Shubham AgarwalMar 20, 2019 17:50:55 IST
Yesterday, at the Games Developers Conference, Google announced its ambitious new cloud gaming platform. Called Stadia -- which is plural for stadiums -- the service turns the Chrome browser you’re familiar with into a powerful video-game platform that doesn’t need beefed-up PC hardware or consoles, or “boxes”, as Google likes to call them.
Google Stadia achieves this by adopting cloud gaming, a concept which fundamentally reengineers how video games work today. There’s no installation process, nor must wait for games to load. Google’s AMD servers act as its backbone and take care of all the processing.
So, you’re essentially streaming games as you would a YouTube video, and controlling them with a dedicated Stadia controller, which itself connects over Wi-Fi directly with Google’s servers. Since Google Stadia lives in the cloud, it’s not restricted to just one device either. You can render it on your phone, computer, or even on your television through Google Chromecast.
Google’s ultimate objective is to “combine the world of people who play games and people who watch games into one global community.” And to do that, it’s putting YouTube in every corner of the platform.
Stadia is a streamer-first platform
Stadia’s engineering feats aren’t its only highlights. It’s the YouTube integration that Google says will revolutionize the games of the future. Google Stadia is a streamer-first platform, which means the company has integrated a host of features to augment your social experience.
For instance, there’s a feature called Crowd Play which surfaces in a YouTuber’s live stream chat. It allows you to simply hit a button and enter the same lobby as the YouTuber you’re watching. What’s more, a “Play Now” button can be integrated to appear at the end of gaming videos letting viewers instantly jump into the game without having to go through the setup process.
Another exciting bit Google is promising is the ability to ask the Assistant to pull up walkthroughs if you’re stuck at a particular level. Say while playing Tomb Raider, you’re unable to figure out a challenge. You can easily ask Assistant questions like “How do I beat this tomb” and it will automatically show you the relevant tutorial uploaded by someone else on YouTube.
YouTube first needs to get its house in order
All this certainly sounds like the set of right ingredients for a cloud platform but there’s a critical looming concern Google failed to address in its presentation. While YouTube might seem like the pièce de résistance of Stadia, it could end up severely crippling its success.
As YouTube continues to soar across the globe, both the powers that be and the creators have suffered the brunt of the traffic spurt. The video-streaming service has been hit by a vast range of controversial predicaments which, despite new measures, have yet to be addressed.
Oversights in moderating the platform’s growing community have enabled pedophiles to thrive under harmless videos of children. Its recommendation engine is known for leading viewers down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, hate speech, and more. YouTube’s dedicated app for kids has found to be showing clips that gave instructions on how to commit suicide. Live chats on YouTube are often infused with bias and abuse since, in most scenarios, there’s no one moderating them. Imagine being in the same lobby as some of these bad actors.
Baking a video game service into YouTube, which will be most likely dominated by a young audience starstruck by their favourite celebrity streamers, amidst these issues doesn’t seem like the right way forward yet.
Google did briefly touch on one of these matters in an interview with Eurogamer. Phil Harrison, who is one of the executives spearheading the Stadia project, said “We have very robust approaches to community moderation. YouTube has made some tremendous investments in that area which we will be partnering on and then at the more household level, you can be assured we will have will be best-in-class parental controls and digital gamer wellbeing controls that will allow parents to manage what their kids play, who they play with and when they play.”
YouTube has also proved catastrophic for game streamers. Google’s hands-off approach to its copyrights policies, which depends entirely on automated algorithms to monitor content, has time and again been called out for inaccurate strikes.
Last month, YouTube demonetized a video published by one of the most renowned streamers, Ninja, for a game that doesn’t show any blood because it was supposedly too bloody. While Ninja’s case was resolved in mere hours, such events could end up taking a significant toll on smaller channels.
YouTube’s recommendation frameworks have also been troubling for gamers who don’t necessarily upload daily or stream the most trending games. That might not seem like a flaw, but it does pull back gamers that play in other genres. YouTube’s perennial rival, Twitch, on the other hand, is known to promote a wide gamut of genres and has a better set of guidelines as well as incentives in place for gamers.
If successful, Google Stadia might also be forming a monopoly for pushing Google’s services such as its voice assistant and streaming platform. Gamers today tend to post across multiple services and Stadia won’t let them do that.
Despite these hurdles, though, Google Stadia offers a bold glimpse into what’s next for gaming. It lets anyone enjoy all the modern, enticing gaming elements with very little of the friction that comes with traditional systems. But at the same time, Google Stadia is betting a lot on the rising streaming culture, and while that could pay off eventually, it won’t be without its fair share of setbacks. Setbacks which could put Google in a tough spot if the company doesn’t take concrete steps to address the concerns plaguing the platform.
There are a myriad of other questions Google has, for now, left unanswered. We don’t know how games on Stadia will be distributed, whether it will act as a subscription service like Netflix, how much it will cost, and more. We should be learning more about the platform later this year at the company’s annual developer conference which is scheduled to kick off on the 7th of May.
The author is a freelance technology journalist from Ahmedabad. When he's not writing on whatever's trending in the world of technology, you will find him either exploring a new city with his camera or playing the latest game on a PlayStation. He tweets from @phonesoldier.
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