Google Kitchener-Waterloo manager on developing Stadia streaming tech

A team in Southern Ontario is leading the charge on Google's game streaming initiative

Google’s recently revealed Stadia game streaming service aims to offer high-fidelity gaming experiences at consistent frame rates across a variety of devices.

What you might not know, however, is that the technology powering this ambitious undertaking has rather humble beginnings in Ontario.

Indeed, the Google team in Kitchener-Waterloo can claim the majority of the ownership of the Stadia experience for developers and publishers, as well as the software powering the Stadia controller.

New horizons

The Kitchener-Waterloo office is primarily responsible for engineering, working on such products as Gmail, Chrome, Google Home and its companion mobile apps and more.

But a couple of years ago, Google’s top brass tasked the team with working on a game streaming service that was in the very early stages of development.

“At the time, the product had gone from a promising prototype into something that needed to be used and scaled up between a lot of studios,” says Paul Leventis, technical lead manager at Google’s Kitchener-Waterloo office.

“The piece of it that my team owns and drives in Canada is the developer and publisher tooling — everything that’s needed to get to the point where a game is up and running on our platform.”

According to Leventis, a small part of the 600-person team then began toiling away at the service that would become Stadia. While he says the prospect of working on such a big project was “uncomfortably exciting,” he and his team — who are all gamers themselves — wanted to take it on nonetheless.

“At a company like Google, getting the opportunity to work on cutting edge technology and trying to transform and change how gaming is going to work is really cool,” he says. “[It’s] very daunting because we knew there was a large number of technical challenges as well as product and business challenges that are involved, but at the same time, it’s the kind of thing you really want to be a part of.”

Canadian talent plays a driving force in Stadia

Further, Leventis says his Stadia team’s work benefited greatly simply due to the Kitchener-Waterloo office.

“We have some great engineering talent in Canada, particularly at the University of Waterloo, where Google has access to some awesome talent,” says Leventis of Google’s decision to task his team with leading the charge on Stadia. “Canada also does have a really strong background in gaming. We have some great game studios in the country.”

Google Stadia controller

One of these studios, Ubisoft Quebec, ended up being the marquee partner for Google on its games streaming efforts. The company first ran public tests of this service — then referred to as ‘Project Stream’ — in October 2018 with Ubisoft Quebec’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

“Another advantage to having us located where we are is that it gives us an East Coast presence and proximity to a number of studios in Canada, as well as the Eastern side of the U.S.,” Leventis explains. While Google has only revealed a few Stadia partners so far, Leventis says his team is “working closely with them as they all start working on their games for our platform.”

“Being able to work really closely with Ubisoft, for example, we spent a lot of time trying to understand what their future requirements would be and what they needed to be successful,” says Leventis. “Then we iterated, gave them prototypes, tried new things and improved over time.”

All the while, he says Google executives gave his team “a lot of flexibility” on Stadia.

“Originally, we were given a technology demonstration of some of the core pieces that were needed to make this work. But there’s a big difference between a prototype that’s stuck together with duct tape and glue and turning it into something that’s production-ready,” says Leventis.

“How you give 100 studios [or] thousands of developers a set of tools that they will be productive on is a very different problem. We had complete latitude to figure out what that looked like.”

“It’s been really neat for us because sometimes when you work as a remote office or remote team on a project for a larger company, you end up owning only a small piece or fraction of the mandate. In this case, we own the entirety of the mandate,” Leventis says.

While Google hasn’t confirmed when in 2019 Stadia will launch in Canada, Leventis says he’s excited for Canadians to eventually get the opportunity to try it out.

He calls back to a “magical moment” he had with Stadia on a business trip last fall that he hopes others will get to experience. After a long day of work, he says he wanted to test out the latest demo of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

“I just picked up my controller and fired up Chrome and five seconds later was playing [Odyssey] exactly where I left off a few days when I’d been home a couple of days earlier in the middle of nowhere on an inexpensive Chromebook that I had with me. That was a really cool experience.”