Slow Broadband, Usage Caps Could Mar Google Stadia's Game Streaming Ambitions

from the ill-communication dept

I can remember being at E3 in 2000 and being pitched on the idea of a sort of "dumb terminal" for gaming. As in, you wouldn't need a computer or game console in your home, since all of the actual game processing would be accomplished in the cloud then streamed to your TV via broadband. Most of these early pitches never materialized. Initially because cloud computing simply wasn't fully baked yet, but also thanks to America' shoddy broadband.

Cloud-based game streaming is something the industry has continued to push for, though nobody has yet to truly crack the market. Onlive probably tried the hardest, though again a lack of real cloud horsepower and sketchy residential broadband prevented the service from truly taking off.

Undaunted, Google took to the stage at the Game Developers Conference to unveil Stadia, a looming game streaming platform that will let gamers play top-shelf games on any hardware with a Chrome browser. Google insists that the service, when it launches this summer, will be able to drive games at up to 4K resolution and 60 frames per second seamlessly between multiple devices with no need for game consoles, high-end PCs, loading times, or installs. The whole presentation is available here:

If anybody can make the idea work it's certainly Google, whose massive transit and cloud computing firepower should give it a leg up on past efforts. Unfortunately for Google, the service still faces a daunting foe. One Google has previously tried and failed to disrupt: the shoddy state of US broadband:

"Generally, streaming a game at 1080p requires latency of less than 20ms and downstream speeds of at least 25 Mbps. But raw throughput is just one of numerous factors that can impact the responsiveness of game streaming. Upstream speeds, the quality of your router, and even congestion at internet peering and interconnection points can impact game play.

Google hopes to sidestep some of this by having the lion’s share of the streaming traffic travel over its own datacenter and transit links. But that data still needs to make its way to your home via the “last mile,” or your ISP. And if your ISP is terrible, your Google Stadia experience is likely to mirror that reality."

In addition to slow speeds (thanks to countless US telcos that refuse to upgrade their networks), Google's new service will also need to contend with the bullshit, arbitrary usage caps and overage fees giants like Comcast have been imposing on their networks in the wake of little to no real competition. While there are not many services that can blow through Comcast's 1 terabyte cap ($10 per each additional 50 gigabytes thereafter), streaming games at 4K or 8K certainly will. Many ISPs, especially slower telcos, impose usage caps that are far less generous.

The other issue to keep an eye on will be net neutrality. ISPs like Verizon are working on their own game streaming services. Given that incumbent ISPs are already removing usage caps if you use their own video streaming service, there's really not much stopping an ISP from doing the same thing with gaming. It's the culmination of a vision telecom giants like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T have had for years, where they impose arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions and caveats to simultaneously cash in on--and disadvantage--companies they want to directly compete with. If you can't win, cheat.

Given its cloud firepower Google can certainly pull the idea off. And if Google doesn't, somebody else will. Replacing high-end PCs and pricey game consoles with a simple cloud-based, multi-device game streaming subscription service seems like the obvious next step. But the process is going to once again shine a light on how the broken, monopoly-dominated telecom sector has some very real problems tech refuses to address and fix. Problems that harm not only the public, but countless attempts to innovate and disrupt other, existing sectors. Game streaming is going to shine a very bright light on this reality.

Filed Under: broadband, cloud gaming, competition, stadia, streaming, video games
Companies: at&t, google, verizon


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2019 @ 6:38am

    i read where the 'needed' speed is 25-30mbps. i also read where the average speed in the UK is 46mbps. all i can say to that is whoever came up with this figure must have just pulled it his ass! BT has made and been allowed to make such a glorified fuck up of UK broadband it couldn't possibly give the speed Google is saying it needs. as for fibre broadband deployment, BT is only giving that to new housing estates, with existing towns being left with the piss poor FTTC, instead of FTTH. that means that the majority of UK properties are nowhere near capable of using Googles new Stadia. so, USA, dont think you're gonna be alone here because you're not. trouble is, much like AT&T, Comcast and Verizone, BT has absolutely no interest whatsoever in doing what's necessary to give homes proper fibre broadband and that's without a new gaming experience requirement!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      unregistered, 21 Mar 2019 @ 7:13am

      Re:

      I'm in the UK, my ISP is Zen. I'm on FTTC and never go below 54mbps. Maximum is around 67mbps. £46.99p/month inc. phoneline. (Unlimited)
      Before that I was with BT and couldn't get online after 4pm. Plus the premium rate BT charges for a notably lacklustre service, and don't get me started on their so-called Customer Service.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2019 @ 9:24am

        Re: Re:

        Also in the UK here, and I know even among all my friends I'm an outlier by far with mine averaging 94 down, 17 up most hours of the day on Virgin.
        While my city centre flat block with 120 potential customers was wired up for decent broadband super fast, since it was less work for ISPs, but brought in more subscriptions, I have people living in the same postcode as me who are lucky to get 4mbps on a good day.
        I literally had one friend for whom I spent a couple of hours loading up a 2tb hard drive with XBox games he wanted downloaded, because for him to do it at home would mean leaving his XBox on overnight every day for 3 weeks to get them all.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 21 Mar 2019 @ 8:06am

      Re:

      i read where the 'needed' speed is 25-30mbps.

