Cloud Gaming is an Inevitable Future but is Google Stadia It?
A whole new age or just another fad?
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After much teasing, Google has announced what they consider to be a new era of gaming, Stadia. 'Cloud gaming' is kind of the idea that your entire computer is on the Internet. Think of Google Documents, but instead of just your word files and presentations, your WHOLE PC runs off the cloud. Watching the presentation, it's easy to get excited and there are a lot of enticing promises, but is it real though? Google is no stranger to failed projects (Goodbye Google+), so we'll have to wait and see if it really works as well as it should, but for now let's have a think about Stadia and if it could actually change video games forever.
What Is Cloud Computing & Gaming?
Imagine watching a live stream of a game but you're in control of what's happening in the video. You move your mouse and the mouse moves on the live stream. Press a button on your controller and the action happens in the video you're watching. That's basically cloud gaming. The computer you're controlling is somewhere else in the world, but you use your own stuff at home to control that PC. What happens on the PC is then video live streamed back to you. The idea is that you don't buy a computer, you just buy a screen and pay for an Internet connection so you can access your computer online.
Cloud Gaming Is The Inevitable Future
I've been saying this for years—cloud gaming is guaranteed to become a norm. It could be an actual 'next-gen' thing to happen in gaming, not just a graphics update. There has been talk of a 'post-PC era' for decades, a time when people wouldn't have a proper home computer, and cloud computing is the gateway to that.
Home PCs are the absolute best gaming experience right now but they are always going to be somewhat limited, cumbersome, and expensive. Solving one problem makes another one worse. Gaming laptops aren't cumbersome but they're more expensive; buying a cheaper PC means it's more limited. A home PC can only be so powerful based on current technology. In the future, we could buy a bunch of screens, big and small, and would pay monthly for a 'computing service' like how we pay for our Internet now. The big question is WHEN? Stadia is promising 'this year' (in the West), but they'll have to deliver what no one else has been able to so far. Plus, there's still no way of knowing of Stadia will actually work and be good or if it's just empty promises.
Here's a video I made in 2015 where I talked about 'Next-Gen Gaming'. At 1:48 in the video I mention cloud computing as the actual 'post-PC era':
It's A Brand New Thing... Right?
As with anything 'revolutionary' and 'innovative', it's not actually new. Cloud gaming was attempted almost a decade ago in 2010 with a service called 'OnLive'. More recently, there have been other competing cloud computing services and one I've personally tried is LiquidSky. Cloud gaming isn't new as a concept or as a technology. It's just never been successful on a large scale.
This was an early attempt at cloud gaming but generally had too much lag and the project was mismanaged leading to it eventually shutting down in 2015.
This was a service where you had a whole PC in the cloud. When you launched the software, it actually opened a window on your desktop that showed a Windows 10 system running separately from your own computer. You could install games, download files, and do everything you could do on a normal PC, just that the nearest server to Malaysia was in Hong Kong, so there was too much lag.
Don't We Need Super Fast Internet For This?
NO! Here's the crazy thing about cloud computing and gaming, you only need Internet fast enough to stream a video because that's all your device is doing. It's not actually sending you 'the game'. All the calculations, the graphics, the gameplay—everything is being processed on the cloud and only a video of it all is streamed to you. That means that if you can stream a 1080p video at 60 frames a second (basically a YouTube video), without lag or buffering, that's fast enough. 30-50Mbps would be more than enough speed from your Internet for cloud gaming. So where does the lag problem come from? Things are just far away! Unless you're super close to a data centre, your connection has to travel great distances, which is why even with super fast Internet connections you still have high ping and lag when you play mutiplayer with someone on the other side of the planet.
What Can Cloud Gaming Do That My Home PC Can't?
1. A Cloud PC Can Be Way More Powerful Than a Home PC
You might have a powerful graphics card. You might even have two. It's not possible to have more hardware than a data centre though. Google could string the equivalent of thousands of GPUs together for Stadia and that means games can have more graphics processing than ever before.
2. No Need to Download Games
Since you're streaming a video and not actually playing a game on your own device, you won't have to download the games. Even with fast Internet, downloading a 40GB game with a 10GB patch is going to be annoying and take some time. With cloud gaming you just press play and off you go.
3. Internet is Faster in a Data Centre
One thing I realised when I tried cloud gaming is that data centres have MASSIVE Internet speeds. On my 50Mbps connection I decided to download Overwatch on my cloud PC. To my surprise it was downloading 500 MEGABYTES a SECOND! That's 1GB every 2 seconds and it downloaded the 10+GB game in less than 30 seconds. Cloud computing means you can have faster Internet than what's even available in your country.
4. You Don't Need to Update Your System
Obviously, the home PC isn't going anywhere anytime soon, however, the keeping up with latest hardware to play new games on max settings could come to an end. I've been eyeing those new Nvidia RTX 2080s but totally can't afford them. If I had a cloud gaming account, then it will always play games at max settings since the data centre could handle as much graphics as needed. Also, I tried cloud gaming on my 10-year old laptop. Not only could I play new games on max settings, my old laptop was a 32-bit system running Windows 7, meaning I couldn't install Overwatch on it even if I wanted to try because Overwatch is a 64-bit game. Loading up my cloud PC on the old Laptop though, I couldn't even tell that I was on an old hardware.
It Sounds Good EXCEPT...
These services aren't free. The one's that have existed so far haven't been exorbitantly expensive but they aren't cheap either and Google hasn't revealed pricing options for Stadia yet.
The main problem with cloud gaming is that if you're not near a data centre then it's going to be a bad experience, so Google isn't launching Stadia everywhere at once. To start, it's launching in the US, Canada, and most of Europe, so that means us in SEA will have to wait a while longer along with the rest of the world.
Cloud gaming is amazing but if you're even a little bit far away from the data centre then it's going to be the WORST gaming experience you've ever had. Gamer rage cause by lag is one thing, imagine moving your mouse and it taking half a second for your character on screen to even begin moving! Having tried LiquidSky before from Malaysia with the nearest data centre in Hong Kong, even with the best Internet connection I had 500ms delay from me doing something to it happening on screen. That means half a second, which basically meant every game was unplayable.
I'm more curious than anything. Google will have to provide amazing performance like never seen before and, as I pointed out, this has been tried many times before. Singapore has a Google Data Centre and is a lot closer for the whole of SEA though, so IF Stadia could get the delay to a tenth of what I've seen in the past to below 50ms, then it would make it a great option for gaming and could even become the norm in the future.
And that's a BIG 'IF'...
What do you think of Google Stadia & cloud gaming? Let us know in the comments!
GamerZakh is a Malaysian gaming YouTuber, Twitch streamer, and content creator. He approaches gaming from a nostalgic perspective and always tries to incorporate educational elements into his delivery of entertainment. You can find his YouTube channel here.