For all its financial weight, Google, collectively, is only human. In the background of its many success stories, there are just as many middling and unsuccessful products, those that released broken or were about as popular with the public as a free U2 album you just can’t get rid of. The Pixel phone was a great success, while Google+ couldn’t creep out from beneath Facebook’s shadow. And the less said about Google Glass, the better.
It’s (very) early days for the product but Google Stadia, the company’s hardware-less video gaming platform, has had a rocky introduction to the tech world. Online magazine Quartz claims it is not the “cloud gaming future” users wanted, Sky News laments the raft of complaints the service has received, and the Washington Post called it a dream “still in the clouds”. So far, then, Stadia seems to have more in common with the short-lived Ouya than the PlayStation 4.
The biggest issue seems to be latency, that is, the period of time between a button press and when an on-screen action is carried out. It’s currently around a second, which makes all but turn-based strategy games nearly unplayable. And, while, in regular games, latency issues can be attributed to things like internet connections and hardware capabilities, the issue with Stadia is that its entire reason for being is zero fuss, out-of-the-box gameplay.
Google claims that it already has a solution, albeit one that sounds like science-fiction to anybody outside the company’s HQ – negative latency. Gizmodo speculates that this could involve predictive gameplay, something that already has applications in game emulators, though it’s hard to see how providing results the player may not have intended serves as a fix for latency issues. In any case, that promise came nine days before the Stadia launched with all lag still intact.
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Latency-less, hardware-less products do already exist, so it’s disappointing to see Stadia in its current state. The demands are much lower, but web games are a good example, many requiring little more than an HTML5-capable browser. Ignoring the vast quantities of no-download MMOs out there like Drakensang Online and Runescape, online blackjack titles provide a good example as many operate in real-time with real, human dealers – and all with money on the line.
The biggest question is, like Google Glass, whether there’s any current need for Google Stadia – and recent polls suggest not. Pollsters Ipsos MORI placed interest in Google Stadia and Microsoft’s xCloud at 15% of Europeans in summer 2019. Concerns about internet dropping out and the lack of packaged hardware (physical games remain popular) topped the list of consumer gripes. Latency didn’t come up in the poll, yet the current performance of Stadia may validate many gamers’ reasons for opting out of a day-one purchase.
It’s yet another unfair surprise for early adopters but its perhaps fair to say that Google Stadia has released still in development. Whether it will achieve what Google Glass couldn’t and sway users in the future remains to be seen.