      I haven't seen full context for this, but I suspect that's for 4K/120fps. 4K Netflix takes about 7GB per hour; increase the framerate from 24 to 120 and that'll get you into the 25-35 range. Lower resolutions and framerates won't use as much bandwidth.

      The service is supposed to be playable at 25Mbps; if you completely saturate a 25Mb connection, that comes out to about 11GB per hour. Which is still a lot.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 21 Mar 2019 @ 8:07am

        Re: Re:

        Ack, misread "25-30 Mbps" as "25-30 GB per hour" (which is a claim I've seen elsewhere). Hope my reply was some use anyway.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        MathFox, 21 Mar 2019 @ 8:36am

        Re: Re:

        4K Netflix takes about 7GB per hour;
        That translates to ~ 16 Mbit/s. But Netflix can use offline video compression whereas gameplay requires low latency so Stadia needs low latency real time video compression. Low latency compression is less efficient in compression; real time compression is less efficient than offline, add a higher frame rate (for less latency) and I'm not surprised to see required bandwidth increase by a factor 2 to 3.
        Anyway, if Google is able to get good quality 4K interactive play with its device over a 40 Mbit/s downlink, that is a serious engineering achievement.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2019 @ 8:21am

      Re:

      The thing that gets under my skin is the radio silence in the gaming industry about this hurdles. With major companies like MS, Sony and now Google harping about how game streaming is going to replace consoles no one before this article dared to speak about the glaring telecom dysfunction issue. Its not getting fixed anytime soon if at all. The internet as it is today is not capable of supporting the millions concurrent low latency/high speed connections that even a single game like Fortnite can bring to bear. Time for a reality check.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 21 Mar 2019 @ 6:40am

    Is it a form of brain damage at google?
    They did Google Fiber, ended it but in their minds they changed everything so we all have fast internet now.
    They did ContentID, and its a complete clusterfuck but they pretend its super effective doing its job.
    They improved YouTube, and magically creators are getting screwed left & right.

    We did a thing!!!! Everything will magically align to make it the best thing ever, if you need us we'll be over here working on the newest bestest thing while this one takes care of itself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2019 @ 7:23am

      Re:

      I am a creator who has never been screwed over by YouTube. I find them to be excellent as an ad broker. The market may be changing and screwing over creators, but YouTube is just a middleman like Sotheby's, getting what the traffic will bear for its ads and paying its creators just fine.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2019 @ 7:21am

    So much for going dark...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 21 Mar 2019 @ 7:43am

    I can remember being at E3 in 2000 and being pitched on the idea of a sort of "dumb terminal" for gaming. As in, you wouldn't need a computer or game console in your home, since all of the actual game processing would be accomplished in the cloud then streamed to your TV via broadband. Most of these early pitches never materialized. Initially because cloud computing simply wasn't fully baked yet, but also thanks to America' shoddy broadband.

    And because even with good broadband, there would still be latency, which ruins the gaming experience in many games. And because dumb terminals have always offered horrible usability and we've historically always fled away from them and to a local computing model as soon as technology makes it feasible, which makes it a bit mystifying to see companies being dumb enough to try and force the trend to run in reverse!

    This is something that's never happened because it's a terrible idea, and hopefully will never happen because it's still a terrible idea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 21 Mar 2019 @ 8:11am

      Re:

      Yeah, I'm curious just who the target audience is for this. It seems like it might be useful for college kids in dorms, who might not be able to afford a gaming PC but presumably have a web browser and a high-speed Internet connection.

      But if you're a gamer with a monthly subscription to gigabit internet with no bandwidth caps, you probably already have either a console or a gaming PC. And if you're at the 25Mbps level that's supposed to be the minimum, you've probably got a bandwidth cap. And that's before we even get into the inevitable ISP fuckery.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 21 Mar 2019 @ 8:08am

    I suspect Google has already thought about bandwidth caps and throttling and has some plans in mind -- easiest thing would be just to pay off ISPs not to throttle, and maybe even to zero-rate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 21 Mar 2019 @ 8:36am

      Re:

      But, but, but, what does that do to their (ISP's talking out of their assholes) claims of needed network management? Will this degrade the Netflix experience? Will it shut out other streaming services because the network cannot actually withstand the volumes? Or will everything work out hunky dory and put lie to the claims for network management needs?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2019 @ 8:14am

    This service will eat through Comcast data cap

    This service will easily eat through Comcast data cap for those that game a lot.

