Google's Stadia Just Ain't It

Google’s game-streaming platform Stadia is finally here tomorrow. I’ve had a week to tinker around with the Founder’s Edition. It has the Stadia controller, a Chromecast Ultra, and a charger with a USB cable you can also use to plug into your PC or laptop for playing inside of a Chrome browser. Most of my experiences using the Stadia have left me a little befuddled.

Here’s the thing about me, readers: I’m a fool. I always want to try out the newest, latest thing to see if the hype is real. There’s one question I keep returning to: Who, exactly, is this for? It’s in its testing stages, but could I recommend this to somebody in its current state? Nah, not really. Does it work though, Paul? Yup. Sure does.

Editor's Note: Google Stadia isn't currently available in Australia, and has no scheduled launch date here.

In the interest of transparency, I do have a sibling who works at Google, but that in no way influences my thoughts on my time with Stadia this past week. There might be an awkward Thanksgiving conversation, but we’ll be all right.

If you’ve got all the right pieces in place, the Stadia service works pretty damn well. Redeeming the codes for games they sent us for review and being able to jump into them immediately without download waits was exhilarating. As someone who has to regularly wait for patches to download and shaders to get installed when my friends are all gathering online for some Modern Warfare multiplayer, I often feel like I’m stuck outside waiting in line for the party while I can hear my friends inside having a great time. Stadia just let me walk on in after redeeming a code for Red Dead Redemption 2. That’s pretty cool.

In order to play on your phone or on a Chromecast Ultra, you’ll have to have the Google Home app, set the device up, and tie it to your personal account. The entire setup will be handled through the app itself, which worked pretty painlessly. You can cast games from your phone onto your TV the same way you’d cast a YouTube video. Using the app, you can also have a game you’re playing on your TV shift instantly onto your phone. It actually works really well.

I’ve tested it out on my 4K HDR TV at home, on my Pixel 3 (which I already owned), and my PC using a browser. With my gigabit home internet, it 100% works. The ability to transfer gameplay between my phone or my browser in seconds is wild. Our review unit came with a USB-C cable to hook up to my phone and a USB-C-to-USB-A cable to play in a Chrome browser on a PC or Mac. While it isn’t as seamless a transition as they showed off at the Game Developers Conference in March, it works.

For third-person adventure games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Gylt, I didn’t notice any input delay. Tomb Raider ran silky smooth on my TV. Red Dead Redemption 2 looked great but appeared to cap out at 30 frames per second. For all of that teraflop talk at GDC, I was a bit let down. Destiny 2 looked amazing on my TV at home and ran really well at 60 frames per second. There was hardly any noticeable input delay, but when it does happen, it’s disruptive. I’d stop sprinting and my character would take an extra step or I’d miss a headshot that I swear I would’ve gotten for sure on PlayStation 4 or with a mouse and keyboard (Editor’s note: Sure, Paul).

These games work well as test cases, but I can’t imagine someone actually shelling out money for this. Let me explain why. Ostensibly, my current setup is ideal for the Stadia—I am a fool who owns with gigabit internet, a 4K HDR TV, and even a damn Pixel 3. I’m somehow the exact person somebody at Google probably sketched onto a whiteboard in Stadia’s early stages.

But again, I ask: Who else is this for? Outside of the ability to stream games on a browser or your phone, I really can’t find a strong selling point for playing games that you can largely get on other platforms already for around the same price. Stadia’s for tech-savvy people, but it’s likely they already own an easier way to play these games.

Sure, it’s a cheaper point of entry. The $US129 ($189) Founders Edition gets you in the door for cheaper than other consoles, assuming you already have a TV, a computer or a Pixel phone at home. But the launch lineup leaves much to be desired with only 22 games, and all but one of the original 12—except for Gylt—have been available on other platforms for some time now.

None of these games are particularly impressive as launch titles. That’s where Stadia really fails to impress, and it’s a big sore spot. Google says more games are coming by the end of the year, but this seems like a soft launch to get ahead of the shiny new consoles coming next year.

But if we call it a soft launch, this thing is cotton candy. On launch, Stadia won’t have some of its major social features like Stream Connect or Crowd Play. That’ll come next year, according to Google. Stadia doesn’t have an achievement system, current Chromecast Ultras won’t run Stadia, no family sharing, no buddy passes (sorry to ya mans) and some “Founders” won’t even get theirs until late November or early December.

I still have to wait to see how the Google Assistant button on the Stadia controller works since it wasn’t available on our review units. The share button did let me save 30-second clips and screenshots to the Stadia app, but even then, I couldn’t do much with them. They were just trapped inside the app with no way to download or share them. I mean, I could screenshot the screenshots? But like…why?

