For years, people have debated what device is best for playing games with some very ardent positions forming in the console and PC camps. But today, there are many more ways to this interactive form of entertainment than just those two platforms.
In the 2020s, almost anything digital can be used for gaming, as has been proven by the amusing “Will It Run Doom?” movement that has hacked everything from a digital camera to a pregnancy test to play the popular 1990s first-person shooter.
Of course, those devices are not overly practical for the average player but smartphones, tablets, and virtual reality headsets are and they have all taken big market shares in the gaming market over the last decade or so.
And while it’s getting narrower, there remains a gulf between the games that can be played on consoles and those that are available on mobile devices. So in 2019, Google aimed to change this by launching a service that would make any internet-connected device capable of playing AAA blockbusters by using the power of the cloud.
However, in January 2023, Google is shuttering this project, switching off its gaming servers, and refunding customers who paid for the service. So what does this mean for the future of cloud gaming?
Stadia – The Netflix of Gaming
Stadia was a service that had been rumoured for some time before Google finally launched it in late 2019 so many players already knew what to expect.
The platform allowed gamers to play any title from their library on any device. It didn’t matter whether it was a high-powered gaming PC or a mid-range smartphone from OnePlus or Xiaomi.
All players needed was either an app or a web browser and they’d be able to access their favourite titles.
Of course, this was not the only way players could enjoy games from a web browser. It is a concept that has been around for decades with millions of different options available. For example, New Zealand casino online sites like Mr Bet carry a catalogue of thousands of differently-themed slot, card, and table games that can be accessed through just about any internet-enabled device.
Similarly, Runescape, Geoguesser, Neopets, and Pokémon Showdown also have browser-based versions.
However, the difference between all of these titles and Stadia is that Google’s service moved much of the processing into the cloud rather than having it done in the browser itself. Doing so allowed resource-hungry games like Cyberpunk 2077 to run on an underpowered Windows laptop.
Google is renowned for axing projects that don’t perform well, so it’s not overly surprising it’s canned its cloud gaming service.
Shortly after it launched, players and journalists were taking to the internet to moan about bugs and issues with Stadia. The two biggest complaints were in relation to input lag and graphics quality, both of which were below what you’d expect to see on a locally-run game.
It did (mostly) fix these over time, but much of the damage had already been done by this point and issues still remain.
Even offering a free version didn’t help to entice enough gamers into this cloud-based ecosystem.
The other issue for Google was that its library of titles was slim and it had no exclusives, something that other brands have in spades.
So What Does the Future Look Like for Cloud Gaming?
Microsoft and Sony both have their own cloud gaming services, as do Nvidia and Amazon. In the last of the first two, they offer it as an addition to their broader gaming ecosystems.
For example, Xbox Cloud Gaming, which remains in beta, is available to those who already have a Game Pass subscription so that they can access hundreds of games on the go. Crucially, when they get home, they can fire up their Xbox Series X or S and pick up where they left off.
By remaining in beta, Xbox Cloud Gaming is treated as an unfinished product by its users, who generally see it as an add-on to the much wider Xbox ecosystem.
Therefore, Microsoft has time to refine its platform as the technology matures without having to get it right immediately.
Google is also not simply scrapping its tech. Instead, the company will focus on supporting video game developers in using it to create their own streaming platforms. This shift recognises that Stadia failed by focusing entirely on cloud technology and ignoring the need for quality content.