Google Stadia and Cloud Gaming

With Google Stadia’s release date quickly approaching on November 19, 2019 I wanted to give some of my thoughts on Cloud Gaming and the Google Stadia platform.

Cloud gaming is not a new concept prior to Google’s introduction into the market. There have been a few previous companies that have tried and failed like OnLive in the past. There are companies that offer this service today like Parsec, GeForce Now, and PlayStation Now.

Cloud Gaming

Let’s step back for a moment and talk about what “cloud gaming” really is. Most people are familiar with playing games directly their device of choice, and the game runs on that device’s hardware and thus may be limited by the user’s hardware.

Cloud gaming changes that by running the compute and GPU load of the games on a server hosted by the provider and then streaming the output to your device. This essentially turns your device into a monitor where all it’s doing is displaying what is running on a server somewhere else. Imagine it’s kind of like watching Netflix, only for video games.

For the consumer this means they no longer have to fork out hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars to get good performance and frame rates in games. You can get the same performance on what ever device you choose to stream the game because it’s not actually running on that hardware. Essentially it’s a thin-client / server model. The cloud provider is doing the majority of the processing power.

Problems with Cloud Gaming

Cloud gaming isn’t going anywhere and I imagine that over the next decade there will be a major shift to both cloud gaming and games as a service. However for consumers I don’t necessarily see this as a positive thing.

The problem today with cloud gaming is latency. User experience will be good or bad solely based on their network latency to the cloud gaming provider. When I say latency we’re talking about both display latency and input latency. Display latency will be the visual lag of the video being displayed due to the streaming processing and network latency. Input latency will be caused by having to wait for your commands or key-presses on a controller/keyboard to be sent over the network to the cloud gaming provider, and then have that visual feedback sent back to your display. If either one of these things starts to become too delayed then the end user will interpret that as it being “laggy” or slow.

Imagine in a ideal scenario you are getting 40ms network latency to the cloud gaming provider from your home. That means no matter what, all your inputs and movements and video display will be 40ms behind. That doesn’t sound like a lot but you will notice it in games that are fast paced, especially first person shooter style games. Now imagine that you don’t get 40ms and it’s more like 80ms, or higher. These latency problems will just snowball and result in a horrible gaming experience.

Now consider Google Stadia. On a platform that relies so heavily on speed and low latency Google have opted to use the Google Chromecast Ultra. The device is wireless. So now you’re adding in network packet unreliability and increased latency caused by wireless networks. *Shake my head.* Users will have extremely mixed results over wireless networks. I would highly recommend using a wired network connection.

I will mention that I believe Google is aware of this issue and have recently produced a ethernet port on the power adaptor. These end user experiences (good or bad) will be a direct reflection of the Google Stadia platform even if the issue isn’t on Google’s end. Google is relying on a lot of things beyond their scope of control for their cloud gaming platform to perform optimally.

Power Users and Closing Thoughts

Personally, I will not be using these cloud gaming services. I might dabble a little just to try it out, but by no means will it be a replacement to my gaming PC desktop or a console. At least not yet, maybe in 5-10 years?

I have always enjoyed custom building my own “gaming rigs” that are beefed out and meant to run games at the highest performance. The latency I need to worry about is from my GPU to my monitor where the latency of the pixel response time and refresh rate, and other local hardware bottlenecks. I understand that I am not the target market for cloud gaming.

For me personally, it’s still too early for cloud gaming. However, I think that Google has a good shot at some market share and making the average consumer aware of the concept. Google has the infrastructure, the marketing, and the funding to pull it off.

Whether that converts into a long-term, successful platform that isn’t just shutdown and tossed into the Google Graveyard of failed services after 2 years will be yet to be seen.

Update November 14, 2020:

Well, well ,well. I don’t know what else to say other than I told you so! While the service isn’t quite in the Google Graveyard yet, it obviously did not perform to Google’s expectations (nor the consumers) and even Google appears to be silently backing away from the Stadia service. Weather the Stadia service sticks around long term at this point is yet to be seen.

Karl has been involved in the virtualization, server, web development and web hosting industry for over 15 years. In his current role at a managed service provider, he is focused on cloud-based solutions for enterprise clients. His diverse background of sales, management, and architectural/technical expertise bring a unique perspective to the virtualization practice.