Stadia (known in development as Project Stream) is a cloud gaming service currently in development at Google. Since the games are hosted on Google’s servers, only the visual feedback from the games are streamed to the player’s computer, via Google Chrome. Stadia is set to launch in November 2019 for those who purchased the Founder’s Edition, and 2020 for everyone else. Stadia is integrated with YouTube.
Project Stream was Google’s first announced sign of interest in video gaming products. The company had previously been rumoured 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. 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 need to be installed. The service uses AMD Radeon graphics hardware.
Google announced the service in October 2018 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. Those who participated received a free copy of the game when the beta expired. Stadia was formally announced during Google’s keynote address at the 2019 Game Developers Conference in March 2019. To support Stadia, Google also announced the formation of Stadia Games and Entertainment, with Jade Raymond as its lead. Besides developing their own games, Stadia Games and Entertainment will help support the transition of third-party titles to the Stadia service.
Stadia will launch in November 2019 in fourteen countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States, and at that time, limited to the Pro tier users. By 2020, Google plans to expand Stadia to more countries and bring the free Base service online.
Stadia will require users to purchase games to use over the service, though it does also plan to offer a library of free games over time for Pro tier subscribers, as well as offering the first two years of Destiny 2 content for free for those that purchased the Founder’s Pack. At the time of the platforms full reveal in June 2019, Google announced Gylt by Tequila Works and Get Packed by Moonshine Studios would be exclusive to Stadia.
During its beta, the service received positive initial impressions from reviewers, who felt it exceeded expectations and made game streaming appear as a viable alternative to PC gaming, however 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. Despite this, depending on Wi-Fi speeds, the game sometimes compressed its screen resolution or lagged. A test by The Verge found no lag issues over a wired ethernet connection, and occasional stuttering on a shared Wi-Fi connection.
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 Chromebook Pixel. Polygon found the service’s audio compression noticeable. Ars Technica remarked that Project Stream’s login sequence was far simpler than that of other services. 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.
Hardware & Software
Google Stadia is built on Linux servers and Vulkan is their graphics API.
“This [Google 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.”
— Dov Zimring, Stadia Developer Platform Lead
Upon launch, Stadia’s cloud hardware will initially use a custom Intel x86 processor clocked at 2.7 GHz, with AVX2 and 9.5 megabytes of L2+L3 cache. It will also use a custom AMD GPU with HBM2 memory, 56 compute units, and 10.7 teraFLOPS. The service will also have solid-state drive storage, and 16GB of RAM (supporting up to 484GB/s bandwidth) shared between the GPU and the CPU.
Google has developed its own controller for Stadia which is priced at US$69 at launch. Like other console controllers, it includes two thumbsticks, a directional pad, four main face buttons, two sets of shoulder buttons, and five additional controller face buttons. The controller has the capability of connection over a wireless network, rather than through the device that the user is playing on, as to reduce the latency of controller communication with the Stadia services. At launch the controller will come in four color variants.
Stadia will be initially launched in November 2019 with a Founder’s Pack, which includes a Chromecast Ultra, a Stadia controller, three months of Pro service, and an additional three months of pro service to gift to a friend. This will be sold at an MSRP of US$129.
Stadia will require at least 10 Mbit/s for 720p 60 FPS Stereo, 20 Mbit/s for 1080p HDR Video 60 FPS 5.1 Surround, and 35 Mbit/s for 4K HDR Video 60 FPS 5.1 Surround.