Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen many attempts at online game streaming services, very few of which survive. At this year’s GDC, Google made a surprise announcement by launching its own cloud gaming service called Stadia. Powering this new service will be custom built AMD Radeon datacenter GPUs. Singled out in the press release though was AMD’s focus on the Vulkan API and Linux driver support for Google Stadia.
Cloud game streaming is a tricky business that’s fraught with problems. It boils down to a number of factors: Scaling the hardware with the number of active players, keeping the datacenter close enough to customers to minimize latency, the compression technology used for the video, and figuring out those pesky bandwidth caps.
One prime example of a cloud service that went belly up, despite widespread visibility, was OnLive. Launched as a service in 2010, it only lasted five years before throwing in the towel. It’s IP was bought out by Sony, and sort of lives on as part of Sony’s PlayStation Now cloud gaming service, launched in 2014.
We’ve seen NVIDIA trying to get the framework sorted out for its own datacenters with GeForce NOW, something that is still being worked on in the form of the RTX Server announced at GTC 2019. AMD has had partnerships with cloud game streaming services as well, most notable being LiquidSky, which was also announced at GDC in 2017 during AMD’s keynote. The problem is that despite the announcement, LiquidSky is still not out of beta, with only an ominous message of “Something Big is Coming” on its website.
AMD may also have some additional cloud gaming experience with its partnership with Microsoft, the rumored “Maverick” next-gen Xbox and xCloud service. AMD already provides the GPUs for both Microsoft and Sony’s consoles, so stretching that use to datacenters for cloud gaming is not much of a stretch. AMD already has its existing datacenter line of GPUs, the Radeon Instinct cards, such as the MI50 and MI60.
What’s different this time around is that Google has a pretty good idea of what it takes to run and manage internet-based services with huge amounts of data being streamed to millions of users – YouTube. The problem is that Google also has a long history of killing projects on a whim (Reader, G+, Hangouts, Wave, etc).
In the press release by AMD, it pointed out several times that the GPUs AMD will be providing are custom, beyond that, we don’t know. It’s probably fair to say that they will be some form of Radeon Instinct card, but with a lot more software support to fit with Google’s Linux-based servers.
In a separate announcement, UL Benchmarks, the creator of 3DMark, showcased a techdemo on Stadia that utilized multi-GPU rendering on a cloud-based service with a new benchmark, making heavy use of fluid dynamics and complex particles, apparently rendered on a different GPU than the main scene.