Another (highly specific) issue: I’ve been working with our office’s IT manager to get Stadia running on a TV, but if you’re planning on using these Chromecast Ultras at work, think again. Stadia, as of right now, just doesn’t get along with enterprise networks. Unless your IT manager is really cool like ours (shoutout to Chris from IT) and is helping you set up a private network to test this on, you’re in for an adventure.

Ultimately, I’m left feeling lukewarm on Stadia. Playing in Chrome caps your resolution to 1080p, it’s not really wireless with your phone, and there are a ton of missing features that people will just have to wait for. But when it works, you do get a glimpse of what being able to play games across multiple screens can look like, and you know what? That’s pretty damn cool.

At the moment, Stadia feels about as substantial as a phone upgrade. Sure, it’ll have a better camera and a few new features, but once you transfer stuff, it’s the same user interface—the same message threads and emails you’ve been ignoring. This just felt like playing Destiny 2 on my PC or Red Dead Redemption 2 on my PS4 Pro. There aren’t any real reasons to buy the service over consoles or a PC right now. That’s one thing Google needs to address if they want this thing to be appealing, especially with a new generation of consoles looming.

However you feel about what a streaming service like Stadia could mean for game preservation or the modding scene, it’s hard to deny we’re heading in that direction. It won’t happen tomorrow, but if all the services I’m currently subscribed to tell me anything, Stadia feels like a step in that direction. It’s tough for a console to make a good first impression, so I’m not counting it out just yet. In the meantime, I’ll keep playing most of my games the way I already do: on hardware running it locally, where all my other friends are.

Here’s what we know so far about the games available for Stadia at launch:

Stadia Launch Games Pricing

  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey - $US59.99 ($88) ($US30.00 ($44) Stadia Pro Deal)

  • Gylt - $US29.99 ($44)

  • Just Dance 2020 - $US49.99 ($73)

  • Kine - $US19.99 ($29)

  • Mortal Kombat 11 - $US59.99 ($88) ($US41.99 ($62) Stadia Pro Deal)

  • Red Dead Redemption 2 - Launch Edition - $US59.99 ($88)

  • Samurai Showdown - $US59.99 ($88)

  • Thumper - $US19.99 ($29)

  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider - $US59.99 ($88)

  • Rise of the Tomb Raider - $US29.99 ($44)

  • Tomb Raider 2013 - $US19.99 ($29) ($US10.00 ($15) Stadia Pro Deal)

  • Final Fantasy XV - $US39.99 ($59) ($US29.99 ($44) Stadia Pro Deal)

Special Editions:

  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Stadia Ultimate Edition - $US119.99 ($176) ($US60.00 ($88) Stadia Pro Deal)

  • Mortal Kombat 11 Premium Edition - $US89.99 ($132) ($US62.99 ($92) Stadia Pro Deal)

  • Red Dead Redemption 2 Special Edition - $US79.99 ($117)

Red Dead Redemption 2 Ultimate Edition - $US99.99 ($147)


Comments

    "with gigabit internet" Hence the lack of Australian release...

      Gigabit fibre mind you. Lots of people rightly focused on data caps but the real kicker is latency. You want to stream games, fast AND extremely low latency required.
      Guess Australia is fucked. Thanks libs you bunch of fucks.

    See that's the reason why I don't like the Google Stadia storm the Google Stadia is an epic failure and so Google needs to take a good hard at look themselves and realise that we are not getting another console Google if you're listening you guys are a complete failure your Stadia is also a complete failure.
    Seriously Google you guys have failed miserably.

    Well that's about what I expec-- hangon, I've missed something all this time...
    Haha, you have to buy the fucking games, it's not even a subscription? Gitfaaaarked.

      Yup, You are paying to have the ability to buy the games from the platform.

      Imagine if you could only buy from eb games if you paid $30 a month.

      It looks like their plan is to have a "pro" tier subscription that includes access to a free game library, and a free "base" tier that only includes access to games you've purchased.

      However, at the moment they're only providing access to those who're paying for the "pro" subscription, and haven't set up the free game library yet. So worst of both worlds?

    See, I could see this being really handy as a way to play games if you happen to go on holiday somewhere with good internet, without lugging your console/PC around with you, or buying an expensive gaming laptop. The likelihood of finding a holiday destination with said "good enough" internet, however, means this is still a product that is still waiting for infrastructure to catch up to its requirements.

    I'm less interested in how it operates over gigabit internet using a business line, and more how it would fare on... say, my more realistic holiday internet situation: a shared 25Mbps connection, god knows how many kilometres from the closest exchange.

