Google’s new video game platform, Stadia, is completely digital and requires a constant, reliable internet connection to function. One of the issues people immediately bring up with streaming technology is latency—or lag. Everyone who has experienced lag in some capacity knows how frustrating it can be. Will lag be an issue with Stadia?
Stadia boss Phil Harrison says he is «absolutely, unequivocally» sure that latency won’t be an issue. «We believe that it’s not just for when the service starts; actually we’ve demonstrated it today,» Harrison told us from San Francisco at the Game Developers Conference where Stadia was announced.
Harrison—who formerly held executive-level positions at Sony and Microsoft—added that it was no accident that Google used Doom Eternal to highlight Stadia.
«Having a studio with the very, very high threshold of quality and functionality from id; having id on our stage was very purposeful because the way [producer Marty Stratton] tells the story is spot on,» he said. «They were skeptical when we first started talking to them. they were skeptical that a streaming platform could support the level of quality and responsiveness that they needed to deliver on their game experience. What they have delivered with Doom Eternal absolutely demonstrates that.»
Harrison went on to say that Google has been able to achieve a low-latency platform because of the investments its made into the infrastructure supporting Stadia.
«It’s because of the investments that we are making in the hardware and the fundamental networking fabric in the compression and encoder and the way we transport the bits from our data center to your home,» he said. «There’s probably 100 innovations there that each mean that we can deliver that quality of experience.»
Also in the interview, Harrison pointed out that Stadia streams faster than the human body can process the information.
«We get the data, the video, from our data center to your eyeball quicker than your eyeball to brain to nervous system to finger,» he said. «The human operating system is the slowest part of the [Stadia] operating system. Some humans are slower than others.»
As with any internet-connected service, your experience will depend on the quality of your connection so mileage may vary between users. Harrison added Stadia will offer a bandwidth test service that informs them of the performance characteristics of their network, while he said Google will help players optimise the internet quality of their homes in a number of ways, including simply moving a router closer to the device.
Given that streaming a video game will be highly data-intensive, some people are also concerned about data caps and limits imposed by Internet service providers. Harrison said ISPs have a history of adapting their models to support new services. As an example, he said when music streaming became popular, ISPs increased bandwidth limits, and the same thing happened with the rise of YouTube and Netflix. Bandwidth limits are expected to continue to rise over time, Harrison said. That may be true, but it remains to be seen if ISPs will continue to charge extra for such increases.
Stadia launches later this year, but there are still many unanswered questions about it. One of the biggest ones is price. Harrison also told us that Google has the pricing sorted out, but it’s saving that reveal for a future point in time. Google will talk more about Stadia this summer, and one possible forum for further announcements is E3.