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Majd Bakar, vice president and head of engineering for Google’s Stadia game-streaming service, explains how it built the infrastructure needed to power that service. (GeekWire screenshot)

After spending billions over the last few years to upgrade its cloud computing infrastructure, Google thinks it is ready to tackle the needs of some of the most demanding customers on the planet.

Google announced the launch of Stadia Tuesday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, promising that it would ship a game-streaming service powered by its massive computing network that works across mobile devices, PCs, and televisions by the end of the year. One of the biggest factors that will dictate the success or failure of Stadia will be the number of times users abandon those games in frustration after encountering glitches, crashes, or delays that have plagued earlier attempts at video-game streaming.

“This architecture is the foundation for the new generation of gaming,” said Majd Bakar, vice president at Google and head of engineering for Stadia, during the presentation.

A console in the cloud: Google unveils ‘Stadia’ streaming service, looks to shake up video games

Google is hardly the first company to pursue video-game streaming, but it will be the first of the big three cloud companies to ship a service designed to stream the most demanding console games, assuming everything remains on course. Microsoft plans to start public trials of its Project xCloud service later this year, and while Amazon Web Services provides a lot of back-end cloud services to game developers, it doesn’t have a consumer-facing service that is capable of streaming top-tier console games like Assassin’s Creed or Doom to browsers.

Stadia will stream games in 4K image quality at up to 60 frames per second, Baker said, which should be enough to satisfy gamers who expect smooth performance from even the biggest games. And it promised developers it would increase that performance over time: “the processing resources will scale up to match your imagination,” Bakar said.

To make this all work, Google designed a custom graphics-processing unit (GPU) and server processor with AMD. The GPU will provide 10.7 teraflops of performance that will be matched with a 2.7GHz x86 server processor and 16MB of memory in a Stadia instance.

Each Stadia instance is far more powerful than the current generation of video-game consoles, but Google must cope with the latency introduced by moving data over a network. (GeekWire Screenshot)

Google also touted the power of its global fiber network, which the New York Times conveniently profiled last week, as an edge for Stadia, given that most game traffic will flow over its private network as opposed to the public internet. Over the years it has constructed that network to power Google search and ads, the company has amassed 100s of “points of presence” around the globe where users can tap into that network as well as 7,500 edge processing nodes that can handle parts of the workload much closer to the end user than its data centers, Bakar said.

Assuming game developers commit to releasing top-tier games for the service, Google will likely have a first-mover advantage as video games inevitably shift away from expensive consoles and boxed CDs to streaming services. However, both AWS and Microsoft are capable of designing their own processors to meet the needs of a top-tier game streaming service, and the cloud market leaders also maintain sprawling private fiber networks that handle customer traffic.

As Motherboard noted, Google could actually have a first-mover disadvantage if substandard U.S. broadband networks cause a poor gaming experience; it’s hard for consumers to know whether to blame the content provider or their ISP in those situations. While Google’s private fiber network is easily one of the best in the world, it still has that “last-mile” problem of actually delivering those bits into your living room.

And AWS could be in a very interesting long-term position in game streaming thanks to Twitch, its corporate sibling. The popular service lets gamers stream their console or PC gameplay to audiences across the world, and organized competitions with massive streaming audiences are starting to become mainstream entertainment.

Still, Google is very motivated to carve out its own sections of the cloud computing market as it looks up at AWS and Microsoft. The arrival of workable game streaming could generate tons of business from consumers and developers (pricing details were not released Monday), and would go a long way toward justifying the $25.46 billion it spent on capital expenditures in 2018, much of which went toward servers and other cloud computing equipment.

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