Google Stadia Review: A Future of Uncertainty

Posted on November 26, 2019 by Brad Sams in Games, Google Stadia with 22 Comments

Google is trying to break into a market that is made up of gamers who are fiercely loyal to their platform. You have Sony fans and Xbox fans who are in a perpetual cold war about trying to prove which device is better while Nintendo hangs out on the sidelines gobbling up sales thanks to a lucrative IP catalog.

Enter Stadia, a new way to play games without the need for purchasing an expensive console and Google is making big claims about 4K gaming anywhere. On paper, Stadia looks fantastic and there are parts of the service that truly are, ahem, ‘game-changing’, but it’s a future that’s almost here and it feels like Google rushed this one out of the gate to be able to yell, “FIRST”.

Last week, my Stadia Founders edition arrived which nets you a controller, Chromecast Ultra, two charging cables, and three months of Stadia Pro, for about $130. There are two tiers of Staida, Free and Pro, with Pro allowing for higher quality streaming and a few other perks. If you stick with the free option, you will be limited to 1080P.

The idea of Stadia sounds simple, you buy your game on Stadia and then you can play it on any device at any time. But there are a couple major hurdles that underline this claim that make it feel like Google rushed this service out the door.

First, you need a solid Internet connection, at least 10 Mbps, which will deliver 720p video with stereo sound and that scales up to at least 35Mbps for 4k streaming. And then there are data issues, an hour gaming at 4k can absorb around 4GB of data; game wisely here folks. And then there is the hardware issue, right now Stadia only works with the included Chromecast Ultra or a Pixel phone, no other iOS/Android devices are supported yet; you can also play in the browser.

The hardware limitations, while a bit odd for a service that is not launching in beta, will eventually be relaxed but it does diminish some of the magic of the service. As of right now, Stadia is more restricted on where you can’t play than where you can play.

And then there is the purchasing of games. Right now, you can only play titles in the Stadia library which is about 20 titles – none of which are AAA exclusives which means if you are playing Stadia, you are actively choosing the experience over that of a console or on your PC. And if you bought a bunch of games on Steam/Xbox/PS4, you are forced to re-buy them on Stadia; walled-gardens are a serious problem in the gaming world.

There is also an issue with the resolution of games, Stadia promises 4k but as we have learned, it’s not really 4k. Sometimes it might be 4k, other times it’s the Chromecast doubling the pixels to make it look like 4k. Whatever the reason, just know that the streaming quality is not ‘true’ 4k gaming, despite Google making huge claims that their data centers are more powerful than an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro.

I know it feels like I am harping on all the downsides for Stadia, and it’s true, there are a lot of barriers to making this service a success for Google. It’s a huge bet on a highly competitive market but there are some glimmers of light shining through all of the issues.

Stadia in the browser is a unique experience. It’s somewhat like driving an electric car for the first time. What I mean is that you login to Stadia, pick your game, hit play and it…works. The game goes fullscreen and the latency on the PC is much less than that with the Chromecast configuration, and the process is seamless. This is where Stadia shines right now, in the browser and on a PC.

I played Destiny single-player for a couple of hours and it’s more than playable, it’s enjoyable. The input lag was not an issue and I could run around and have fun without really thinking about how I was playing the game. In short, Stadia on the PC for a single player is more than acceptable and this may be Google’s future (for now).

Online play, on the PC, was another story. Trying to get into a multiplayer match takes around 10 minutes and if you hit that 10-minute barrier, an error message pops up and says you have been timed out. It’s clear that Destiny on Stadia has a small userbase and playing multiplayer games is not a viable option yet; this is a chicken and egg problem.

Google needs people to sign up for Stadia and play Destiny but why would you play Destiny on Stadia when no one else is playing Destiny on Stadia?

One thing that is worth pointing out on the PC is that the graphics are noticeably sub-par compared to native play. Google has already been called out for lying about the specs of the streams and it’s quite obvious that the graphics are being scaled down to make this service possible. If you are looking for the best possible Destiny experience, local play will be the preferred option for now and likely many years into the future.

The other thing to know is that playing with the controller and Chromecast Ultra has a lot, and I mean a lot more latency than playing in a browser. Playing in the browser almost feels like the game is running locally, with the controller and Chromecast, it’s clear that the game is streaming and latency does become an issue.

Stadia is great for someone who doesn’t own a console or doesn’t have a modestly-powerful PC to play games. The flexibility in playing on some devices is great but the experience can vary widely depending on the setup. There is something magical about clicking play in a browser and having the game fire up without much overhead but the number of restrictions, at this time, with Stadia makes the process more limited than one might expect.

