Google’s new cloud-based video game streaming service Stadia officially launched this week on November 19th with an updated roster of twenty-two titles (our initial report on Stadia’s launch lineup has been updated to include the prices for each game currently available–the vast majority are not included with a Stadia service subscription.) Unfortunately, Stadia doesn’t seem to have caused the industry-disrupting commotion Google may have been hoping for, with most reviewers and early adopters reporting that while Stadia makes a lot of promises (and delivers on some) it ultimately feels underwhelming and incomplete.
Alex Hern at The Guardian writes in his Stadia review that the service itself is “nothing short of revolutionary,” adding that “its core technology delivers on a promise decades in the making: console-quality gaming, without the console. But revolutions have unpredictable outcomes, leave a trail of destruction in their wake, and have a tendency to destroy those who start them. Will Google be able to see this through?” Hern ultimately gives Stadia a three-star rating in his review.
There are huge positives to Google Stadia. Reviewers generally agree that Stadia offers the best quality streaming option currently available, and even massive games like Red Dead Redemption 2 load quickly and beat out services like Microsoft’s xCloud in graphical and audio fidelity but can’t stand against the universal performance of an at-home traditional gaming console.
With Stadia, even a completely single-player experience will have its quality dictated by the strength of the user’s internet connection. Optimally, Stadia Pro (included in the Founder’s Edition) subscribers can stream games with 5.1 surround sound at a 4K resolution, at at a stable 60 FPS if their service meets the recommended 35 mbps connection (10 mbps is a hard minimum). Stadia Base is a free option that will launch in 2020 and offer game streaming up to 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second, also dependent on the quality of the user’s ISP.
I had a relatively stable time with #Stadia last night. Today at my studio the gameplay looked like this. This footage is unedited. This game right now is completely unplayable. pic.twitter.com/MxIqxRmCXB
— Shane Luis (@RerezTV) November 20, 2019
“Even under ideal conditions (fiber connection, directly plugged into the router, 4K HDR OLED TV), there is a noticeable difference between playing a game on Stadia and running the game on local hardware,” Jess Grey wrote in Wired‘s Stadia review. “There’s a certain clarity, depth, and sharpness you get when a game is rendered in real time, and that’s absent with a stream, no matter how high-quality it is.” Comparing it to watching games on a platform like Twitch, Grey adds that the user might not feel they’re “actually playing the game […] they look drab.” Wired gives Stadia a 6/10.
Another bone reviewers have to pick with Google Stadia are its mobile streaming limitations, as right now the service is only officially compatible with Google Pixel smartphones. Kevin Lee at IGN also gave Stadia a three star review and reports that playing Destiny 2 for five minutes ate through over 1GB of data, which is obviously prohibitive even with an unlimited plan.
Mobile game streaming has other drawbacks too, as Stadia eats up not only data but battery through the Stadia’s controller (which at likely no one’s request is “gender neutral“). Stadia isn’t able to take advantage of touchscreen controls, which means you’ll have to cart the controller around to play portably.
“Stadia success rate will vary depending on every player’s hyperlocal internet conditions,” explains Jessica Conditt in her review for Endgadget. “That’s not undue fearmongering; it’s just how the service operates.” She proposes that part of Google’s staggered release with Stadia is to limit the first line of users to protect the “fragile” Stadia system–“Google has jacked up the price of admission, delayed the ability to invite friends, and made hardware a key, restrictive component of a service that’s supposed to be all about the cloud.”
For some reviewers, the resolution Stadia delivers doesn’t live up to what Google promised. Even though overall the fidelity of the stream is impressive, games still tend to stream at a resolution closer to 720p, at least in the experience of Sean Hollister in his review for The Verge, which is subtitled “A Beta worth waiting for.” Digital Foundry editor Richard Leadbetter shares that even while using the service with a 4K output via Chromecast Ultra, the streamed game renders at a lower resolution.
Google Stadia is out today, and it already looks like a monumental flop. (I heard from one person involved that preorders were below expectations.) Question is, will they eventually stop trying to sell games and switch to an all-you-can-eat subscription model? Or just let it die?
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) November 19, 2019
At launch, Stadia is lacking a lot of launch features that early adopters with Founder’s Edition packages will have to wait for. This ends up leading many to feel that Stadia launched in an incomplete state. Digital Foundry’s Leadbetter writes in his review: “The integrated Google Assistant support isn’t live at the time of writing [Leadbetter had access before launch], the UI is very basic, and there’s a strange reliance on the Stadia mobile app for basic functionality–like buying games, or adjusting stream quality.” He adds: “Other essential features like family sharing aren’t active either. Google itself is pitching this as an evolving platform, with the Premiere Edition aimed at elite users looking for a great big screen experience. You can’t avoid the sense that the current set-up is far from the finished article though.”
The launch lineup for Stadia is underwhelming as well, with Tequila Works’s Gylt being the only Stadia exclusive among a fairly short list games that include titles that while good have been out for quite some time. Overall, the total value of Stadia is debatable. The Founder’s Edition costs $130 for the controller and upgraded Chromecast Ultra and three months of subscription time, with a fee of $9.99 per month after. While Stadia costs less than any current console including the recently released Nintendo Switch Lite, having to purchase from the limited games on offer, mostly at full price and that the target market of “elite users” likely already own, is a major downside.
The average internet speed in the United States is 35.88Mbps. To run 4k60 on Stadia, Google suggests 35Mbps.
Assuming you have exactly the national average internet speed, you’re using about 16 GB per hour. Most US ISP’s with data caps cap at 1TB/mo. 1k/16 = 62 hours of play. pic.twitter.com/OMPMnMttHS
— David ImeI (@DurvidImel) November 21, 2019
In Kotaku’s review of Stadia, Paul Tamayo writes: “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.”
To top it off, the cost of each Stadia title buys the user a license to the game with no physical copy–if Google should decide to terminate the service, the user’s library of games and a means to play them will be completely lost. Stadia’s Director of Product Andrey Doronichev spoke to Ars Technica in July of this year and stressed that Google’s commitment to Stadia is on par with its commitment to its most ubiquitous services, including Gmail. “Nothing in life is certain, but we’re committed to making Stadia a success. [Google will] launch the service and continue investing in it for years to come.”
There are two general moods about Google Stadia and its recent launch: it works great but has a weird business model and missing features, or it doesn’t work great and has a weird business model and missing features. While it’s nice to not have to deal with the tedium of downloading patches and updates and play favorite games on the go, for now Stadia is largely a (solid) proof-of-concept that arrived about 30 years too early and is confused about its target market. For now, it’s probably best to stick with the tried and true hardware approach to gaming while cloud services find their way.
Google Stadia’s Average Review Score – 6.5/10