September 23, 2021

Gamescom Stadia Show: That Sucked.

I’ve said before that Google Stadia has plenty of challenges and hurdles to overcome.

We haven’t seen a lot of talk about how, exactly, Google plans to overcome many of these issues; from data caps which are still alarmingly prevalent in the United States to a veritable Postcode Lottery when it comes to what your maximum internet speed is, varying by up to thirty mbps in some areas just by which side of a road you happen to be sitting on.

And whilst many roll their eyes, let’s be so crystal clear to be almost transparent; Streaming Games is not a new thing. As I’ve also said before, PSNow! dropped a couple years ago, OnLive was around a decade ago and a decade or so before that, Nintendo’s Satellaview was streaming game data to consoles. If this was the bleeding edge of technology, I’d give the likes of Google the benefit of the doubt; but it’s not. Streaming, like VR before it, is an artefact of the past. We’ve been here before and we’ve done this before.

I don’t mean to sound down on Stadia either; I’d say I was sure Google is trying very hard… but sadly, I am starting to doubt that.

During Gamescom 2019, Stadia had its own presentation video and I’m going to level with you all right now; it is single-handedly the worst sales pitch video I have seen in years. Perhaps the worst this decade, thanks to the unintended subliminal messaging that it hands out to people. If I had entertained ANY notion that Stadia was a serious entrant to Game Streaming, the Stadia Presentation at Gamescom put that to bed.

So what went wrong? Well… everything, pretty much.

Yeah, this. So much this.

Dropping frames and stuttering? Check. Audio sync issues? Very check. Buffering? Yup, check to that one as well. With games still showing input lag as well – note that this is Google trying to make this look good as well – it was a veritable deluge of everything that we’re expecting to see when using Stadia… only we weren’t even using Stadia, we were watching a video trying to sell Stadia to us.

This wasn’t really helped by a fairly predictable slew of games. Yes, there was an interesting one later during the Opening Night segment, in which Kojima and Keighley still haven’t got to tonsil-tussling yet but seem perfectly happy to render each other in glistening detail (Kojima painted Keighley like one of his French girls!), but it wasn’t even IN the presentation.

Otherwise, all Stadia was doing was saying – here, we have all the games you could buy anywhere else at all, on any other platform, without any of the obvious problems that you are experiencing by watching this recording.

Which is perhaps the most ghastly thing of all; I am forgiving of Livestream events because I’m of the old guard that knows that when things go wrong, it’s always going to be when you can’t cover it up. I laugh at E3 events because of that but I am always somewhat sympathetic; best laid plans brought to ruins. Weeks of work rendered to dust in a few seconds. Yes, livestreams are too damn long… but that’s another issue.

Google could have edited this video better. It could have used more in-sync footage or had a few other people pass over it. Instead it released what I can only say was something a student would struggle to get graded; it was an absolute trainwreck on an editing front, and that speaks very poorly to how seriously Google is taking Stadia.

This sums up Stadia right now.

Think of it this way; Nintendo’s Indie World Direct, a few hours earlier, had most of the same games that Stadia was showing off. It was better edited, it was significantly shorter and it showed off a bunch of new games to boot.

Compare and contrast to what Google offered; it’s night and day.

I hope Google is paying attention, because that showcase was a disaster. Stadia has many problems facing it, not least in a very real sense a division problem in many parts of the world, where the poor have to pay for the expensive hardware options whilst the city folk end up with their fast, cheap gaming access. These are issues that will take years, maybe decades, to fix. Stadia, and the Game Streaming concept, will need to work very hard to solve so many of these challenges.

But somehow, after that Stadia show, I doubt Google cares.


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