Last October, Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google tested out Project Stream, a cloud gaming platform for streaming high-end video games in Chrome. The initial test run let gamers play Assassin's Creed Odyssey at 60fps on a 1080p resolution, which was impressive compared to other cloud gaming services.
That's why it wasn't surprising when Google unveiled Stadia, a new cloud gaming platform that will stream video games across a wide variety of devices at the same 60 fps and 1080p resolution as Project Stream. Google plans to eventually bump those specs up to 120 fps with an 8K resolution, which would surpass the capabilities of any modern console.
Check out the latest earnings call transcript for Alphabet.
What we know about Stadia so far
Google wants Stadia to be an all-in-one platform for playing, watching, and developing games when it arrives later this year. It also wants the platform to offer cross-platform play with PCs and other gaming consoles, but it's unclear if console makers like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Sony (NYSE:SNE) will play nice with the new service.
Gamers will be able to use their own game controllers, but Google is also launching a dedicated Stadia controller that links to multiple devices. The controller also sports a dedicated Google Assistant button that accesses hints and walkthrough videos.
Id Software's upcoming shooter Doom Eternal will be launched on Stadia as well as other major consoles and Windows. Google also plans to launch more games from its newly created Stadia Games and Entertainment unit. It's unclear how much Stadia will cost gamers, but comparable services generally cost between $5 to $30 per month.
Creating the "Netflix of Games"
Google's idea of offering a subscription-based "Netflix for games" isn't new.
Sony (NYSE:SNE) entered the market five years ago with PS Now, which lets gamers stream over 750 PS2, PS3, and PS4 games to PS4 consoles and Windows PCs for $20 per month. NVIDIA is testing out a beta version of GeForce Now, which lets PC owners stream cloud-based games. Lesser-known streaming platforms include Jump and Blade's Shadow, which cost $5 and $30 per month, respectively.
Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass isn't a cloud service, but it lets gamers download and install an unlimited number of games for $10 per month. Microsoft is also currently developing a cloud gaming platform called Project xCloud.
All these cloud services operate on the same principle: A game is remotely hosted on a powerful server that streams a live video back to the player, and the player controls the game like a live interactive video. On a high-speed connection, the feedback should feel instantaneous and run as well as a locally installed game.
In this framework, individual hardware setups that require expensive CPUs, GPUs, and RAM no longer matter. Games are also always kept up to date on the server, so gamers won't have to deal with long update downloads before they play. Any device with a decent screen and internet connection will be able to play "triple A" games at high-end settings.
Could Google disrupt the gaming industry?
Google's entrance into the cloud gaming market with Project Stream and Stadia happened quickly, and its specs are arguably more impressive than the specs of better established platforms. PS Now, for example, still streams most of its games at 720p.
Therefore, there's a chance that Google could disrupt the fledgling cloud gaming market (and possibly console and PC gaming) with Stadia -- if it secures more game publishers, prices the service competitively, and smartly markets it to mainstream consumers.
Unfortunately, executing a new product launch and maintaining public interest were never Google's strongest suits. Google+ failed to disrupt the social networking market, YouTube Red remains much smaller than Netflix, and its long list of dead messaging platforms (including Allo and Hangouts) indicate that it's more interested in launching new products than nurturing them.
However, Google seems to have put a lot of thought into Stadia's development, and the platform's in-house cloud servers could give it an advantage against rival platforms like PS Now and GeForce Now. If Stadia succeeds, it could threaten traditional console makers, GPU makers like NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA), and even Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Twitch -- but time will tell if its grand plans pan out.