Yesterday, Google finally revealed their often teased gaming service, Stadia, a console-free, streaming-only platform available anywhere you can get Google Chrome, Chromecast, or a Google Pixel smartphone. Basically, it's universal. With so many impressive specs thrown about on stage, many might be left wondering what it all means. Around here, we're more curious about what it means for Xbox, because it seems like Google maybe just stole Microsoft's thunder.
The rumor mill for Xbox has been saying for months now that the next generation of Xbox will include multiple versions co-existing in the same ecosystem. One would be an all-powerful traditional console, like the Xbox One X but even better, while the other was rumored to be a streaming-only device of some kind. Perhaps a disc-less, sleeker console, or just a USB dongle, or even just an app. It seems like Microsoft wanted to offer people the choice of convenience or power. Whatever their plans might be, it seems like Google just leaped into the fray to impress everyone with many of those same features before Microsoft gets its chance. Surely Google knows this too, which is partly why they've done it this way.
Stadia proudly boasts 10.7 teraflops, a number that exceeds those in the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X combined — and remember how proud Xbox was to boast about their own 6.2 teraflops. You can play it anywhere on any device that can get to the Google browser. You can join streamers' games instantly upon their invite, or be watching a video on a game and with one button be transported into the game within five seconds. You can carry over progress instantly across a number of compatible devices, moving from Pixel phone to your Chromebook to your television one after another, picking up precisely where you left off each time. It all sounds like the future we were promised years ago.
Stadia has been met with plenty of skepticism since then, however, with many pointing to OnLive, the failed streaming platform of yesteryear, as a reason for caution. But OnLive died years ago and technology didn't just cease to progress in the meantime. Xbox is clearly planning for the future with cloud gaming. We saw it last week when they showed off Project xCloud on stage during Inside Xbox. If they, Google, and even companies like EA and Ubisoft have all so recently alluded to cloud gaming, it feels like it's really happening this time. Just this week, my son was playing Rocket League on his iPad, streamed from my PS4. If everyone is moving full speed ahead into streaming like this, what does it mean for Xbox that Stadia has come out and got the spotlight before anyone else?
Google's approach: flaunt it if you got it.
It means Xbox has its back against the wall again. The last generation kicked off with Don Mattrick missing the mark in virtually every way when the original concept of the Xbox One impressed few people. It led to the PS4 getting free shots to dunk on the Xbox, which the brand did enthusiastically for years until the backlash hit them more recently given their refusal to allow cross-play. Maybe in 2013 the Xbox One was ahead of its time, with its ideas of always-online gaming and other features that read like bugs to many gamers, but that just makes this next Xbox vulnerable to feeling, ironically, behind the times. Google put all sorts of impressive numbers up on screen during their presentation. Up to 4K/60 frames gaming at launch, 8K/120 frames gaming coming soon, they say, 10.7 teraflops, and you won't need awesome internet to get it all to work properly. Can Xbox match those numbers? It doesn't matter. They now have to.
Microsoft has now confirmed they'll be discussing at least some of their next generation plans at E3 this June, and there's no reason to think their own streaming and cloud-based gaming plans are just rumors. Phil Spencer has said Stadia's design reaffirms their own decision to go that route. They'll come out on stage and they'll have their moment to impress people too, as Google did. But whatever they say, whatever specs they give, will be directly and permanently compared to Stadia's boastful numbers. Microsoft has prided themselves on having the "Most Powerful Console" in the market for the past few years. Soon, it appears Google will take the title of "most powerful" without even having a console involved. Can Xbox's rumored streaming platform beat that? They'd better hope so. For the first time since the Xbox's own inception in 2001, we may have a serious new contender in the games industry.
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