The future of gaming is invisible, in someone else's datacenter.


Google's Stadia: an audacious plan to revolutionize gaming

The shift to the 'cloud' revolutionized the way millions of people get work done, but the gaming industry has been slow to reap the benefits. Google unveiled a service—Stadia—this week that rethinks both the way gamers play games and the way the industry engineers them. 

Stadia is a game streaming service at its core. Instead of requiring gamers to have a powerful computer or console to play games at home, game streaming services offload the work to an even more powerful server hosted somewhere in a datacenter.

Here's how it works: Imagine you're watching a YouTube video about Assassin's Creed. At the end, it asks if you'd like to give it a try—so you tap yes and find yourself instantly thrown into the game right inside YouTube. It doesn't matter what device you're on—Stadia streams via Chrome on any platform including TVs—you can just play, right away.

It sounds magical, really, to give up those shiny console boxes that sit idle the majority of the time, and just summon a game from the internet any time you please, and the demos ignited the media: Stadia seems legitimately interesting, and really promising because we know the technology actually works from a previous public trial dubbed 'Project Stream.'

What makes Stadia different

Game streaming services are not unique, and the idea has been tried before: OnLive was the most well-known attempt at this that shut down as it ran out of cash, but others have followed: Shadow, PlayStation Now, and Nvidia's GeForce Now.

All of these services essentially glue a video stream to a remotely-controlled Windows machine, which works but has problems, namely latency (the time it takes for a command to be understood and responded to in the game session) and connection quality constraints. Stadia is different, because it's not trying to recycle these ideas in a new package: it's a redefinition from the top.

Instead of simply gluing a remote session to the internet, Stadia requires developers to change how they think about building games: they are now rendered in aggregate across servers, with game logic for things like multiplayer abstracted into a separate process, and rendered right at the edge in one of Google's existing cloud datacenters.

That means Stadia won't launch with every game in the known universe but likely only those optimized for the platform, so that it's able to provide a 'console-like' experience seamlessly.

Google has an interesting trick up its sleeve to reduce perceived latency as well: a dedicated Stadia controller that connects to WiFi rather than directly to your device. The controller tunnels to the datacenter instance you're connected to directly, on a separate 'pipe' from the video stream, further reducing the feeling that you're not really playing locally. 

Fully baked

All of this is wild, but what's so astounding in my mind about Stadia is that Google hasn't rushed this out the door: I was able to find sources that told me the company has been working on it since as far back as 2013, with efforts in earnest beginning in 2014, and many iterations being thrown out before that.

Google understood that launching Stadia (codenamed Yeti internally) half-baked would mean the gaming industry would simply snub it, so it waited, and worked on this for years until it was a leap ahead of any competition.

With game studios like Epic Games onboard and support already baked into the Unreal Engine, this isn't a technology demo or showreel, but a declaration that one way or another this technology is going to change gaming. Game streaming is likely to change a vast array of the industry's reliable variables: consumers buying consoles,  consumers owning games outright, how downloadable content works, how many players can play a game simultaneously, the business models of the studios, and so on. 

But, there's a sticking point in Stadia's mission to bring 'gaming to everyone' that went unsaid: internet access is inherently unequal globally, and streaming might shut out millions of players from the 'next' generation of gaming. about the same speed being able to achieve a 4K stream.

Google has many more datacenters than any other competitor, so it's able to get closer to more consumers than almost anyone else on the planet right now, but that doesn't necessarily solve the last mile where ISPs in many countries have a monopoly over cables and drag their feet over improving connectivity. 

Services like GeForce now require a stable connection of at least 20 Mbps to achieve a 1080p stream, and Stadia improves on that with about the same throughput able to achieve a 4K stream. The average connection speed in the US? A measly 18 Mbps. Stadia's debut ignored this reality, but acknowledged it in a subtle way: it'll be global at launch and notably available in Europe, where connection speeds tend to be much higher on average. 

Stadia's launch this week showed a service that is very nearly ready for the prime-time, but needs game developer support to shine: and that's why we got very few answers about when the public can use it (2019, supposedly), what games it'll ship with or what it'll cost. The demonstration was designed to woo developers, and lure them to Google's vision of gaming in the future, while getting the public excited about what that future might look like.

If anything, Stadia is a wake-up call for the gaming industry: here's a cloud platform that will enable you to build unique games at an unprecedented scale, and reach gamers wherever they are. What we're now waiting for is seeing how widely it's embraced.

Read more: my console is in the cloud

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Instagram is now the new home for hate

As eyes have turned away from Facebook, Instagram has become a new home for hate, because the platform makes it difficult to really see the problem. The incredible Taylor Lorenz describes something that's been on my mind: when will Facebook understand its other platforms aren't immune to the same problems plaguing the original?

Instagram Is the Internet’s New Home for Hate [Taylor Lorenz]

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Easy, instant servers for any task

I've been hosting my own projects with DigitalOcean for years at this point, and they've launched something to make life easier on any new project: a marketplace of pre-configured servers so you can just get on with it.

If you're not using DigitalOcean already, feel free to use my magic signup link to get $100 in credit for whatever you're building.

💿 DigitalOcean Marketplace


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