The thing is, I want Stadia to succeed. More competition in the gaming space is better for everyone, but Stadia was promised to open up gaming to everyone but right now, it’s restricted heavily. This feels more like a beta release than a public offering.

While gaming with the Chromecast and controller, the latency is nearly identical to Microsoft’s xCloud, which is not a good sign for Google. Microsoft has a back-catalog that spans decades and with similar technology, xCloud is a feature of Gamepass, whereas Stadia streaming is the product. Why would you buy Stadia when GamePass nets you hundreds of games, the same streaming capabilities, and the same portability? Google needs a magic sauce for Stadia but so far, I have yet to see anything that puts it miles ahead of xCloud which is still in preview.

At this time, it’s hard to recommend Stadia to anyone. Google has a lot of work to do, primarily on the front of the titles as I can’t quite yet justify buying a game on Stadia over Steam/Xbox/PlayStation. But, Google does have the start of something here and if they have the ability to ride this out and invest the dollars needed to make the platform a success, this could be a huge win down the road.

But, the biggest unknown is Google’s commitment. Yes, they launched this month but will the company ride this service out for a few years to find success? Unfortunately for Google, they have a long uphill battle ahead of them and they don’t have a solid past of sticking with services that aren’t a success on day one.

 

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Comments (23)

23 responses to “Google Stadia Review: A Future of Uncertainty”

  1. wolters

    My Founders Edition is still in the box, calling at me. I did try Stadia on Mouse/Keyboard on my Surface Book 2. I played Tomb Raider and it ran fine and looked great. But my battle: Do I need another gaming service? I am invested in XBOX and PC (Steam, GOG, Itch) and with XCloud here (I'm a Beta tester), I just don't have room or a need for another service.


    That said, I hope Stadia will succeed and be the underlying for many Android games...basically, many high quality games running on Stadia and end users don't know the difference.

  2. Rycott

    Maybe I am getting old but I just don't see the point of streaming games other than corporations making it ever more difficult to actually own video games.


    I can barely think of a PC/Console game I have played that I would ever think would be great to play on a phone while out in the world.


    The biggest use case would be if you are in a hotel somewhere and wanted to play some games in downtime on the rooms TV, but even then with internet speed/data usage being such a big factor it's still not going to make that a super enjoyable experience.

    • Patrick3D

      In reply to Rycott:

      Most kids have a phone, a tablet, or a cheap laptop these days. The biggest market base for a streaming service are going to be those low-end devices that can't handle full PC/console games natively, but can handle a video stream. Even for people with serious gaming PC's, it is quite desirable to have a service that doesn't require installing a game to hop in and play. Gamepass Ultimate games on PC are nearly 40GB, that's a long time to sit and wait for something to download and install, not to mention it limits how many games you can keep installed at one time.

      I've had the chance to try xCloud and the end-user experience is far better than the current experience of popping a disc in, waiting for it to install, waiting for a day-1 download, waiting for the day-1 download to install... before you finally get to play a game.

      What these services are going to need is to partner together for a "Movies Anywhere" type of integration where you buy a game and play it on any service, so that you only need to buy it once. Physical game sales are going to go the way of vinyl and become a niche product by the end of the next decade.

    • justme

      In reply to Rycott:

      Oddly enough, I am right there with you. While I understand and respect mobile is a big deal, the latency will eventually catch up to you - not every internet connection is equal. Gaming via a service? Its not for me. I'll stick to my PC.

    • Vladimir Carli

      In reply to Rycott:


      do you believe that everyone in the world has access to a console or even a gaming computer? With streaming millions of student that were given a 200$ chromebook at school, suddenly have a gaming laptop in their hands. Next year they’ll have it for free, instead of spending at least a thousand dollars on gaming gear

      • crfonseca

        In reply to Vladimir:

        True, but the same student will need a pretty good, uncapped, Internet connection.

        This might be the case in South Korea, but it's definitely not the case of anywhere else.

        Not yet, anyway, and the real question with Stadia is, will Google keep at it or is it yet another failed Google product?

        • Vladimir Carli

          In reply to crfonseca:


          it's a bit early to answer that question. We shall see. Obviously the Internet connection will be one of the major factors but this applies to all streaming providers, not only google. If everyone (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Sony, Valve) is jumping on the boat, we have to assume that they have a plan regarding connectivity. Google is probably in the best position to offer connectivity as well. Moreover, it's not only South Korea. I think Americans have a somewhat biased view on this because the US connections are not on par with the rest of the developed world. I live in Sweden and most connections are perfectly fine for streaming. The same applies many countries in Northern, Western and Eastern Europe and Asia. 5g will also change the picture over time. Data caps (real and hidden) are non existent on fiber in Europe and they are starting to disappear from mobile connections as well. Since 2019, I can get a truly unlimited LTE connection for 50 dollars a month and prices are going down.

