Sony’s PlayStation 5 won’t outperform Google’s Stadia. Does it matter?

It just doesn’t matter how fast the PlayStation 5 will be

Best PS4 Games

The hype for Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 5 is growing, spurred most recently by a Sony-held investor conference where the company showed how the new console’s solid state drive will improve load times. It’s an impressive improvement, to be sure, changing the load time of a select Spider-Man scene from over eight seconds to under one. Less is known about the graphics horsepower of the next-gen console, but that hasn’t stopped speculation that it’ll be a powerhouse on par with many high-end gaming PCs.

It’s not surprising for new hardware to send gamer’s hearts aflutter. It’s a tale as old as gaming itself. Yet times have changed. A new console used to mean a major leap forward that could make entirely new genres possible. Today’s multi-platform, cloud-centric world has changed that. It doesn’t matter how fast the PlayStation 5 will be – but that doesn’t mean Sony is in trouble.

No one outruns the cloud

Sony can’t win the performance war with Google, or Microsoft, or Amazon, or any other major company with plans to throw its hat in the cloud gaming arena.

Data centers are simply a better environment for extreme performance. Google has quoted the performance of a single Stadia instance at 10.7 teraflops, which is almost twice that of Microsoft’s Xbox One X, and two and half times better than the PlayStation 4 Pro’s 4.2 teraflops. Stadia will also have solid state storage and 16GB of RAM.

As awesome as that sounds, it undersells the real potential of cloud gaming. Listing specifications makes it sound like Stadia will more-or-less rent a console kept in Google’s data center, but that’s not how a modern data center works. There’s not going to be a rack of hardware with your name on it. Data centers are built to scale, which means a customer can access as little or as much power as they need (and pay for).

So, to put it simply, Google could decide to let gamers use two Stadia instances in tandem. Three. Four. Or maybe they allow unlimited access to GPU resources, or unlimited access to memory. I don’t think it’d be as simple as flipping a switch (the fact that modern games are built for relatively fixed hardware will be a pain point), but it’s the inevitable end point. Cloud services are going to sell themselves on ease-of-use. Eventually, all the hardware claims will fall away, replaced by a “it just works” pitch and promo reels of jaw-dropping visuals.

google stadia vs nvidia geforce now controller  1
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The PlayStation 5 can’t hope to compete with that.

It’s possible, for sure, that Sony might release a very powerful PS5 console in hopes it can get ahead of the threat cloud gaming presents and gain favor among “core gamers” who appreciate stunning graphics.

However, every effort to improve performance will push up the console’s price, and that becomes a Catch-22. I’ve estimated the PS5 will release at $500, which is more than most gamers will want to pay. Even that price point represents a console that’s merely on par with cloud gaming platforms in raw technical grunt. Exceeding it would require a more lavish, and expensive, piece of kit.

Unfortunately, that piece of kit will also rapidly go out of date. The long-standing battle between console and PC gamers provides all the history we need. Consoles often rival or exceed PCs in visual quality at their initial release, but they always fall behind after a few years because of the PC’s unending upgrade cycle. Cloud gaming will be the same story.

Even Sony knows this is a problem. While the company’s claims about Spider-Man load times on the PlayStation 5 have grabbed headlines, it spent more time talking about PS Now and its plan to compete in cloud gaming. Sony thinks cloud gaming with surge in popularity over the next few years and hopes to compete.

You play games, not hardware

The PlayStation 5 has clear obstacles ahead of it. It already feels obsolete. That’s a bit unfair, to be sure – Google’s Stadia has yet to prove itself, after all, and the exact plans of Amazon and Microsoft remain uncertain. Still, the hype is in the air. Cloud gaming is coming and the people in charge of making game hardware, Sony included, seem convinced it’ll be a hit.

But don’t worry, PlayStation fans. There is hope.

Jim Ryan, President and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, has confidence that gamers will flock to PlayStation in all its forms. Why? The games.  “I humbly submit that no competitor, existing or potential, can match us in these areas,” he said with confidence during Sony’s investor day. “These areas,” of course, are PlayStation’s original IP, brand, and community.

It’s a key point. The increasing irrelevance of hardware cuts both ways. Yes, it means that the PlayStation 5 will have trouble keeping up with cloud gaming. But it also means the hardware edge cloud gaming offers isn’t an insurmountable advantage. Gamers don’t just pick based on performance. If they did, the Xbox One X would outsell the Switch, but the opposite is true. The PlayStation 4 Pro is also less capable than the Xbox One X but, again, the Xbox console is less popular.

God of War Review | Kratos and Atreus in a boat looking up at a giant hydra-like beast

I don’t have to explain why. You already know. Sony and Nintendo have better games. You buy a PlayStation to play Spider-Man, God of War, and The Last of Us. You buy a Switch to play Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon. You buy an Xbox One to play…well, for the most part, you just don’t buy an Xbox One.