      Or you could just get a switch

        A couple of years ago, I bought a 3DS - it's seen maybe four weeks' use in that time, and was a complete waste of money. If I'm at home, I'm far more likely to prefer to game on my PS4 or PC; if I'm out and about, I'm not really unoccupied for long enough to consider pulling out a handheld. I'm also not a particularly big fan of Nintendo games, so practically everything I would consider playing on a Switch, I can already play on PC or console.

        Suffice to say, I'm not going to spend $300-500 on hardware that will only get used 2-3 weeks a year. Especially not if there's a potential US$10-20/year solution to the same problem (by subscribing only for the month or two where I would actually use it).

      Pff. I took 2 Xbox 360's and 7 controllers with my on my last holiday. Totally worth it for the Halo Reach LAN we had

        I took my PS4 on my last holiday - getting it through airport security was a pain, having to pull it out and re-pack it. Not saying it's not possible, only that I'd much rather be able to just toss a PS4/XBOne controller in my laptop bag, instead of lugging an extra 3kg case around.

    I think the reality is that for at least the next ten years, a hybrid approach with streaming options and physical options are going to be needed.

    For me, that makes Stadia a dead end.

      Without trying to be a shill - that’s what I like about the xCloud stuff. The Azure streaming is just dead in the water for us Aussies ... but console to device streaming is A+ interim solution. It was one of the best features of PS4 - PS Vita integration, it’ll be good to have a solution.

    Just seems like a stupid idea to clog up the internet with data that can be run locally

    As easy as it is to slam the launch of Stadia (It really is a terrible launch) to me, it completely makes sense. The amount of unforeseeable issues that will come with the Stadia means that it's going to be preferable for it to have a small client base for the first few years while the kinks are worked out.

    The lack of required hardware (in the future) means that Google doesn't have to worry about the tech outdating itself, so it can spend the next 5-10 years turning itself into a serious competitor to having to put down more money for a PS6/XBox5. Google will be able to weather an unimpressive launch to a small user base much easier than if they had enabled it onto every Chromecast from the get go, only to suffer years of performance issues.

    All it needs to do is be able to glomp itself onto something like the Switch, or make itself compatible with your Steam library and it'll quickly swing from a joke to a required purchase.

      It’s a nice idea on paper but even local area network streaming can be problematic. Trying to do it over the internet on titles that rely on low latency for a decent (not even ideal!) experience is probably asking too much at this point. If you’ve got an awesome high end internet connection and don’t have many hops to the data centre it might be great. For everyone else it’ll be garbage.

      Plus Google randomly kills projects all the time, so...

        That's why I think it's a "get out a barebones product, while there is a barebones audience" kind of deal. Instead of waiting for the technology to be there, then developing new tech and trying to have millions of people sign up on day one. They can launch in the background and slowly figure things out.

        In many ways, timing the launch around the same time as a new console cycle is the worst time, because it's comparing new tech to new tech. Come back to Stadia when people aren't talking about next gen and Google can brag that they can update their backend hardware every year, you don't have to wait for a new generation to get new features.

        You are right, though. Google aren't afraid to kill things off quickly. But if they play the long game, Stadia could become a standard like their search engine or YouTube.

      @snoweee, I think you'll be interested to see what Microsoft have up their sleeves. The Xcloud, follows a similar concept, but you won't have to buy games! There are plans to put Gamepass on. This, if successful, will make Stradia look like a money grab.

        I'm super interested in it from a technical point of view. Microsoft have been laying down the tracks for this for ages and are in a situation where they will (hopefully) be able to integrate it with minimal dramas.

        I do think Google pushing out a "proof of concept" now and trying to fix the issues as the go along will be the best way for them to compete, however. If they waited until Microsoft (and one would assume Sony following suite) had already claimed their audience, it would be near impossible to get a foothold.

    Stadia’s for tech-savvy people, but it’s likely they already own an easier way to play these games.

    This seems like the exact opposite of who it's intended audience should be. I feel like it *should* be for the people who don't know megabytes from gigabytes or a CPU from a GPU. It seems perfect for people who want a no brainer, it just works type deal. The tech savvy people are probably appalled at the prospect of their RTX2080s and Intel i7-9700ks being rendered redundant.

    I dread the rise of Stadia (and similar) because like Diablo3 you won't have any control over your game. You'll wind up having to be online all the time to play and you could get the game cut off at a whim. Company decides the game isn't making enough money, shut it down. Company thinks you're cheating (whether you are or not) you're banned. You move to an area with a spotty internet connection, you're boned.

