Google Stadia changes the Game

19th March 2019 will go down in history as the day Google arrived in the gaming industry. Google held their GDC press conference where they unveiled Stadia. It is their new video game streaming platform. I will try to go over the main points but I urge anyone who has a keen interest in the games industry to go and watch the highlights of the conference on YouTube.

Stadia allows you to play top end video games using any screen, and using any controller, all via a Google Chrome browser. There is no need for a box, you can play everything regardless of the processing power you have available to you. Everything is done in Googles own data centres, and then streamed to your device.

At launch, which is yet to be confirmed exactly but will be 2019, Stadia will be able to stream at 4k, with HDR at 60 fps. If that’s gibberish to you, that is the best picture the current top end TV’s can handle. Google has built the data centres so that they can keep up with technology as it advances, meaning when 8k and  120 fps becomes the accepted level, Stadia will be able to get there with no hassle for any consumers.

All of these stats might not mean much to you, but to put it in terms that make a little more sense, one single instance of Stadia is more powerful than an Xbox One X and a PS4 Pro combined. That is impressive on its own, but Stadia does not just allow you to access one instance at a time. If the game requires it, there will be several processing units dedicated to your game, meaning the processing power is essentially limitless.

Developer Heaven

This news must be absolute heaven for developers, as it now means they no longer have to scale their ideas to the consoles they are being released on. To date this has never been the case, even PC gaming is limited by the most powerful PC’s as they run on one single processing unit. Right now we are pretty much at the limit of what video games can be on console with things like The Last Of Us 2 and Red Dead Redemption 2 the top end of what is achievable on these platforms.

On top of all the power, google announced a slate of tools for devs to utilise Stadia as best they can. I am not versed enough in the developer world to know what the applications of these services will be but by all accounts they seem incredible. It’s made me incredibly excited for where games are heading. Streaming technology allows devs to make games that can allow for 100s of people to play simultaneously. The example they used on stage was taking battle royale games like Fortnite from 100 players up to 1000, which is an insane idea.

Sharing is Caring

On their new controller is a share button, which is nothing particularly new. The special thing Google have is that they own YouTube. The share button now allows you to share your game as it’s being played around the world to anyone and everyone. This could change the way people watch video games, and must be a huge issue for streaming platform Twitch.

You can also share moments in games, and your friends will be able to jump straight in and play that exact game through their own device. It’s hard to make much sense of the amount of applications this technology has and it’s all part of this new platform.

One idea that really showed how innovative Google are being with this was the ability to jump into a game with your favourite youtuber from the channel as you watch them. If that doesn’t make sense, imagine you are watching a youtuber laying Apex Legends, you can click on “Join game” and it will put you in a queue to join into the exact game you are watching. That opens up a whole new world of interaction with content creators on YouTube and other platforms.

The future is here

Stadia is being built to give developers the tools to make anything they want, and let gamers play it however they want. Watching the stream felt odd, and the ramifications of this announcement will be felt around the entire games industry. Stadia Games and Entertainment is their own first party, focussed on making Stadia exclusive games, and that’s another example of how google are approaching this.

Microsoft and Sony will have been watching this conference and from all reports I know of, they will have been a tad worried about the new competitor on the block. Consoles are such a key part of the gaming industry right now, and have been for such a long time. Google today showed us a glimpse at a new world. A world without boxes. There’s no price point, and it requires a good internet connection but they are the only barriers to entry we are yet to find out about. They promised more will be revealed this summer, and I will bring you all the news on the site when it happens.

Stadia launches this year. Over to you Microsoft and Sony. Google has arrived in the games industry.

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This Week In Gaming – 08.03.2019

This week we have Microsoft cutting out their discs, EA announcing no conference during E3,  and the new PS4 firmware update that allows you to play on your mobile. That and all my usual waffle about what I have been playing this week below. 

