2019 in gaming doesn’t need a lot of discussing because on most fronts not a lot happened. This was a year of incremental advance. Bigger, better games. Faster CPUs. More features and speed for GPUs. Better HMDs.
However, there was one thing that was truly revolutionary. The Google Stadia launch. Cloud gaming had been done before. But these efforts have been nowhere near the scale or executed in the advanced way Google is doing it. Will it be a good business? Time will tell. One market research analyst has already stated that Stadia was dead on arrival.
I don’t buy that and think it will persist and possibly flourish. One reason being is that it synergizes with other things that Google does. Remote GPU computing has many applications. YouTube is part of the deal. Google can’t afford to let Apple, Amazon, or Samsung dominate the TV OS market. Another reason is that Stadia likely is not very expensive for Google and has a low break-even per user. They certainly didn’t spend a lot on marketing.
There has been nothing in the past ten years that has the potential to change the way people access video games as much as cloud gaming.
So the remainder of this article will be an evaluation of our experience with Stadia. We placed an order for the Premiere Edition bundle which comes with the controller, a Chromecast Ultra, and three months of Stadia Pro. Stadia Pro gives you access to some free games and 4K HDR functionality. It runs $10 a month after the promotion ends. The bundle was around $130. A Chromecast Ultra itself costs about $70 and is an extremely useful portable device for streaming content to large displays, which gives the deal a nice sweetener perhaps comparable to the DVD functionally in Sony PlayStation history.
The initial setup was pretty easy. I placed it upstairs in my loft home/office in the bedroom. There is no Ethernet connection up there and this was purposeful. I wanted to evaluate if the service is viable over 5G Wi-Fi. The answer to that is dependent on many things. Connection latency to Stadia server, distance to router if using Wi-Fi, and the game type. Obviously one of the most important is the base latency from the servers to the router. Depending on your specific router, 5G wireless introduces about 5 to 10 ms of latency over a wired Ethernet connection. 2G can add up to 60 ms. We found a nice test conducted by Parsec Gaming to illustrate this phenomenon.
|Router latency test. (Source: Parsec Gaming)|
The first game I tried was Destiny 2. This is the most demanding type of game for cloud gaming because it’s a multiplayer twitch shooter. My sensitivity to latency, trying not to sound arrogant, is higher than most humans. When I played the shooter circuits in the Quake era, I would consistently rank at or near the top of the leaderboard. I was the master of the railgun; the most difficult weapon because it has no shot spread or splash damage. When you are moving through low gravity space with six degrees of freedom and aiming at another player also moving through space that way, triangulating and timing a rail gunshot is the ultimate display of precision and twitch reflexes. I must admit, I did feel latency with Stadia in Wi-Fi mode (with the router downstairs) in this game. However, I am pretty sure that shaving about 7 ms off and I would not feel it. I think many people wouldn’t feel the latency over Wi-Fi but the lesson here is that hooking the Chromecast Ultra to an Ethernet cable is probably a good idea for twitch shooter fans.
After testing Destiny 2, I bought a game that I have actually been wanting to play. Assassins Creed Odyssey. Ironically, I had already bought it for PC, but unbelievably even though I downloaded it from Uplay, the developers' own platform, there was a fatal mouse glitch they could not solve that prevented me from getting past the main menu. UbiSoft refunded my purchase after considerable tech support.
This game’s genre is known by some as “Action Adventure.” Tomb Raider is another famous title from this genre. And so far it’s been almost perfect in performance. No worse than the glitches and crashes I have had on PC or console.
Conclusion: 2019 in video games can be summed up in one word: Stadia.