That, of course, is where Google’s Stadia and other similar services, like Nvidia’s GeForce Now, currently fall short. Google first demoed what would become Stadia by offering up access to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on Project Stream. It worked well enough. But Assassin’s Creed is a cross-platform franchise. It’s available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or PC, as well as PC-based cloud gaming services and, in Japan, on Switch (again through cloud gaming). Few gamers will join Stadia just to play a game like Odyssey.

They would join Stadia to play a new, exclusive game, one that somehow uses the scale of cloud gaming to offer a larger or more complex game world than anything that’s come before. Google has hinted at that in its marketing for Stadia so far. But if that game is in development, well, they’re not talking about it yet.

PlayStation isn’t a console. It’s a brand.

PlayStation’s story has followed an intriguing arc. The original succeeded because it applied Sony’s experience building entertainment to the home console, transforming it from a relative niche to a living room icon. Today, however, PlayStation is much different. Gamers flock to the brand not because of the console, but because the wide variety of both cross-platform and exclusive games it offers. No one, not even Nintendo, has a more attractive line-up of mainstream games.

That’s a massive strength. It transcends technology. The power and convenience of Google Stadia, or Project xCloud, or any cloud-based competitor, can’t easily beat it. Just ask Microsoft, which tried and failed – over the span of a decade – to build its own collection of original IP like Halo, Gears of War, and Crackdown. It worked. A bit. For awhile. But Microsoft couldn’t keep it working for long.

The PlayStation 5 hype will build to a crescendo over the coming year, and for good reason. A new console is always exciting for gamers. Still, as you read about it, and its emerging competitors, remember that raw performance is not the point. Gaming is about the games. A faster GPU is fun to gawk at, but it’s The Last of Us 2 and God of War 2 that’ll have you forking over up to $500 for Sony’s new hotness.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Plant-based shoes and a ukulele learning aid

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

You can buy a Google Stadia controller now, but it won’t grant you access to play

The Google Stadia controller is now available for purchase separate from the Founder's bundle, but that's not all you'll need to play in 2019. Grab it if you want to play with a friend or if you receive one of the Pro buddy passes.

PS5 rumored to be more powerful than Xbox’s Project Scarlett

A rumor claiming that the PlayStation 5 will be more powerful than Xbox's Project Scarlett surfaced before the official reveal at the Xbox E3 2019 briefing. Now that we have more information, let's compare the two systems.

Microsoft reportedly wanted Halo: The Master Chief Collection on PlayStation 4

Microsoft reportedly considered launching Halo: The Master Chief Collection on the PlayStation 4 a few years ago. It remains unclear if the desire for the Halo series to make a platform jump is still there ahead of Halo Infinite.

The PlayStation Network is back up. Here’s the latest on the PSN outage

Sony's PlayStation Network is back online after going down for several hours on Thursday afternoon, annoying legions of gamers right in the middle of E3. Here's the latest on the outage

Put down the controller and pick up the best phones for gaming on the go

Which phones are the best if all you want to do is play some mobile games? We've done the hard work and put together a list of the best gaming phones on Android and iOS, so you can keep playing and winning.

New Nintendo Switch models are reportedly already in production and coming soon

The rumored two new Nintendo Switch models have already reportedly entered production. Some of the components were moved out of China and into Southeast Asia, as Nintendo looks to limit the impact of proposed tariffs.

Square Enix has no clue how many episodes Final Fantasy VII Remake will take

The initial release of the Final Fantasy VII Remake on March 3, 2020 will feature the part of the adventure that takes place in Midgar. Square Enix has no idea on how many episodes it will take to tell the full story of the original RPG.

Nintendo 3DS nowhere to be seen at E3 2019, but apparently not yet dead

The Nintendo 3DS was missing at E3 2019, but it appears that support for the console will continue. No first-party games are planned for the device, but it offers a collection of titles that may still attract both old and new players.

Why OLED gaming monitors may be further from reality than we thought

Earlier this year, Dell showed us the promise of an exciting new future for gaming monitors with the reveal of the Alienware 55-inch OLED gaming display. We loved it. But according to new reports, it may never see the light of day.

Walmart cuts $300 off Dell Inspiron 5680 gaming desktop for gamers on a budget

If you're stashing money but want an upgradeable rig that will go a long way, then this solid deal on the Dell Inspiron Gaming Desktop 5680 with Intel Core i5-8400 is for you. It is now available for only $700 at Walmart.

Walmart drops sweet $20 discount on the Sony PS4 DualShock 4 Controller

Walmart is offering a $20 discount on the Sony PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 Controller. New features include the touchpad, speaker, and light bar. It's also compatible with Windows-based PCs. This controller was originally priced at $60, but…

Check out Walmart’s steep discounts on Dell and LG gaming monitors

If you're a gamer looking for high-quality computer displays, you definitely need to take advantage of this deals from Dell and LG. These gaming monitors will fit your budget and your GPU.

Cadence of Hyrule is the first truly amazing Zelda spinoff

Cadence of Hyrule is the first non-mainline Zelda game to capture the magic of the series. Blending catchy rhythm mechanics with top-down Zelda exploration, Brace Yourself Games has created one of the best games of 2019.