What I’ve been playing

This week has been a movie week for me, and therefore games have taken a bit of a back seat. I did however manage to finish off Anthem, and get my first win on Apex Legends. Two games I have written a lot about over the last few weeks. Apex continues to be a game I want to play more of, whilst Anthem is very much the opposite.

Anthem sits in a very weird place for me right now. I do like the game, in fact I like every part of the game. When combined though, something just doesn’t feel right. I am left with the opinion Anthem is a really good BioWare, single player game, with the multiplayer looter shooter components strapped onto the game to make it into a live service. It has great characters, but if you’re playing through the game with friends in your party you will miss the majority of the best moments in the game.

Enough about the games I played, and onto the news this week!

Microsoft leaving their Discs out

Brad Sams at Thurrott.com (full story here) has revealed Microsoft’s plans to release a new Xbox one which will be the first of the major consoles to launch without a disc drive. The new all digital Xbox is being released with the aim to lower the barrier to entry for customers into the Xbox ecosystem. This news is the latest in a number of customer friendly stories that have come out around the Xbox system in the last few weeks, and I for one think the signs are positive, as I have mentioned before.

A digital downloads only console is another sign for me that Xbox is keen to really shock the industry with its next platform. If they are planning for Xbox Scarlett to be available as a service, it will of course not have a disk drive. This new level of Xbox could serve as the gateway drug for a lot of people into this new world, a world without having to get up off my butt and find the case for the game I want to play.

rumours suggest the targeted price for the digital Xbox is less than $200 (Post Brexit that’s just a cool £30,000.00) so it seems the idea is to get this xbox in as many homes as possible and get their foot in the door before the next-gen. The question I have is whether or not this move is a little late in the day. By now, if you are a PS4 only owner you are heavily invested in their system, and unlikely to want to change. The low price point may be enough to provoke one or two impulse buys, but I just cannot see this making a dent in Sony’s stranglehold over Xbox when it comes to active consoles on the market.

That thinking does lead me to believe that once again Microsoft are playing the long game, possibly taking a hit financially here, to gain favor with the public and increase their public image with the next console war on the horizon. They do not have an exclusive game to attract fans like Uncharted or Spiderman, but they have a Game Pass which will give Digital only Xbox owners a huge range of games to play from day one. My guess would be each digital console will come with a few months Game Pass included, just to get people’s toes in the water of the Xbox well.

E3 weekend loses another conference

E3 was the major event of the year in the gaming industry up until just a few years ago. It’s one of those events that I have followed and enjoyed all of the news and content that comes out of the show. Over the last few years the event has seen its guest list of companies throwing press conference has steadily shrunk, down to the point where now E3 is just another event, along with the PAX events and even San Diego Comic Con. It is still the biggest event of its kind, but the gulf has largely disappeared.

EA left the official show a few years ago, and launched their EA Play weekend to coincide with the week of E3. Each of these events to date has featured a key press conference, with game announcements, trailers and unveilings presented in the same manner Sony and Microsoft have done for years. They have now decided to pivot to streaming events for different games, a move which I think only EA could pull off.

EA as a publisher boast one of the widest ranges of games on its roster. Alongside franchises like Battlefield, Anthem and Apex Legends, they have the entire flock of EA Sports titles like FIFA and Madden. This huge range means a more focused stream approach should allow viewers to just tune in and watch a good showcase of the games they are most interested in. At present, fans of battlefield have to sit through a whole EA sports section, which could be featuring games they have no interest in.

It opens up the old debate of “Does the industry still need E3?” and for me the answer is a resounding Yes. The show is a focal point for news announcements as well as a place we can see the full diverse range of video games. Here’s hoping nobody else pulls out of the show.

PS4 Firmware Update might hint at their plans

Now this story is almost entirely speculation on my part, but I had a lot of fun last week with the Xbox predictions, so here is my thoughts on the direction Sony might be heading with their next console. The most recent firmware update to the PS4 allowed for access from iOS devices. Now this has been possible for a number of years on Sony’s own mobile devices, but this is the first time we’ve seen PS4 games accessible outside of their own ecosystem as far as I know.

