The console wars have been raging on for decades now, Between Microsoft and Sony vying for power while Nintendo plays with sticks and rocks in the background. Other competitors have come and gone, and the scene has changed as the years passed.
Meanwhile in California, Google decided they wanted to join in on the fun. Starting with a test run in 2018, they would soon launch Google Stadia the following year to lukewarm reception. Offering the ability to play games anywhere, anytime, regardless of what device you were on was a huge promise, but the folks from Google managed to do just that.
What exactly is Google Stadia though?
Well, to address some of the misinformation online, Google Stadia is not “something” you “buy”. That would be like saying you are buying a Steam account. A little further on, we’ll talk about how you access Stadia, purchase games, and get it running with Chromecast, however.
Stadia is Google’s entry into the cloud-based gaming service industry, akin to Playstation Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming*.*** What Stadia offers is the ability to play your games across any device that can open a Chrome browser window. And it does exactly that.
You don’t need to download anything (unless you don’t use Chrome like I do, and you need to install it), but you will need the Stadia app if you want to play on your phone. If you’ve got a Chromecast, you’ll also need the app if you want to play on your TV. Once you’ve logged in, that’s it! No downloads needed, no installation, you just buy the games you want and play them at your lesiure.
You don’t even need to pay a monthly fee to use the service. You just need to buy the games you want to play. Google does offer a Pro plan, which gives users discounts on some titles as well as a selection of free-for-subscriber games that updates every month.
The Pro plan, specifically, it about all I have ever spent on this. Google even sent me a free Stadia controller and Chromecast Ultra thanks to one of their promotions for being a YouTube Premium subscriber. Out of the nearly 30 games in my Stadia library, I’ve only paid for two of them.
Google seems to still be pretty open to getting new players into their ecosystem too, with recent promotions for Cyberpunk 2077 and Resident Evil Village netting you a free Chromecast Ultra and Stadia controller if you pre-purchase the game on Stadia.
So….what’s the experience?
Well, before we get into that, I want to explain something to you.
Wifi internet sucks for a lot of people in the world. It’s unreliable, it drops often, there are dead areas, and speeds can be slow. Regardless of how you experience video games, if you’re playing online you will have the best experience if you are hardwired in.** No wifi, just grab your favorite Cat5 cable and plug directly into your modem for the best experience.
Also, for reference: I’ve been playing Stadia on my Desktop PC, my Smart TV (via Chromecast), and my Samsung Note 20 Ultra, all in 1080p. Stadia does support 4k, but my wallet does not.
Playing on Stadia is quick. I can tab out of this article I’m writing in Firefox right now and open up Jedi: Fallen Order right now and be in the title screen in under a minute. It’s lightning fast, and Google improves the platform constantly.
Input lag exists, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you think. I’ve had some UI lag in the Stadia menus between games, but rarely any lag while playing. When my internet speeds suffer (and they do, because my local ISP is terrible), my games will lag and the graphics will pixelate. But in an average day I will most likely have no issues at all. The only in-game input lag I have experienced with Stadia was during my playthrough of Jedi: Fallen Order, which from what I have seen is mostly an issue with the Stadia port of the game, and not Google themselves.
Graphically, it’s identical to me playing on my PC. I’ve got Destiny 2 on Steam as well as Stadia, and playing the game is virtually identical. There are some times where Stadia may drop in quality, but it’s usually very brief and after a time you rarely notice it. When the quality drops, gameplay does not suffer and the input does not lag at all.
Anecdotally, during the rocky release of Cyberpunk 2077, tons of people were saying that the Stadia port was the best version to play it on, in terms of stability and lack of graphical bugs. I can’t attest to this, but it’s been cited on the internet by a lot of reputable sources.
Alright, what are the bad parts?
Well, we all know Google is one to kill off projects willy-nilly. Especially since these games are only in the cloud, you can’t exactly back up your purchases if Stadia shuffles off it’s mortal coil. I don’t know if Google is planning to back out of this anytime soon, but they’ve been showing some strange signs.
The biggest mystery is the sudden departures of a few big employees in the last few months. It started with Google’s launch of Outcasters, the platform exclusive top-down multiplayer shooter in December 2020. In February, Google would announce they were winding down their internal game development teams in favor of “refocusing the platform”.
With the closure of Stadia Games & Entertainment, they lost Jade Raymond (who was formerly a producer at Ubisoft an EA), and a few months later would lose their Head of Product John Justice and another six unnamed employees. As of writing this, they lost another big name with the departure of Justin Uberti, who created Google’s Duo platform and joined the Stadia team as a lead engineer.
Playing games on the platform is fine, but the UI for the platform is rough. They only added a search bar to the service within the last two months (which isn’t in the app, only the website version of Stadia), Friends lists and messaging were also late additions to the platform as well.
It’s also no secret that Stadia’s library of games is pretty weak. They’ve been getting better, bigger AAA titles are coming all the time. Larger indie releases don’t normally hit Stadia on launch day, and some big games (such as Terraria) aren’t even on the platform yet. They have big plans for 2021 and there’s a lot of big titles coming to the platform, but I’m not sure if they’re capturing an audience and converting people from console and PC.
What’s the damage to my bank account?
Stadia has me sold on it’s price point, which is honestly pretty fair in my eyes. You can get started right now, for free, before you finish this article. It’s that easy! You more than likely already have a Google account, all you need to do is hop on to Stadia and play one of their free-to-play titles such as Crayta, Destiny 2, and Super Bomberman R. If you’re playing on PC, you can use mouse & keyboard, your Xbox controller, Playstation 4/5 controller, or even your Nintendo Switch Pro controller.
If you want to play on your TV however, you’ll need a Chromecast or a Smart TV with the Stadia app, as well as the Stadia controller (that’ll run you $70 for the controller alone, not counting the Chromecast). The same goes for your phone, most third party controllers will work with Stadia. They also include touch controls, but I wouldn’t be caught dead trying to play Destiny 2 on a touch screen.
Games are average priced, around $60 for new titles with some decent sales here and there. Some older titles are cheaper as well, but nothing I haven’t seen that beats Steam in most cases.
The real bang-for-your-buck is the Pro plan. Not only do you get a truckload of free games, you get new ones every month! It also allows you to play in 4k if it tickles your fancy, and you get some exclusive sales every now and again.
Wrapping it up
Stadia has been chugging along for the last few years, and I don’t think it will go away anytime soon. I feel like it’s still in it’s early days, and in a way it still is. It feels unfinished, and there’s a lot of room to grow.
But Stadia has true potential. I love the ability to play a game on my PC, switch to my TV, and then pick it up on my phone if I want. And the ability to not need to install or update a single time to play what I want to play is oddly handy, even though I really don’t mind them as a PC player.
I’d like to see Stadia continue to grow and flourish. I don’t think it will ever challenge the big boys as the next big thing, but I think it’ll be an example for the next big thing. And for the cheap price of Pro, I don’t mind enjoying it while it lasts.
Disclaimer: I received a free Chromecast Ultra and Stadia controller in Spring 2020 through one of their promotions for being a Youtube Premium subscriber. Google isn’t lining my pockets for this, but I did want to make it clear that freebies were involved.