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GDC 2019

David Cullinane 25 March 2019

GDC 2019 remains one of the Games Industry’s most important global events in which the great and the good of interactive entertainment descend en masse to the San Francisco’s Moscone Center and surrounding hotel lobbies for a frantic week of networking and learning. As well as providing an opportunity to preview the future vision of gaming from some of the biggest names in the industry, it’s also a great way of seeing some of the more obscure and esoteric creations. Whilst some of these may not go onto enjoy huge levels of commercial success, they nonetheless remain a showcase for the industry’s huge appetite for innovation and creativity.

2019 was a stellar year, kicking off with a huge fanfare from Google who have laid bare their vision to seemingly disrupt the $135bn USD (and growing!) industry. They have bet big on Streaming, presenting a vision in which the ‘middleman’ of advanced hardware is removed, and ‘AAA’ games are streamed pretty much instantaneously to any device. Billed as the ‘Netflix’ of gaming, the ‘Stadia’   presentation painted a bold picture for the future of gaming which seemed to suggest the death-knell of consoles.  Its slick presentation was technically impressive, building a solid case for what could potentially be the biggest disruption to the gaming since pong. Phil Harrison, Google’s Vice President and the man charged with leading the way with ‘Stadia’ demonstrated the platform with great aplomb, moving seamlessly from device to device, each of which was running Ubisoft’s ‘Assassin’s Creed’ at an impressive 1080p at 60 fps and with no lag. With the games being streamed from its data centre, the platform promises ubiquitous gaming experiences with the ability to switch between devices mid-game.

With no hardware acceleration needed, the only device you seemingly need is the simplistically designed controller which looked minimalistic in design, if not a little bland. Once the dust had settled, a degree of scepticism began to creep in, with concerns about the level of wi-fi connection the player would need to enjoy the full experience. Google have been quick to point out that as the service is streaming from its own data centres, it won’t be subject to the same problems of other cloud-based games streaming services that have fallen by the wayside.  To help bolster confidence, Google claim that if you can enjoy a good YouTube experience, then this will work for you. Indeed, Youtube integration will be a key selling point and benefit to the platform, with players able to click on a link following a game trailer (one of ours preferably ? ) to instantaneously experience the full game for themselves.

The platform is the holy grail of gaming, and one that builds on the continuing digitalisation of entertainment. First Music, then Video, the promise of being able to enjoy ‘AAA’ gaming experiences without the need for expensive hardware is a real game changer and one that may promise to further blur the lines of entertainment.  In the last year, REALTIME’s automotive team has made its own small contribution to the building of assets for Amazon’s ‘Grand Tour’ game in which viewers of the popular TV show can jump into a game and virtually experience the cars that have just featured in the episode they have just watched. ‘Stadia’ can potentially take this idea to the next level, leveraging the world’s most popular video streaming site to provide viewers with experiences that extend the worlds and stories beyond those they have just experienced as a TV show or film.

It’s a premise that was seen in the indie game ‘Stranger Things 3: The Game’, which was also announced at GDC 2019. Realised as a beautifully retro ‘80’s style isometric game, its style is a perfect fit for the show and one that you could imagine a non-gaming TV viewer being tempted to play (at the click of a button) at the end of each episode. In light of the 4K quality that Stadia is promising to deliver, It’s not difficult to see how the entertainment sector could further benefit from ever growing alignment between Games and TV & Film.  Assets created for TV & Film could easily be adapted for Games and vice versa. Given some of the exciting projects our own Film and TV division have been working on of late, we for one hope this will eventually become a reality.

Assuming they overcome the scepticism of connectivity that many people shared, Google’s Stadia and game streaming, has the potential to dramatically move the Industry forward. It’s a further democratisation of games and has the potential to welcome an entirely new audience who had hitherto been daunted by the need to invest in expensive hardware. With the potential to further blur the lines between ‘Video’ and ‘Games’, the ‘AAA’ gaming experience looks set to blossom further in a new age of expanded visual storytelling.