What’s interesting about this to me is the fact that some people at Sony are still working on mobile integration even this close to the announcement of the next console. Could Sony’s next console be able to be played remotely from anywhere? I doubt it, but why on earth are people there still working away on this type of unrequested feature if the technology behind it wasn’t going to aid with their next console. I have never seen much fanfare around playing games via mobile. As our phones become more and more like small PCs, the possibility of me actually enjoying a big blockbuster game via a mobile is increasingly likely.

There are absolutely no details of the PS5, and Sony has no reason to rush it out. I am, as you may have been able to tell, absorbed by the mind games both companies are playing. Right now Xbox has all the work to do, and they seem determined to do it. Sony is in the dangerous position of being on top of the mountain, with everything to lose. The next round of consoles may be the last we ever see, with a digital only world fast approaching, so the winner of this final bout between Xbox and PlayStation may find themselves as the leader of the pack for a long time.

And of course, Nintendo will always Nintendo.

This Week in Gaming – 01.03.2019

This week I go over what games I’ve been playing in the last 7 days, discuss the Pokemon 8th generation announcement, take a quick look at the anthem release and the big story this week for me is Xbox Game Pass potentially showing us a glimpse of the future of Microsoft’s gaming platform. 

What I’ve been playing

This week started with Anthem. It’s a fun enough game, and as my review last monday mentioned, I think it is a good basis for what could become a good, possibly great game. I have to say though, it has not kept me on the hook and wanting more. The last few times I have logged in, I have played Anthem because it’s what i feel i should do, rather than what I necessarily want to play. For me personally, that is a very bad sign.

I did eventually find myself dusting off my PS4 controller, and jumping back onto Fifa 19 for the first time in months. Perhaps it’s my beloved Arsenal’s recent form, but I had a scratch only Pro Clubs could scratch. For those who don’t know, Pro Clubs is the game mode on fifa where you control one player on the pitch, and have to play your position. Ultimate Team is where the money lies, and the career mode is where a lot of hours are clocked up, but for me Pro Clubs is where the best football minds on fifa go to show their skills.

I am not an excellent gamer, I don’t claim to be the best at COD or Fortnite or Apex, I am decent, and can have a great game now and then, but I know my limits. When it comes to Pro Clubs on fifa, I am confident in being one of the best players I know of, and in my position (Box to Box Central midfielder) I am the best I know of. Humble brag. Anyway, that’s what I did this week, played five games with some of my old fifa team mates online, and we won all five. Now enough of my bragging, onto this weeks news.

Pokey Mans

Detective Pikachu’s trailers have made me excited for a Pokemon film, more than I would have ever imagined. The first games Pokemon games I have played a few times through, and I have some great memories with them. Since Gen 1, i have fallen out of the franchise completely, and I could not name more than 3 of the Pokemon from Gen 2 onwards.

This week, Nintendo called a Pokemon Direct, where they unveiled the newest additions to the Pokemon franchise, Pokemon Sword and Shield. In what is apparently a UK inspired setting, we see a more detailed, 3D world, and some new features that I am sure excited the hardcore Pokemon fans. For me though, Pokemon needed to do something drastically different. By now, everyone knows what Pokemon games are, every kid has their pokemon game. Mine was years ago, and when I look at this new game, it seems like things have not changed beyond the graphics. The idea is still seemingly to take one of your 3 starter pokemon, slowly gather more, and then eventually beat the evil corporation and become the best trainer in the region.

I sincerely hope that these games are exactly what their audience want, but to get someone like me to be interested, I needed something closer to Breath of the Wild. I didn’t get into that game because Zelda’s world doesn’t appeal to me, the Pokemon world does. A full RPG game, with the Pokemon creatures out in the wild to be engaged with in a new way would have made me severely regret departing with my Switch. As it is, I am comfortable that I made the right decision for me.

