Google has announced its new Stadia gaming platform, heralding a dawning age of video games via streaming. Can it take down the titan of Nintendo?
“The future of gaming is not a box”, Google declared from the stage at E3. The future, the tech giant insists, is actually a cloud-based gaming platform — accessible from a multitude of devices including smartphones, laptops and tablets — that can run at a maximum of 4K quality at 60fps. All you’ll need to have is an internet connection and subscription.
What does that leave for the Nintendo Switch? It’s a hybrid device rather than a ‘box’-style console in the traditional sense, and in fact it was a quiet revolution in its own right upon release in 2017, allowing gamers the freedom to play the same games on the go and on the TV screen. But does cloud gaming render it obsolete already? Casual gamers will have a tough choice to make, and below are the five battlegrounds we reckon the next console war will be fought over.
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The distinguishing quality of Stadia is that it’s a gaming service built entirely around streaming. While that makes interminable download sessions a thing of the past, it also means that you will require a consistent internet connection to play. If you want to play the games in 4K HDR 60fps, Google reckon (optimistically) that you’ll need internet speeds of 35 Mbps, and the recommended minimum for the service is set at 10 Mbps.
The necessity of an internet connection will naturally be restrictive — just going through a tunnel on your morning commute could mean Game Over. We’ll have to see if nationwide internet coverage is good enough to support the service, or whether the concept has just arrived a little too early.
Meanwhile the Nintendo Switch can be played online and offline, like most consoles. You can download games to the console and play online multiplayer, but you can also lose yourself in a single-player campaign when no internet connection is available. This makes it ultimately more convenient and reliable than Stadia, even accounting for tedious download waiting times.
Google Stadia Pro will be available on a £8.99 ($9.99) subscription per month. No console is necessary, since you can access the game on most devices with a Chrome browser, including laptops and Smart TVs — so you’ll at least save some cash on a new gaming rig. This significantly lowers the entry price for new gamers. Not only that but you’ll have access to a library of older games with the Pro subscription (but you’ll still have to splash out on brand new games). In 2020, Stadia Base will launch for a lower price but there will be no games library included and high-end performance will be capped.
The Nintendo Switch, by contrast, costs £280 ($300) up front for the console itself, and from there it costs as much as £60 for each new game. Where the Stadia’s performance will vary depending on your set-up, there’s a guaranteed performance standard with the Switch. It’s the traditional way of playing a console, but it’s still a higher barrier for entry, and Stadia’s low price might tempt customers away, but you will need to buy new controllers if you’d like to play with a bunch of mates.
Overall the Stadia has a lower entry price which could tempt a large audience to sign up, but over time they may well become weary with yet another subscription service raiding their bank account every month.
Stadia has already got a substantial library of games announced, including Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Borderland 3, Final Fantasy XV, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. You’ll immediately have access to this collection with Stadia Pro membership, but from there you’ll have to pay for each new game.
Switch games can be bought either as digital copies from the Nintendo eStore, or as physical cartridges. While it covers many big games including FIFA 19, some notable blockbuster titles such as Call of Duty are not found on this platform. However, the clincher is that Nintendo will have its familiar stable of Mario etc. games that players have known and loved since childhood. There’s no chance you’ll be playing Mario Kart on the Stadia, and that’s a big blow to hopes of capturing casual fans’ hearts.
Stadia can be played on almost any device with a Chrome browser — that means laptops, smart TVs, tablets, and Pixel smartphones (with more smartphones given access further down the line). If you’ve already got one of these devices, there will be no need to fork out additional money for a dedicated console — but there will be official controllers for gameplay, which look very similar to those of the PlayStation 4.
The Switch is a chameleon of a console, which can be played as a handheld device or as a controller connected to a TV screen. Just slip off the Joy-Con controllers and slide them onto the tablet to take games on the go. It’s handy for sure, but can’t compete with the handiness of just using your existing smart devices to play games. However, the advantage of a single console is the knowledge that it will remain usable throughout its lifecycle, and will not require upgrading.
Google might be one of the biggest names in tech, but Stadia is still something of an unknown quantity. We know how passionate die-hard fans can be about their consoles, such as Xbox and Playstation, so it will definitely be hard for a new rival to appear on the stage with an entirely new concept to sell.
Nintendo is a well-loved company with a huge and dedicated fanbase spanning generations. They’ve already sold 35 million Switch consoles. Their grip on the market, significantly strengthened by their instantly-recognisable exclusive games, is a formidable challenge for Google to overcome, especially as they’re likely to compete in that same market space of casual gamers.
The convenience and accessibility of Stadia may well be the future of gaming, at least for casual fans who like to dip in and out of a game, and would otherwise be put off by high price of entry for a traditional console. But Nintendo is likely to hold strong for now thanks to consumer’s deep familiarity with its carefully cultivated and much-loved brand.