Stadia: Google’s online game streaming service launches to complaints about lag

Google’s game-streaming platform Stadia has launched – and is being immediately criticised for the lag affecting services.

Gamers are finding that the process of communicating with Google’s servers where the games are being run is adding significant delays between when they press a button and when that action is carried out in-game.

Google was certainly aware of the damage which a lot of lag would do to the platform before it launched. Its vice president of engineering Madj Bakar even claimed that Stadia games could actually perform more quickly than those being run on a console or a PC.

This has not been the experience of early adopters.

Performing the computation remotely introduces significant technical challenges which gamers are particularly sensitive to, especially latency.

Latency – the delay between a player pressing a button and that action being carried out in the game – is a critical for online games when reaction speed is a factor. And if the delay is too great it makes even single-player gaming a gruelling experience.

Reviewers have noted that the video quality, which will decrease in order to provide a quicker service, is regularly dropping to 720p – in some cases making cutscenes choppy and unsynchronised with the video, prompting a handful of jokes on social media too.

Some of this is outside of Google’s control. Internet speeds will vary for users, and data allowances might be prohibitive for players wanting to stream to Pixel phones.

The requirement for internet access might also frustrate players in residences with limited bandwidth too – and some images posted to social media suggest that the troubleshooting advice for players is to not use their internet connections for any other activities while playing.

Google could be underappreciating the demands it has placed on its committed data centres – but some users are encountering very different services depending on whether they are playing on PC or Pixel phone.

A spokesperson for Google told Sky News: “The overall Stadia system design is focused on low latency game play.

“We achieve this through the overall architecture and detailed design of the Cloud, endpoints, and input devices like the Stadia controller.

“By connecting through WiFi, the Stadia controller delivers the lowest latency solution for Stadia as it connects directly to the Cloud.

“Additionally, we saw great results with Project Stream and have been optimistic about our continued work around minimising lag concerns even further.

“We are working on lowering the end to end latency with our scaled deployment including streaming algorithms and proprietary hardware. ”

Bruce Grove, the chief executive and co-founder of Polystream – and formerly the head of engineering at OnLive, a company which previously attempted to develop a cloud-based gaming service before it was acquired by Sony – broke down the figures for Sky News.

“Google suggests that it will have a potential customer base of hundreds of millions from day one across North America and Western Europe – but how many of those can play or access the service at the same time?

“For example, all 1.5 million Nintendo players at the launch of the Switch could play instantly, whereas we don’t know how many players can do that with Stadia.

“We know that if cloud gaming solutions continue to only offer to replace your console, (we know) that it means putting a GPU in the cloud per player, and that’s really expensive.

“In fact that number of GPUs – Graphics Processing Units – in the cloud simply doesn’t exist.

“Stadia may have bigger pockets to fund this than OnLive ever did (which a decade ago was a £1.5 billion unicorn and we still couldn’t make it scale), but the infrastructure we need simply isn’t there yet and is going to be at least another five years in the making.”

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