Anthem out of tune?

I have written a lot about Anthem in the last week, and by now I am sure you are sick of reading it, if you are one of the few who reads this regularly. Thanks for the support if so! Anthem’s launch has been rough, and apparently the sales figures haven’t exactly blown anyones minds either. The headlines read particularly gloomy, with a fraction of Mass Effect Andromeda’s sales figures being touted as the number. In reality I think the number is a bit higher, but there is no doubt it has not caught the imagination quite like EA wanted, and perhaps expected it to.

Apex Legends launched just a week before Anthem, and seems to have done exactly what Anthem was expected to do. Apex has become a phenomenon, with people I wouldn’t expect asking me about that new game they’ve seen people on twitter or Facebook talking about. Anthem by comparison, has been a barely visible ripple in the pop culture pool. As I’ve stated a few times, I quite like the game, but something is missing when it comes to that buzz you normally get from a big  game launch. BioWare need to keep the support up, and deliver regular updates straight away to keep people coming back to the game. Something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.

Game Pass, present and future? 

My apologies for the terrible pun sub-title.

This week it was found that Microsoft has begun to push elements of its Xbox infrastructure onto the Windows platform PC users are familiar with. I won’t pretend to understand the details, but there is a tonne of detail in the story linked here in a story on Thurrott.com by Brad Sams. Long story short, Microsoft seem to be getting rid of the differences between how xbox and PC games are run, and bringing them together so that Xbox games could potentially be run on a PC. What does all this potentially mean?

Earlier this month, we saw an announcement about xbox live coming to Nintendo Switch. This led to stories that Microsoft could bring Game Pass, the best deal in the games industry, onto the Nintendo platform. This would mean that Nintendo players could play Xbox games, possibly including exclusive titles like Halo, on their Switch. Now of course we know the Switch doesn’t have the power under the hood to run games requiring the power that a Xbox One can provide, let alone a Xbox One X.

How would they get around this lack of processing power? Potentially with their own games streaming service. I speculated last week that Google may be dipping into the market and being the first games streaming available for the public. Microsoft have already announced they are working on a similar project, and that more will be unveiled in the coming months. Could the Project Scarlett we have been told about be a completely new type of console. Is it possible Xbox will become a service? So on top of being a console you can buy, there is also a dongle you can plug into anything, and an app on your TV or devices, and even an app on Microsoft’s rivals consoles.

PlayStation is so far out in front of Xbox that Microsoft are having to make calls that are risky, perhaps not cost efficient, and they seem to be approaching it with the consumers desires at the forefront of their minds. Is their plan is to make their games, their brand, available anywhere. Imagine if Microsoft announce that they are making the vast library of Xbox games available to everyone, regardless of the console they can afford. All you need is a subscription to Xbox Live, or whatever name they give the service, and you are free to browse the library of games and buy what you want.

It is no secret that the console making companies lose money on their Hardware sales. They make their profits through the cut of the money they take from the sales of every game on the platform. With this kind of service, they will still need to build the hardware, but can save a lot on packaging all the complex components in a nice, living room friendly shell, and shipping them around the world. Instead they can install the centres they mentioned in their last E3 conference around the world, allow anyone to connect to it via the internet with a relatively low-cost subscription, and voila, everyone is buying and playing games on their platform. Cloud processing has been a reality for a while, and google proved with their Assassins Creed test last year that it works. Microsoft have something Google doesn’t the Xbox brand. A well-known name in the world, one that immediately makes anyone think of video games.

Could Xbox be ready to change gaming, and bring it to the entire world? I could be completely wrong, but who knows, maybe Game Pass on switch is just the beginning.

For more speculation, ramblings and opinions on games, movies and TV, follow Screenbunka on Instagram, Facebook and twitter. Thanks for reading!