stadia into a white-label platform that Google could license out to game publishers for things like instant game demos, in the same manner that Nvidia had done with its GeForce streaming solutions.[39]

In May 2021, at least six lead people for Stadia left Google, including John Justice, the vice-president of Stadia for Google, Sebastien Puel, Stadia's general manager, and Corey May, Stadia's head of creative services and publishing, the latter two joining Raymond at her new studio, further putting the viability of the platform in question.[44] Several of these departures joined Raymond in her new studio, Haven Studios, that she founded after her departure.[45] During the Epic Games v. Apple trial, Epic's CEO Tim Sweeney stated that "My understanding is that after a public launch, Google Stadia has been very significantly scaled back."[46] Google stated in wake of these events that Stadia is "alive and well" with significant plans for expansion in 2021.[47]

Availability and promotions

The "Founder's Edition" and "Premiere Edition" bundles for Stadia both included a controller and a Chromecast Ultra, although the controller colors differed.

Stadia initially launched on November 19, 2019, in 14 countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The "Founder's Edition" bundle, which was available for pre-order for US$129 prior to the service's launch, included: a Chromecast Ultra; a limited-edition "Midnight Blue" Stadia controller; three months of Pro service; an additional three months of Pro service to gift to a friend; a Founder's badge next to their user name; and first access to register a user name.[11][48] After "Founder's Edition" pre-orders sold out, Google announced a "Premiere Edition" bundle for US$129, with a Chromecast Ultra, a "Clearly White" Stadia controller, and a three-month subscription to the Pro tier included.[49] At launch, Stadia was limited to the subscription-only Pro tier.

The service was expanded to several Samsung Galaxy, Razer Phone, and ASUS ROG Phone devices in February 2020,[50] after being only available on Google Pixel devices for months since its launch.[51]

In March 2020, Google sent promotional emails to owners of Chromecast Ultra devices offering three months of Stadia Pro at no cost for redemption.[52] The following month, while many people were quarantining at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Google launched a free version of Stadia, making it available to anyone in eligible countries with a valid Google account. Two-month Pro subscriptions were given at no cost to all new and existing platform users.[53]

Starting in June 2020, Stadia became accessible on OnePlus's 5, 6, and 7 series phones, and access can be enabled on other Android phones and tablets with Android 6 and above as an "experimental" feature. At the same time, touch controls were made available as an alternative to using a supported controller for touchscreen Android devices.[54] That same month, the "Premiere Edition" bundle received a price reduction to US$99.[55]

In November 2020, Google ran two promotions through which they gave away complimentary "Premiere Edition" bundles. The first, which began on November 10, offered bundles at no cost to YouTube Premium subscribers in the US and the UK who had subscribed before November 6. The promotion ended two days later in the US after Google exhausted all available supply.[56] The second promotion coincided with Stadia's first anniversary on November 19, and offered complimentary bundles to users who purchased a copy of Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia.[57] Google ended the promotion early on December 10 in Canada[58] and on December 13 in all other regions[59] after exhausting their supply. In March 2021, Google announced a Stadia promotion in anticipation for the release of Resident Evil Village. The promotion offered a free Stadia Premiere kit after the purchase of either the Standard or Deluxe Editions of the game. All Stadia Pro members were given access to a free edition of Resident Evil 7 Gold Edition. [60]

In December 2020, Stadia expanded to eight new European markets: Austria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland.[61]

Games

Stadia requires users to purchase games to use over the service, though it offers a growing library of free games that can be redeemed by Pro tier subscribers, as well as the first two years of Destiny 2 content for free for those who purchased the Founder's Pack.[11] At the time of the platform's full reveal in June 2019, Google announced that Gylt by Tequila Works and Get Packed by Moonshine Studios would be exclusive to Stadia.[62] The service launched with 22 games, and added 4 more in December 2019.[63][64]

In January 2020, Google announced that it planned to release over 120 games for Stadia during that year, of which 10 were timed-exclusives set to release in the first half of the year.[65] In December 2020, Stadia and Ubisoft accounts could be linked together and users were given a selection 15 of games from the Ubisoft+ subscription service playable via Stadia.[66]

Reception

During its beta, the service received generally positive initial impressions from reviewers, who felt it met and in some instances, exceeded expectations[27][30][31] and could make game streaming appear as a potentially viable alternative to PC gaming.[30][31] Some minor discrepancies and technical issues were nonetheless noted.

