There has, in the gaming world, been a lot written, tweeted and said about Google’s new online cloud based gaming service Stadia. It has turned out to be pretty much what I expected it to be but that doesn’t stop it also delivering some fresh let downs.
The principle of just using a controller and a “dumb’ screen with a fast internet connection to a service has clearly worked for things like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, we are able to watch UHD content flawlessly (most of the time)
However a game service such as Stadia is a bit more complicated, as unlike a film, a game is rendering content as needed based on input from the users controller, it is not simply a stream of known content that can be cached or buffered. After all in watching a film when you press play, if the film starts 0.5 seconds later to give the buffering a chance to provide smooth images based on network conditions, you just would not notice. In a game you do, so latency and any delays are utterly obvious.
In IoT, especially industrial internet of things we discuss Edge vs Cloud and latency and processing data as close to the source as possible is an obvious solution, rather than round tripping to cloud.
A game is pretty much an ideal case for edge computing, and has been for many years. That does not mean that the edge needs to be isolated, you cache and render locally but may get elements of data remotely, like the postion of other players. Those few streaming coordinates are very different to a full frame 4K image that is rendered remotely, followed by another and another at 60fps.
Hence my experience of Stadia is this…
Glitches in sound, dropped frames intermittent pauses. I have not captured the worst of it as if you capture in game via stadia it captures it at source, and the videos are perfect. So the indicates it is not the end infrastructure for the game but the network between me and it. Google suggests that using the Chromecast box that plugs into the TV you use also use an ethernet cable and plug straight into the router. I do do this with the Xbox One (Due to its wireless interface being so bad) but the PS4, Switch and various iPads, PCs and Macs are all wireless and have no trouble with “networked” games or downloads. That of course is all because the content is local, the rendering is local. My network is a very robust mesh network, ironed out many kinks working from home and being big consumers of digital content over the years. We also have 70Mb broadband.
I wanted the cloud approach to work, in fact we had OnLive on the Cool Stuff Collective back in 2011. It was part of a piece where I descried what cloud computing, 9 years ago. OnLive was trying to get cloud gaming going. In emerging tech we are well used to the ebb and flow of trying and it being too early, waiting then it returns (look at VR and virtual worlds), and eventually it takes but at the moment Stadia doesn’t seem to have it sorted.
It is not just the intermittent breaks in smooth content that are a problem at the moment though. I have a Stadia Pro subscription, one where you apparently get games under an all you can eat subscription. The only trouble is there are 2 games, samurai showdown, a retro beat em up (fast moving so lag matters) and Destiny 2, of which the redeeming feature is that it has cross platform character saves. The rest you buy (and not really very many of those either that I don’t have on other platforms already). None the less I re-bought red dead redemption 2 just to try and support the platform and see what it could do. I have several times been greeted with this experience.
The game thinks it lost the controller, the controller is still able to summon up Stadia content, stope the game etc, but none of the buttons worked.
I also stepped away from RDR 2 having paused it for a relatively short period, just a few minutes whilst I sorted something out and returned to this.
A Stadia message saying I was dumped out of the game, where the mission had not completed, so was not saved. Some RDR 2 missions take a while and with the choppiness and this the level of frustration destroys the experience.
I was also expecting to be able to play on my IoS devices, but I can’t yet. On the PC the system down scales so will not do 4K images (not that it is in real 4K anyway.
Friending people doesn’t work. Purchases of content (should you want to) have to be on a mobile app not in the system, replays and captures are only viewable on mobile. the list goes on.
Microsoft and Amazon are waiting in the wings with their streaming services. For me the Microsoft and my Xbox Game Pass library and purchased library will be a bigger draw, though the network issues will be the same for any provider. Yes OK, 5G might help, but that’s a way off yet in reality running at full pelt. Latency and physics will alway remain an issue (unless we deal with quantum physics that is!)