Google’s new streaming platform is making a play to claim our living rooms. But is it leaving the live sector behind in the process? Stuart Wood investigates.
At the end of March, Google made a big power play with the announcement of Stadia – its new streaming platform.
Stadia is an attempt to do for the videogame industry what Spotify did for the music industry, as we head towards a digital, hyper-connected future. It will allow users to play without a physical machine, connecting them to games and to each other via cloud-based streaming technology.
The platform’s announcement trailer featured a montage of live sporting events throughout history, from paintings of ancient tribes playing something that looks like lacrosse to the modern-day spectacle of the Olympic Games. It’s a stake in the ground for the live e-sports sector, placing it inside a long lineage of historical sporting events.
But it also carries an implication that Google’s new platform is the natural progression, or end point, of this live sporting spectacle. Even its name – Stadia, plural – seems to imply that it is supplanting the live venue, or the need to physically gather in the same space to enjoy an event.
As our cover feature this month demonstrates, however, the reality is much more complicated. Streaming has had a diverse impact on the music industry’s live sector, but it is certainly no kind of replacement for live events. In fact, the advent of Spotify has caused a massive uptake of live music revenue.
So what, then, will be the impact of Stadia upon the growing e-sports sector, or on the events industry as a whole?
Up all night
To find out, Access spoke to the organisers of Insomnia Gaming Festival, which took place from 19-22 April at Birmingham’s NEC. Phil Crawford, marketing & social manager at Player 1 Events, was cautiously optimistic about the technology.
“It’s exciting to think that there could be new areas of the festival, and new ways of bringing gaming experiences to attendees,” he said. “However, I think Stadia will live or die on how they can sort out their internet infrastructure, especially if they decide to start taking the new hardware to events.
“It could really hurt the system if Google aren’t able to guarantee a certain level of connection quality. I think this will become the greater part of a discussion between Google, event organisers and venues when it comes to bringing Stadia to an event.”
Asked whether he sees Stadia as a threat or an opportunity, Crawford says: “We’ve certainly been headed in the direction [of streaming] in recent years, with couch co-op dwindling. But I think games and events will always be made with local connections in mind. I don’t think Stadia will have a detrimental effect in that regard.”
In theory, the Stadia technology allows event organisers to break down the barriers between attending an event virtually, and attending an event in person. Viewers could be watching a live stream of a huge e-sports tournament in the NEC, and then jump straight into a recreation of the same event on their own device.
The technology could have an impact on the music sector, too, offering greater interactivity with cameras, drones and live streams at music festivals. And the sheer ubiquity of Google means the technology can be put into the hands of the masses, with the necessary investment to back it up.
Nobody would suggest that a live stream could replace the experience of going to a festival, or attending any live event. And, as Crawford points out, there are still technical limitations which need to be worked through.
But it remains an exciting proposition, and one that becomes closer to a reality as major players like Google step into the streaming ring.