    While I don't think Stadia is going to be the revolution Google hopes it will be, I want to rebut the arguments that 22 games is a small launch lineup. It's actually not. Both the PS4 and Xbox One launch with roughly the same number of titles, many of which were multiplatform.

    The Nintendo Switch - arguably the best selling gaming device for the past couple of years only launched with 12 games - the majority of which - like Stadia - were available on other platforms. Even Breath of the Wild was also on Wii U.

    So while the strength of the launch lineup is important, 22 games is by no means a small number to have ready to go. It's actually about average. Whether those 22 games are any good is a different matter, but the quantity of games available at launch certainly isn't lacking and is not a valid argument against the service. There's plenty of other things wrong with it that you can criticise without making stuff up.

      Well, it's not just that... these 'launch' titles aren't uninspiring because they're also being made available on other platforms... it's because they've been out on other platforms from anywhere from several months to several years. They're not just 'not unique'... they're not even NEW.

      So it's not like the Switch coming out with Breath of the Wild also being available on the Wii U. It's more like the Switch coming out without anything even like Breath of the Wild, just a re-packaged version of Twilight Princess that doesn't even run faster or look better.

        But that comes down to the quality argument, which I addressed in my post.

        What I'm specifically debating about it the number of launch titles. Nothing else. I'm only talking about the "wow only 22 games? lol" argument. The quantity of the games isn't the problem. Many systems launch with about the same amount of even less than that. That's all I'm saying.

        The quality? Yes, the quality leaves something to be desired when most of them are several months to several years old. But taking quality out of the equation, 22 games would normally be more than enough for a console to launch with.

          Bah a couple of typos in there but hopefully you get the gist. Not going to bother editing the post and sending it into moderation purgatory.

          What I'm getting at is that given their age, it's really hard to even think about them as 'launch titles'. They were, generally, just titles that were launching alongside the new platforms. That's... not the same thing. Language comes with a certain baggage - that's how it works.

          Just take a look at the PS4, the Xbone launches. Sure, there were a couple entries that were just being ported forward but for the most part, being a 'launch' title meant that the title was either launching as well, or a remaster of it was, taking advantage of the new platform's advanced capabilities.

          So when people talk about 'launch titles', THAT is what they are referring to.

          Saying that any title that is available on launch is the same thing as a 'launch title' is a semantic argument that ignores the criticism outright for the sake of a meaningless technicality. When people shit on the 'number of launch titles', you have to understand that their usage of 'launch titles' is communicating something that you're hard line misinterpreting the language around in an attempt to avoid hearing.

            Ah you know what, sorry @whitepointer that's not fully correct or fair.

            SOME people are indeed also arguing that the number of titles available at launch (distinct from 'launch titles') is also very small.

            And relative to other platforms, that's probably not true... but when the Stadia isn't bringing anything new to the table and appears to just be sampling a microscopic selection of games released in the last couple years, it is still a fair criticism. Stadia's not competing with platforms launches of seven years ago, it's competing with those platforms now. (Or rather, it's not competing. This is like the whole argument about why we should give EGS a break for not launching with features that Steam has established as bare minimum standard to compete, or why we should cut some slack to a brand new car manufacturer if it launches its first car without power steering, because it took everyone else ages to develop that technology.)

        Playing devils advocate for a moment, I think it's actually smart to release a bunch of older games. They're proving to the potential audience that games don't have to be expressly written for stadia. Stadia to me isn't like xbox or PS4 in that you're buying a service not a console. The consoles need new games to sell them. This doesn't.

        I still don't like Stadia for a number of reasons, but at least they're proving backward compatibility with games.

        What might be a more compelling argument to get into Stadia would be if it was a monthly sub for the service and you could link to your Steam/GoG/etc library and use it to play any game you already own.

    yes please google. please allow me to play games with horrible latency whilst paying you for the privilege and again for the games.

    They could at least give people a free 1hr demo time period on those games. Really they are shooting for the moon in attempting to milk people at the get go, that's not a smart business move IMO. Lets not forget these games you don't own, but you pay google to OWN them for you.... once service is gone, game is gone. That's a big legal issue waiting to happen if you ask me!

      Well if no one has sued WoW or Wildstar or any of the heaps of MMOs that are effectively the same scenario I don't think anyone will be able to go after Google either. So long as the T&Cs are clear and unambiguous there shouldn't be a problem.

      That said, I don't like the idea for exactly the reason you point out. Can't play your game short term because of maintenance or internet outages. Can't play your game ever again because google shuts the project. Neither appeals.

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