On Tuesday, March 19th, Google unveiled its “secret” project to enter the gaming space with Google Stradia; a streaming service that uses databases as the platform for high-end gaming experiences, that are then streamed to the player on their screen of choice (phone, laptop, TV, etc.), alongside a handful of neat features like sharing save states, an attempt to bring back split screen co-op, etc. Overall, the general take away from the keynote was “excited terror”; excited because this is an exciting proposition and, if true, could not only change how we play games, but also how they are designed, created, sold, and marketed; terrifying because this is Google, a company that already has a massive amount of power, wealth, and data, which would dramatically increase if Stradia is to be a success. Most of the reaction to Google’s presentation from press and public alike, has been centered around the discussion of whether Stradia can deliver a latency-free experience and what the actual business model is, but I was hit by a few different concerns that did not see discussed in public, so I wanted to share some food for thought; this is not a cynical take on Google’s platform or fanboyisms in order to defend another brand’s platform, rather it’s what I want to have clarified before I become seriously interested in Stradia.
The first big talking point is how much internet will it require to run a game; from what I’ve heard from the people who signed up for Google’s test, which ran Assassin’s Creed on most internet connections in various locations, having a mediocre internet speed is not going to significantly affect your ability to play games or Google’s ability to stream them to you—but, my concern is how that affects other devices that are connected to the same internet spot. For example, will using Google Stradia significantly decrease the quality of a Netflix stream and vice versa, or can a household with an average internet connection speed be able to run both? This especially important to me (as I do not live alone), but also to most people who also do not live alone; regardless of bandwidth limitations, in a modern household there’s bound to be more than one person that requires a good streaming/downloading speed, and becoming an annoyance to other people in the house who are trying to use the internet (or rather being hindered by them) is too common of a circumstance to make Stradia worthwhile.
Following up on that point, one of my biggest question marks is customization; can I decrease the quality of the game’s graphics/performance, in order to get a more stable stream, or a cost-effective one? Maybe someone at home is trying to download something, or I’m at a public place with shitty internet speed or a lousy connection, and I don’t care about the graphical fidelity of a specific game and wish to decrease the overall visual quality in order to get a stable frame rate or less latency—can I do that, or am I bound to 4k resolution? How about customizing what the stream IS? Again, maybe I’m at a public place and don’t have headphones on, so I won’t be having the sound on—would I be able to just choose not to stream the sound and have less internet usage, or will I stream the sound and then silence my phone? These are not just performance considerations or thinking about other people on the same internet connection, these are also economic considerations; although I don’t use public transport often, or require gaming options on the go, internet data plans are still very expensive and if I do decide to use Stradia on the go, it would mean a hefty internet charge at the end of the month and having ways to reduce that would be, at the very least, easing my bill anxieties!
Then, there’s the elephant in the room: Games. I love my Nintendo Switch and the gimmicks the console has, but they would mean absolutely nothing if the platform had no games of interest or games that did not take advantage of the Switch’s unique attributes; that means exclusive games that use the system’s features to their fullest (whether it’s the brilliance of BOTW or Odyssey, Snippeclips smart use of joy cons, or Splatoon’s use of the gyroscope functionality), good ports of other games that fit the design of the platform, and good support from 2nd and 3rd party software. While Google’s keynote did a great job at selling developers (and the public) on how their offering CAN be used, there’s no denying that we were not shown how it HAS been used (besides tech demos which do show promise).
Which brings me to my last point: If I don’t care about the mobility that Stradia offers and already have a console (or a strong PC), why should I choose Stradia? If I don’t care about the graphical possibilities of having an extremely strong platform, or I have a notoriously unreliable ISP, is there a reason to choose Stradia over the competition? Granted, we don’t know the costs and some of the features/possibilities that Stradia offers are beyond exciting, but as someone who never really cared about graphical fidelity or gaming on the go, Stradia (at the moment) sounds like too much of a hassle for my specific set up; I don’t have the best internet connection, I don’t care about playing Assassin’s Creed on my phone while waiting at the doctor, but I do care about getting the latest experiences and having them work as intended—on that front, I don’t doubt that with time Stradia is going to offer some revolutionary experiences, but they have not convinced me (yet), that Stradia is the place (or webpage) that can deliver what I want, when I want it, without having to go through several bumps or becoming a nascence on others, to get it.
As a happy coincidence, Nintendo released a video highlighting their upcoming “Nindies” schedule for Spring 2019, and I got to enjoy that as well as the keynote before writing this, and I found my reaction to be a great summary for my feelings on Stradia: While watching Google’s keynote I was silent; I was stunned, scared, optimistic, and blown away at the same time, but I never felt like I was anticipating the release of Stradia—I just wanted more information. While watching the Nindies showcase, I laughed and audibly gasped at some announcements; I can’t wait for Cadence of Hyrule, I already bought Nuclear Throne which I am thoroughly enjoying and can’t wait for Vlambeer Arcade and UltraBugs. Most of the Nindies shown seem interesting and exciting, which is why I’m reserving judgement on Stradia; they were selling their platform to developers, not me. Presumably, they will attempt to sell their offering to me in E3 (or on their own turf in the summer), and hopefully they will show off some games, provide answers to my concerns, or disclose the “thing” that will click with me and then I will go “I’m getting a Stradia!” But for now, I’ll go and play some more of Nuclear Throne on the Switch…