At Google’s grand Stadia launch, iD revealed that DOOM Eternal would be coming to the platform once it was live towards the end of the year. What wasn’t revealed was how much work iD did behind the scenes with Google to improve Stadia – and how tests with DOOM helped convince Google executives to greenlight the project.
The detail is provided by Ars Technica in a new interview with Dustin Land, a senior programmer at iD who remembers being approached by Google back in 2016. Google thought global broadband speeds – gauged by looking at their internal YouTube analytics – had improved enough that game streaming could work, and they asked iD if they could help out with some real-world testing.
Two iD programmers then ported DOOM to a prototype version of Stadia over three weeks. It was a good bit of luck: DOOM was one of the very few games to support the Vulkan API and Linux, which the Stadia service relies on. But after the team got a build going and shipped it over to Google, the initial demo was laggy even over a local wired network.
In November, Google had a second crack at it. They ran a demo using the same game, ported to a cloud instance with an Android phone, Chromebook and a wireless router. The difference, according to Land, was that Stadia was now playable – although the latency was obviously still there.
“We were stunned by how much things had improved … It [felt] like someone just forgot to enable game mode on the TV,” Land reportedly said.
Land, who gave a talk about this at GDC, went on to explain how Google setup a third test at the iD offices. It was effectively a blind test between playing locally and over the cloud, and was designed predominately for two things: to illustrate any major noticeable differences between the experiences, and also to prove not just to iD, but within Google internally, that Stadia could be a superior experience for some players.
The results were strong enough to get non-gamers in the company excited, he added, and convincing enough to get Google’s executives to greenlight the whole project for production, leading to this week’s announcement.
Crucially, Ars also described just how many basic features were absent from those early days of Stadia. The initial development suite was too hard for migrating and establishing dev environments. And it was thanks to feedback and testing from iD that Stadia now has profile management, user identities, leaderboards, achievements and parental controls, things that Google had to build from scratch.
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Land also quoted two magic figures that highlight why all of this is being done. If you broaden the scope of games beyond current technical limitations, particularly on laptops with integrated graphics, the size of the gaming market could swell to ten times its current potential.
Just based off used in the Stadia announcement, that would mean the gaming industry worldwide would swell from hundreds of billions today to a market worth just over $1.1 trillion.
The rest of the interview with Land, which is well worth a read, can be found here.