Reviewers reported that the streaming service had low latency and felt as if the game was being played locally.[30][31] Despite this, depending on Wi-Fi speeds, the game sometimes compressed its screen resolution or lagged.[31] A test by The Verge found no lag issues over a wired Ethernet connection, and occasional stuttering on a shared Wi-Fi connection.[31] However, even on a wired connection, the stream did not output at 4K resolution and occasionally went fuzzy with compression artifacting. The reviewer reported the best experience on Google's Pixelbook.[31] Polygon found the service's audio compression noticeable.[30] Ars Technica remarked that Project Stream's login sequence was far simpler than that of other services.[27] Digital Foundry performed a hands-on with Assassin's Creed Odyssey on a Pixelbook on the service in Beta, and found that on the testing environment, latency seemed acceptable, but there was a noticeable visual hit. They also remarked that Assassin's Creed Odyssey was not the best example for testing, as it was already a natively laggy game.[67][lower-alpha 1]

Stadia received mixed reviews upon its release according to review aggregator Metacritic.[69] Wired Magazine described the image quality as "drab", but admitted to preferring to play Destiny 2 on a Chromebook instead of a larger gaming laptop.[70] VentureBeat criticized the service's pricing model, comparing it unfavorably to subscription services such as Xbox Game Pass and claiming that Stadia "doesn't matter".[71] Digital Foundry found that the service was not playing all games at 4K resolutions: Red Dead Redemption 2 was found to only run at 1440p, and Destiny 2 ran at only 1080p (albeit at a frame rate higher than that of the console versions).[72] Digital Foundry also discovered that games like Red Dead Redemption 2 also struggled to maintain a consistent 60 frames per second, claiming that their test of the game on Chromecast only outputted a solid 30 FPS, while a test on the Chrome browser was an unstable 60 FPS that dropped frequently.[73] The Guardian gave Stadia three stars out of five, praising the service's technical performance, while criticising its game selection for being too old and only featuring one exclusive.[74] Ars Technica concluded: "Early adopters feel like they're getting a beta product here. Wait until next year to see if Google can work out the kinks and prove the service's longevity."[75] S&P Global Market Intelligence reported that: "Stadia met with tepid enthusiasm from analysts and early adopters who criticized the service's slate of launch titles and lack of promoted features".[76] Dieter Bohn from The Verge has stated that "I have put in enough hours in enough conditions to say that this is a beta product, and Google should have labeled it as such and launched it differently. Because even in the best conditions, this ain’t the best."[77]

Towards the end of January 2020, Stadia users expressed concern about Google's non-communicative stance on Stadia, outside of its monthly free game additions; these users were concerned about planned features that were to be available in the next few months from Google's initial timeline but yet have been discussed further, such as 4K streaming resolution support. A Google community manager had been following these discussions and expressed sympathy that users have been waiting for information, and stated that there is news that they could not yet discuss but will be able to soon.[78][79] Google responded by pointing users to its Stadia community site where it was providing weekly updates on the progress on Stadia's features, and that in terms of future games, they mostly had left it to publishers to announce when these games would be available on Stadia.[80]

Stadia received widespread praise for the performance of Cyberpunk 2077 on its platform. The game experienced a tumultuous launch wherein eighth-generation consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One struggled to run the game without major performance issues,[81] and in some cases, saw a delayed ability to download the game.[82] Players who ran the game through Stadia saw far fewer instances of crashes and an overall smoother experience.[83]

Platform-exclusive features

Feature Description Availability
Crowd Choice Crowd Choice allows streamers to let viewers decide on in-game actions via a poll. Released
Crowd Play Crowd Play is a built-in feature for Stadia that allows players to jump into a multiplayer game with their favorite streamers and YouTubers. Limited Testing
State Share State Share allows players to share a link so that others can experience the game being played at a specific moment, exactly as the players are. Beta
Stream Connect Allows multiplayer games to display the video feed of another player in Picture-in-Picture mode. Released

Explanatory notes

  1. Assassin's Creed Odyssey was originally designed for gameplay at 30 frames per second.[68]

References

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Further reading

External links