I’m currently reviewing the 20th Anniversary Talon from Falcon Northwest. My loadout boasts an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X CPU, a pair of Nvidia RTX 2080 Super GPUs, 32GB of RAM and two blazing fast NVMe drives in RAID 0. Well, Google thinks that as soon as one year from now, its cloud-based Stadia gaming service could offer faster response times and less latency than this beastly rig – or any other PC for that matter.
Google has even invoked some brilliant marketing speak (and perhaps jumped the shark a bit) by predicting we’ll be entering “negative latency” territory with Stadia.
No, I’m not making any of this up.
The claims come courtesy of Google Stadia VP and Head of EngineeringMadj Bakar
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, who spoke to Edge Magazine for issue #338. Here’s the quote, courtesy of PCGamesN:
“Ultimately, we think in a year or two we’ll have games that are running faster and feel more responsive in the cloud than they do locally, regardless of how powerful the local machine is.”
To his credit, Bakar chose his words carefully. “We’ll have games,” he says. Not “we’ll have any game under the sun running faster […].” Still, this demands some unpacking and analysis.
By default, the time it takes for a user to press a button, have that action sent to a server and then sent back and represented in-game is simply going to take longer than executing that command on a local machine. That’s latency, or what many gamers refer to as “lag.”
Let’s consider the in-depth Stadia performance testing conducted by Digital Foundry back in March.
Using a high-speed camera, Digital Foundry measured the “display lag” of Stadia, Xbox One X, and PC while playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. As you’ll see in the video below, the Stadia result is 166ms, compared to the Xbox One X and PC results of 145ms and 79ms, respectively.
One major caveat: The Stadia result was measured at a Google-hosted event using a 200Mbps Google Fiber connection, albeit over WiFi. There are many variables to consider in the testing methodology, including internet speeds and stability, processing power, and the latency of the display itself, but Stadia still lost in a controlled environment provided by Google.
That being said, it came within spitting distance of the Xbox One X, and performed better than the “Project Stream” (Stadia’s former codename) beta tests. But Google is talking about Stadia being faster and more responsive than any local machine, whether that’s a PC or a console. Is that really achievable in two years or less? If so, how?
Ok, we know that Google has developed its own game streaming tech. We know Google has datacenters all over the place; limitless hardware at its disposal. And we know that for these types of claims to be even remotely achievable, a heavy degree of machine learning, behavior prediction and extensive data collection must be mandatory.
In fact, later in the interview, Bakar throws out the term “negative latency.” He describes a scenario where Google Stadia will employ a lag reduction process which includes, but may not be limited to:
Rapidly increasing FPS to account for lag specific to the user’s environment
Predicting user inputs
Back up there, Google. Predicting user inputs? If I’m great at performing a certain block or counter in Street Fighter, for example, will Stadia be executing that command for me? Is this a scenario where Google analyzes my patterns and Stadia effectively plays the game for me?
Google does have an intimate understanding of what we like, what we search for, what we buy, how we speak, where we travel. I suppose it’s not unreasonable to have our gaming behaviors data-mined as well.
Or this could simply mean that Stadia prepares that possible outcome and has it “ready” to be represented onscreen.
This rosy future of Stadia cloud gaming that Google’s predicting could work for certain genres like RPGs or narrative, choice-driven titles. Will it work equally well for twitch-based shooters or esports? For racing or fighting games?
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I do believe Google has the sheer hardware and development resources to pull off some version of this claim under certain scenarios, but I also think a bold, forward-looking statement like this is mostly marketing hype right now.
I suppose time will tell, but I have serious reservations about it ever being faster and more responsive than my Falcon Northwest Talon for the “average” home internet environment.