The interesting possibilities of Google Stadia

The interesting possibilities of Google Stadia

Stadia disclosure at PAX Dev:

Google has released the first round of game announcements for Stadia. But this isn’t your father’s Steam store.

“It was important for us with Stadia that we moved away from the Wild West that exists in some storefronts today,” Bautista said, speaking at PAX Dev. “Just because a studio has a game idea doesn’t mean we’re going to allow them to publish that game on our platform. Just because a developer or publisher releases a game that was a success, we certainly aren’t going to allow ten, 20, 50 fast follows to come after that.”

Google is hand curating their game list. Which is not totally surprising since this is new technology that has been tried and failed before. They require devs to fill out a form – and told them to do so carefully and thoughtfully. It will be reviewed and if accepted, you’ll get an email to submit even more material about your company and pitch. If you pass that stage, Stadia reviewers will then determine which projects to prioritize. If selected after that, you’ll be invited to discussions of a tailored sponsorship package. So, quite a process.

It was mentioned that projects will be evaluated especially on their viability for the Stadia platform. Projects that have specific functionality that is either unique to or shines on Google Stadia will probably be prioritized for partnerships. Example: in Orcs Must Die 3, they have a game mode that allows for orc hordes in numbers not possible on a local system, but easily handled in a cloud environment with massive parallel compute.

Nodes and instances

You can develop directly in the cloud itself or you can use one of Google’s “nodes.” There are two kinds of nodes: server development nodes, which are very large physical devkits that go into a server room at your studio and have four different Stadia instances on them; or desktop development nodes, which have a single instance.

With the near complete takeover of engines like Unity for development, (engines that increasingly have cloud compiling and other cloud services for game development) the creation of a complete cloud-based development environment could be foretelling the next big transformation in game development.

In fact, Google urged applications to consider the unique capabilities offered by running on a cloud-based platform – and put them into your overall game design. Image horde modes on the order of hundreds of thousands of animated characters. Something impossible on a single platform, but easily done on a massively parallel environment like the cloud. The ideas and new gameplay modes that might be generated are really interesting.

New features

Google Stadia will have other features that developers could take advantage of in unique ways. One that’s been shown before is Stream Connect, which shows multiple viewpoints on a player’s screen at once and is ideal for strategic play.

Another is State Share, a function that allows someone to compile game metadata into a shareable link, that can then be shared to others. For example, you can take a capture of a character wearing specific armor, with a specific weapon, at a certain level, and then send that state out via a YouTube stream, text, or email. Anyone who clicks on it can then experience the game in that state, which can be used to share a game with a friend or as a promotional tool.

Crowdplay, a feature that was teased in the initial Stadia reveal at GDC. It allows a livestreamer to play a game and viewers can queue up to play with or against them, jump in, and join the game instantly. 

Unanswered questions

The biggest selling point of creating a game for Stadia, or other streaming service, is that it has instantly been ported to any platform that supports Stadia. Consoles, PCs, mobile devices, etc. Anything that accepts input and is powerful enough for low-latency video streaming.

However, as has been discovered before, interface/controls are 70% of a game’s experience. Accounting for countless different display form factors and input schemes made game development extremely painful and error prone on early Android devices. A typing tutor game makes sense on a PC with a keyboard, but would probably be a terrible idea on a phone.

There is also the elephant in the room – latency. The United States is a huge marketplace, and internet latency and bandwidth can be radically different from place to place. Even in fairly ideal situations, latency on GoLive was deemed no substitute for local gaming experience. However, turned based games like Civilization and other non-twitch reaction time games (Civs, etc) should work just fine.

I think there’s some really interesting work going on and am excited watching the development of these ideas. I have doubts about latency issues, actual portability of games to different devices, and the costs for the platform/subscriptions; but the ideas of developing in the cloud and new game modes based on massively available compute are really compelling.

Time will tell which pan out.

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