Google debuted a new video game streaming platform called Stadia on Tuesday that lets you play games entirely online rather than on a traditional console or desktop PC. The tech giant also unveiled a new controller, called the Stadia Controller, with buttons dedicated to sharing gameplay clips directly to YouTube and activating voice control through Google Assistant.
Google unveiled the gaming system during a keynote at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, and it’s targeting gaming YouTubers. The company said during the talk that people watched over 50 billion hours of gaming content on YouTube in 2018.
Stadia’s online-only distinction is how Google hopes to stand out in a competitive space dominated by Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, Nintendo, and Steam. While Android is one of the biggest gaming platforms in the world (Candy Crush Saga and Pokemon Go are among the Play Store’s top-five grossing apps), the operating system is limited to mobile devices and not designed for AAA games, a classification designating highly produced games. Stadia's YouTube integration could also help Google draw more people away from YouTube's biggest live streaming video competitor, Amazon-owned Twitch, which hosts more than 15 million unique daily visitors.
Because Stadia games are hosted in the cloud, players don’t need a console or gaming computers to start playing. The service works over Wi-Fi, and can stream games in 4k at 60 frames per second with surround sound over a standard 25 mbps internet connection. Additionally, players don’t need to download games before playing them. They’ll be able to play instantly through the Chrome browser on a computer, tablet, or phone, as well as Chromecast-enabled TVs, and they’ll be able to switch seamlessly between the devices.
Google’s Stadia is heavily integrated into its parent company Alphabet’s video platform, YouTube. After watching a trailer for a new game, players can press a “Play Now” button at the end of the video and get instant access to the game. A feature called “Crowd Play” allows players to join YouTubers and start playing with them, as they’re streaming.
Google said that its new Wi-Fi-enabled controller, which connects to the cloud rather than the device you’re playing on, will ensure “the best possible gaming performance.” However, third-party controllers, mice, and keyboards will also work with Stadia games.
The new hardware looks like a standard gaming controller, save for two buttons: one for saving and sharing gameplay at 4k resolution to YouTube, and another to activate Google Assistant. In a demo onstage, the company showed how a player, stuck at a certain level, could press the Google Assistant button and say “How do I beat this tomb?” to prompt the assistant to serve the top YouTube result for videos showing how to beat the level.
“We want to reduce the friction between getting excited about a game, to playing a game,” said Phil Harrison, vice president of Google Stadia, during Tuesday’s presentation. One way to do that, Harrison said, is to converge the worlds of watching and playing games, and allowing those games to be amplified by YouTube creators, who attract “hundreds of millions” of people who watch video game streams on YouTube every day.
The service will initially launch in the US, Canada, UK, and most of Europe later this year. Google said it will offer an update on the platform this summer. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Doom Eternal will be some of the first game titles on the service.