    I took part in Project Stream which allowed us to play the latest Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed Odyssey. I would play for about 3-4 hour evening during the weekdays and then maybe 8 hours a day during the weekends. I took part in playing for about 3 weeks. During that time I did very little, if any, streaming of Netflix and the occasional streaming of Youtube videos.

    All combined, in the three weeks, I was 100GB away from hitting Comcast's 1024GB monthly cap. The closest I have ever come to hitting the cap, second being during a great Steam Winter sale several years ago.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2019 @ 8:52am

    Slow Broadband, Usage Caps Could Mar Google Stadia's Game Streaming Ambitions

    It's not a bug, it's a feature.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2019 @ 9:50am

    Misdirect?

    Perhaps this is because Google Fiber failed. Offer a service that is appealing, but only works well for people who have great Internet connections. Use Google's marketing clout and massive public recognition to lure lots of people in. For those whose experience is bad, pull no punches in telling them "Complain to your ISP that you need a better connection." Gin up and focus public discontent with the ISPs.

    It's a ploy we've seen before from cable television carriers when carriage contracts don't go their way: add crawls to the impacted channels encouraging viewers to complain to the other party that it should submit to whatever demands the cable company makes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 21 Mar 2019 @ 11:59am

    Already proven this isnt going to work yet...

    Pre-rendered games...has shown this isnt going to happen.
    4k TV is already having a hard time..
    Any family using Multiple Internet Access TV's is having a hard time..
    Your Cellphone already has Caps that you can Blow past in 1-2 days and drop your speed in 1/2...OR pay more to keep it up..
    Comparing prices/speed for ISP services around the world, the USA is falling along way behind.
    EVEN Google was going to do Free installations/service and 100mbps...But has had to FIGHT to even do that. and is about ready to QUIT. mostly because of Bureaucrats and ISP money. (that is paid for by the rising prices of the services(bill collectors)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Iggy, 21 Mar 2019 @ 12:25pm

    Just wait a year or two and Comcast, Spectrum, or Verizon will bring you streaming games just like Google is trying to. This will be separate from their internet service of course and come at an extra cost which can be reduced by signing up for their bundle for 2 years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2019 @ 1:44pm

    Latency kills playability

    So the difference in latency that a 12 ft hdmi cable adds over a 3 ft one is unbearable for some...
    if you've tried the whole Steam Link thing in house or any other similar one like the NVIDIA Shield, that made some games completely unplayable even if you had the latest and greatest networking equipment.

    If I can't even get decent latency in my house and it's the network that's the bottleneck, I just can't see myself enjoying much from a gaming platform that has the system sitting in their data center...
    even if I was sitting in the data center to reduce the latency to a minimum...
    But this should be fine for things like solitaire, chess, checkers, or anything that isn't impacted by latency... the kind of games that can be played on bargain/minimal smartphones.

    Until there's something that eliminates latency all together over a distance, this sort of thing is unlikely to really do much more than cover a small niche of gaming (nothing real-time, reaction-based)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 21 Mar 2019 @ 2:02pm

    PlayStation Now

    So how does this differ from Son'y PlayStation Now game streaming service? Other than the games catalog?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2019 @ 5:27am

    niche

    yes, data caps will hurt it
    yes, it will only work correctly if Google is your ISP (because fiber)
    yes, latency will hurt it
    but...
    it's a niche device. think of it like a pick up truck. i personally don't like pick up trucks, i would never buy a pickup truck, but i'm not everyone. pickup trucks do serve a purpose (e.g. helping me move furniture), and i'm glad pickup trucks exist, but i don't want a pick up truck.
    -streaming won't completely replace traditional, locally installed/run gaming, but it will be a niche that will work for some people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 22 Mar 2019 @ 9:00pm

    Everyone discussing usage caps and bandwidth is missing the bigger picture. Please watch this video (no, it's not a rickroll);

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsZYaK343cY

    Notice anything in common between the games discussed in that video? You win the grand prize if you said that all but one of them were only distributed digitally.

    Six games that you can no longer access because they were only available online. Care to guess how many games are going to disappear forever once streaming gaming becomes a thing? As soon as a game becomes less profitable than the company likes, it will get tossed, never to see the light of day again.

    Of course I'm sure someone will bring up one or two cases where the source code for a game server got leaked. You really think that's going to happen with every streaming game? Will anyone even have the hardware to run these games if they were to be leaked?

    Techdirt just had a story about an unknown NES game being preserved. How exactly does anyone think game preservation is going to work when nobody has access to the game's code? Already there are digitally distributed games that can't be preserved because of the fear of piracy and the restrictions that imposes. You really think it won't be much worse in the era of streaming games?

    But go ahead and cheer on an even more draconian "You don't own what you pay for" mentality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jehuda, 23 Mar 2019 @ 9:42am

    It’s not about COULD, it’s about WILL.

    And if ISPs will not, then they will certainly slow your connection down to dial-up speeds, until they extort payments from Google on your behalf. This message is from an euro-guy with 28 MB!ps connection.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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