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Why Google's streaming game service is a huge deal

Google's stadia streaming system
Illustration: Axios Visuals

If you aren’t a gamer it's easy to miss why Google’s new Stadia streaming game service is such a big deal.

Why it matters: For gamers, Stadia offers the potential to make several long-held dreams a reality, but Stadia's innovations are about more than just the future of gaming. If Google can stream the most demanding applications to a TV with a Chromecast streaming media stick, it really can turn any screen into a powerful computer.

  • Players can compete across all manner of devices, including phones, TVs, tablets and computers, and a game they pause on one device can resume on another.
  • Gamers can stream their play directly to YouTube at the press of a button.
  • They can also share a game's state at any point for others to pick up right where they left off, opening up new kinds of challenges for friends and fans.

Details:

  • Beginning later this year, Stadia will allow consumers to stream games to a range of devices at, Google promises, up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second — thanks, in part, to custom graphics processors from AMD running on its cloud servers.
  • Stadia can work with existing game controllers, but Google has its own Stadia controller with built-in buttons for sending game play to YouTube and summoning in-game help via Google Assistant.

The big picture: Google isn't alone in seeing the potential of cloud-based gaming. Microsoft and Amazon, both of which have big assets in gaming and significant cloud operations, are also said to be interested.

Yes, but: Google left some big questions unanswered.

  • Business: Google isn't saying how much the service will cost and how it will split revenue with game developers.
  • Device support: It's not clear exactly which devices will be supported and when. Google made specific references to TVs via Chromecast, Chromebooks, computers running the Chrome browser, and Pixel phones and tablets. But it also said it wants to expand support further over time.
  • Performance: Google talked about resolution and frame rates, but what it can provide under different conditions is unclear. Plus, there are concerns that even if Google gets everything worked out on its end, the service could be tough going for anyone who lacks the fastest of network connections.

Our thought bubble: Google has long been building an "everything computer" in its cloud — one big machine that already handles most of the world's search, much of the world's video, a ton of advertising, a huge volume of email, and so on.

  • Gaming is just the sort of hardware-intensive, boundary-pushing activity that, you'd think, would be least suited for the Google machine to handle.
  • By saying that its giant cloud brain is now ready to meet your split-second gaming needs, too, Google is saying that there's practically nothing it can't do.

Go deeper: The video game subscription wars are on