Google Stadia gaming at GDC 2019: Everything just announced

Google takes the wraps off its Stadia streaming service, promising the "future of gaming."

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
4 min read

Google's Stadia head Phil Harrison announces the new service.

James Martin/CNET

When you think of ways to play big-name video games , you probably think of Xbox, PlayStation or Switch.

If Google has its way, you'll soon be considering its Stadia service too.

The tech giant announced its new streaming game service at a press event during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. The new service, called Stadia, is designed as a way for people to play and watch gaming together, Google said. The company said it plans to bring together players, broadcasters on YouTube and game developers to create a new experience. It'll launch later this year, Google said, without saying anything about how much it'll cost.

Watch this: Google rolls out Stadia gaming service and controller

"Our ambition is far beyond a single game," said Google's Phil Harrison. Instead, the company sees the opportunity to give players "instant access" to a game by clicking a link. "The power of instant access is magical, and it's already transformed the music and movie industries."

Enlarge Image

Google teased its announcement with a video game museum.

James Martin/CNET

The service allows gamers to play standard PC games within anything that can browse the web, including a TV, a phone, a tablet and of course a PC. The games are powered by Google's high-performance computers, which then stream the images to the web browser in a similar way Netflix streams videos. And they're streamed at up to 4K high-definition video, at 60 frames per second, meaning animations will move smoothly. 

Gamers play using a controller Google designed, which connects through Wi-Fi to Stadia's systems.

"It's seamless," Harrison said. 

Google isn't the only company doing this. Sony's offered its PlayStation Now game streaming service since 2014, and chipmaker Nvidia offers one called GeForce Now. Microsoft is also readying an Xbox-related game streaming service, called Project xCloud, expected in the next couple of years.

Here's everything we know about Google's service so far.

It uses the 'cloud'

The service relies on Google's massive global network of computers and servers that delivers YouTube, Google Maps and Gmail to you already. Google said it's developed specialized graphics and computer chips to make its systems work particularly well for gaming.

Watch this: Google Stadia is a play-anywhere streaming game platform of the future

Google has a controller

The rumors were true: Google has developed a controller for its Stadia service. But unlike most gaming controllers, which connect to a video game console, the Stadia controller is designed to connect directly to the internet, to ensure the fastest connection.


The Stadia controller

Claudia Cruz/CNET

Stadia streams at high quality

Google said its service currently streams video at 1080p, 60 fps. But at launch later this year, Google said it should be capable of 4K video at 60fps, and in the future it'll be able to output 8K video at 120fps. 

Google already has partners

The company said it's working with Ubisoft, makers of the popular Assassin's Creed adventure games, and id Software, makers of Doom, to bring games to the service.

Google is going to make its own games

The company also said it has started a game-making studio, much like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have done. The company didn't show off any games it has planned, but it's recruited industry veterans such as former Electronic Arts and Ubisoft executive Jade Raymond.

We don't know how much it'll cost

Of all the things Google did announce, it didn't put a price tag on any of it. It's fair to assume the games will likely cost the same they typically do on a standard Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo, but the company's staying quiet for now.

Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft, said in an interview after the event that he expects several different approaches, from direct purchase to game rentals where you sign up to play for a certain number of hours.

Stadia is designed with YouTube in mind

Google showed off how Stadia can stream video to spectators, and also offer them ways to join in. One example Google described was a "play" button on a YouTube video that brings you straight into the game on Stadia. Another example was allowing gamers watching someone play a basketball game, for example, to click a link to join in.

Google also said Stadia will have a "State Share" feature, where people can share a link that allows someone to play starting exactly at the same spot in the game that they are.

Google wants developers to use Stadia too

Google said it's partnered with game development software makers like Epic Games, Unity and CryEngine to ensure game developers can take advantage of its technology.

What do Google's competitors say?

Microsoft said in a statement that it's "a great time to a gamer," and noted that it's devoted to offering choice as well through its upcoming Project xCloud service.

Sony and Nintendo didn't respond to requests for comment.

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CNET's Lori Grunin contributed to this report.

Originally published March 12.
Updates, March 19, 9:55 a.m. PT: Adds details from Google and expectations for the event; 11:55 a.m. PT: Adds info on everything just announced; 2 p.m. PT: Adds Microsoft comment.