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Why Google Stadia has the edge over other cloud gaming services

Over the last six months, two other industry giants have announced development on their own cloud gaming services. What makes Stadia so special?

Google announced its new cloud gaming service, Stadia, at GDC earlier this week, to much furore. Among all the frenzied articles about how Stadia will destroy traditional console gaming, it can be hard to remember that Stadia is not the first game streaming platform of its kind. In fact, at GDC 2009, 10 years ago to this date, gaming journalists were similarly amazed by the announcement of OnLive, a cloud gaming platform that promised to be the “future of gaming”.

Evidently, OnLive wasn’t the “console killer” that it was touted as. After a difficult launch, plagued by criticisms of lag, poor accessibility due to ISPs capping internet usage, and unaffordability, OnLive managed to last for around 5 years before the company shut down in 2015. Its remaining assets were sold to Sony, which also bought over OnLive’s competitor Gaikai, and used their cloud streaming technology to develop SharePlay and PlayStation Now.

Though early cloud gaming services like OnLive and Gaikai ultimately failed to thrive, former OnLive CEO Steve Perlman believes that this technology is still the future of gaming. Perlman told Gamecrate in February: “I’m constantly amazed by what companies like Google and Sony are accomplishing with technologies like [Stadia] and PlayStation Now. It’s hard not to feel some disappointment but I’m just glad that cloud gaming didn’t end up as some forgotten concept.”

PlayStation Now is Sony’s foray into cloud gaming, with a subscription service which lets users access PS2, PS3, and PS4 titles.

Far from forgotten, many companies in the tech and gaming industry are now ready to embrace cloud gaming as a new platform. Google’s announcement followed on from 2 industry giants – Microsoft and EA – unveiling plans for their own cloud gaming services: Project xCloud and Project Atlas, respectively.

 In EA’s blog post about Project Atlas, their Chief Technology Officer Ken Moss talks about a service which focuses heavily on game modders and developers. Moss stated: “We’re investing in cloud gaming to enable deeper personalization, and to eventually create a world full of user generated content — blurring the lines between the discrete domains of game engines and game services.”

Microsoft’s announcement post came from a more technical standpoint, detailing how they plan to deal with issues like latency and bitrate. Their core goal seems to be based on enabling gamers to play on a wide variety of devices, with an emphasis on greater accessibility for casual gamers.

Microsoft is working on a special touch screen overlay, allowing mobile gamers to play without using a traditional controller.

The Stadia announcement effectively promised the same thing as both EA and Microsoft, but it also brought something else to the table. Google owns the most popular video streaming website online, and YouTube is the leverage they need over other cloud gaming services.

Stadia’s major pull at the moment is that it gives viewers the ability to interact with their favourite YouTubers. With a feature called Crowd Play, fans can enter into a game that a YouTuber is livestreaming, and play alongside them.

Although subtle, the Stadia announcement included the fact that YouTube creators will be given new methods of monetisation through this feature. This likely means that YouTubers will be able to set a price for viewers to join their game. It also incentivises more content creators and audiences to migrate away from other video streaming platforms such as Twitch.

Stadia’s Crowd Play feature, as shown in the official Stadia presentation at GDC.

At the moment, many viewers of gaming personalities on YouTube are young people, who may not have the hardware or knowledge necessary to play games on their own. Through Stadia, they can click a button on YouTube and simply play a game through their browser or mobile device. For those with shorter attention spans, it is also possible to pick and choose which parts of a game they’d like to play, without slogging through the more tiresome parts. Additionally, there’s the integration of the Google Assistant into Stadia’s controller, meaning casual or novice gamers can easily ask for help with difficult parts in games.

All told, with the backing of YouTube’s massive audience, and the assumption that its service will be affordable, Stadia definitely has the potential to become the cloud gaming service that truly does revolutionise the world of gaming – even if it’s 10 years later than we thought.

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