On Tuesday at GDC 2019, Google announced Stadia, a new game-streaming service that will let you play AAA video games — the industry’s blockbusters — on almost every device you own, including your laptop, phone, TV, or even a Chromecast. If it works as advertised — a big “if” — it could end the gaming hardware market as we know it.
With Stadia, which is slated to launch later this year, Google is aiming for nothing less than entirely detaching video games from the hardware you own. Instead of downloading a game to your computer or putting a disc in your console, the game would be installed on a remote server that Google owns and operates.
You won’t have to buy a new console or build a new PC to run the latest generation of games. Instead, Google can upgrade Stadia servers entirely behind the scenes. You’ll just wake up one day and find that you can play games with better graphics. This presumably means high-end gaming is about to get a lot cheaper — a top-of-the-line PlayStation 4 Pro costs about $400 — though Google declined to share pricing details with OneZero.
We don’t tend to think about it too much, but video games have an unusually intimate connection with the hardware they run on. Every few years, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and PC hardware manufacturers release new devices that add more power and features to the games you play. Microsoft made 4K gaming possible with the Xbox One X, NVIDIA launched graphics cards capable of ray tracing, and Nintendo had that weird expansion pack that made Donkey Kong 64 not crash. For as long as they’ve existed, video games and their hardware have been intrinsically linked. Think The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, for instance, and you’ll picture the Nintendo 64 it ran on.
But while this relationship is widely accepted in gaming, the same isn’t true for most other kinds of software. A professional video editor might need a better machine to squeeze more out of Adobe Premiere, but no one has to upgrade their phone every couple years to use Gmail or buy a new laptop to run the latest version of Microsoft Word.