The problem with a gaming platform that relies entirely on the Internet is that it is based on the Internet. Stadia, Google's new streaming game platform, will require users to have a robust Internet connection to run, this is a big problem. "That's what has affected streaming since the beginning," said Pat Moorhead, senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. A game streaming service simply can not work if there is a delay. And in America, there is a lot of delay.
Sitting in the room for the announcement in San Francisco, a few ranks behind big names in the game like Yves Guillemot of Ubisoft and Lisa Su of AMD, I found myself struggling to connect to Internet in order to report on Stadia. There were hundreds of people crammed into the room, and the GDC wifi had slowed down. Even when I went on my wireless access point and plugged directly into the computer, I struggled to get a download speed of 1 Mbps. We were here at one of the most connected conferences in one of the most connected cities and I could not even send a Slack message. Forget the streaming of a game like Google has done on stage.
My colleagues in New York have improved a bit. Admittedly, they had a download speed of 70 Mbps, but Google was not able to broadcast this damn announcement. From time to time he would gasp and stammer, as streams often do. This was an announcement on the quality of Google's streaming, which was failing.
Google and GDC had an Internet connectivity problem. The United States has an even bigger one. In its latest report on the state of the internet, Akamai, released in 2017, indicated that only one in five American households could reach a download speed of 25 Mbps. The average Internet speed of the American Internet is 18.7 Mbps. "25 Mbps is higher than the average household," said Nelson Rodriguez of Akamai.
This speed of 25 Mbps is also what Google told Gizmodo, which expects Stadia to need quality 4K and 60fps games. This means that only one in five households will get the best picture of Stadia. Google may have mocked the idea of waiting for the games to be downloaded to play in yesterday's speech, but it seems to have forgotten that the advantage of a locally stored game is that it works, regardless the shift.
And then there is the problem of multiplayer. Games like Apex Legends or Fortnite, or even Rocket League are very popular but already often victims of internet less than stellar. Right now, a blip on the Internet is the difference between the life and death of a 13-year-old across the country. Google needs 25 Mbps to allow you to play a single-player game like Assassin's Creed Odyssey. The additional data required for a multiplayer game could easily saturate less robust Internet connections.
And what if these Internet connections are saturated and someone has a speed below 25 Mbps? "If you have less bandwidth, we will give you a lower resolution, "said Phil Harrison of Google Stadia at our sister site, Kotaku. Stadia has been stuck since the beginning for four out of five US households.
But Rodriguez and Moorhead were optimistic that Google could pull a rabbit out of his hat. No, the company will not suddenly provide cheap, high-quality Internet to most of the United States (it can not even do it for the few cities in which it launched Google Fiber). Instead, both highlight Google's ability to broadcast a lot of videos on YouTube. If anyone manages to solve the problem of streaming, it's the company that has made YouTube a giant of streaming video.
"The amount of bandwidth that they could save with VP9 over MP4 was simply huge," said Moorhead. VP9 is the codec developed by Google for YouTube, and Moorhead is planning to develop something of help to help Stadia run. After all, streaming a game basically consists of watching a live video so quickly that it can capture all your interactions in real time. If Google can do it for YouTube, it may not be a giant step to think that it could succeed for video games.
However, Google's reaction to bandwidth issues suggests that the company is not yet at this stage. Instead, it provides a service roughly equivalent to Nvidia's GeForce Now, which has been in beta since 2015, and caused me problems in my hotel even as I was trying to write this article. The streaming game in its current state is only that. Internet is just not ready.
Internet connectivity as a whole is extremely inconsistent and unreliable. To date, Google's response to this problem has been terribly disappointing. Moorhead and Rodriguez cite something worrisome for Stadia. You can not advertise a streaming service and do not mention bandwidth requirements, except for e-mail or podcast pursuits.
This is a problem that will not be easily solved with an algorithm or AI (although they can both help solve the problem), and this gives Stadia a terribly unattractive appearance according to rumors that Microsoft and Sony would offer new generation consoles. Why should I drop money to play games on Stadia, while I can get a console that will stream my games in cases where I have a very good internet, but also lets download the most greedy bandwidth when I do not do it?