  3. Vladimir Carli

    no offense, but the more I read posts and comments on stadia on this site the more I believe that there is a lack of understanding about who stadia is for. Those who play on pc will continue to play on pc for the time being. Those who play on console will continue to play on console. However, there is a world of teens and young adults out there who never owned either and are now discovering for the first time titles as Destiny 2, Metro Exodus, Red Dead Redemption etc. Try to go around on gaming forums and discord servers. The impact of streaming services is huge and the potential audience very large. The fact that the concept is not appealing to a bunch of IT professionals with plenty of devices at their disposal or lack of time and interest for gaming, doesn't really reflect the outside world.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Short version: Bullshit. Longer version: No offense either, but you don't get it, at all. We're not that dumb. We're not "IT professionals." And we do understand the market. I've been video gaming regularly since I was a child, on PCs since the early 90s, and on consoles for over a decade. We get the video game market. We get where Stadia fits in and how it works and how it doesn't. That should be obvious.
  4. cerfcanuck

    According to another website, the latency problems with the Chromecast and controller setup may be due the TV itself. If you haven't already set your television to "game" mode, you might try this.

  5. nbplopes

    At $50 to $70 a game plus subscription ... it’s crazy, a curiosity. Cloud Gaming At the moment it’s an add on to local gaming,, not a platform to sell games.


    It puzzled me why MS entered the game so soon. It’s because Google did, nothing else considering how the company operates. A precaution measure.


    As such I do not see this evolving fast at all. For instance, it would make sense to quickly coming out with clients in most Platforms, Netflix like Netflix and Spotify. Meaning from Phones and Tablets to Smart TVs up to third party Consoles.


    But the movers are platform owners and as predicted their focusing support on their own Platforms and supporting devices. It’s natural yet illogical.


    At the moment is all too focused on technical achievement and owing platform rather the customer, creating value to the customer.


    What I mean by Netdlix and Spotify style is Imagine clients on Samsung, Sony, LG Smart TVs, Roku with no extra appliances, just download the client from the App Store. Imagine this on a Nintendo Switch. ...


    Google could compete can do with this the same way they do with YouTube. MS could do the same way they did with Office but its a company that only moves a needle forward with competition, this is no different and at the moment it’s value proposition is stronger due a more robust history in console level gaming.

    • rm

      In reply to nbplopes:

      Actually Sony has been streaming for awhile now. Microsoft is approaching streaming the correct way, so changes to existing games to make them work while creating an xCloud client that helps reduce data usage. I see absolutely no reason to buy Stadia today. No games I can't get anywhere else (not even puzzle/arcade/indie) and if I buy one, I can only stream it. So, if Google shuts down Stadia which so far looks like that could happen, I would loose access to the games I purchase. Not true on Xbox, if xCloud were to shutdown, I would just install on console or PC.

  6. Vladimir Carli

    If only google had said since the beginning that this way an early access sort of thing, everybody would be very happy and enthusiastic today about it. Instead there are plenty of angry reviewers and disappointed people. They screwed this badly and it's a pity, because the service it's actually pretty good and promising.


    I struggle to understand the comparison with xcloud. We know basically nothing today about xcloud in terms of performance, on which devices it will work and availability of games. Everyone points to gamepass as a huge factor in favour. However, we did not see users in droves move from PS4 to Xbox due to gamepass. How much will xCloud cost on top of gamepass? on which devices will xCloud work at launch? Are we sure that all other xbox titles will be available on xCloud on day 1? Will we able to play COD, Battlefield V and similar non-Microsoft titles on xCloud? Will we be required to pay for them extra as on stadia? Without an answer to these and similar questions, the comparison is impossible today. We risk heavy disappointment.


  7. Scott Ross

    I am starting hear rumors of Chromecast Ultras overheating. Did you or have you experienced any overheating issues?

  8. jimchamplin

    If is this good now, imagine how good it will be in three years even they discontinue it.


    Oh Google. Never change. ?

  9. RonV42

    I returned my founders edition yesterday after reading about all the issues. It was still in the box that it shipped in.

    • wolters

      In reply to RonV42:

      I took mine out of shipping box and removed plastic but have not unpacked the rest. After being open and positive to the reviews, I decided I don't need "yet another" gaming platform. I already have XBOX and PC gaming investments. If they offered XBOX Game Pass like features with Stadia, then yes, I would stay. But for now, I plan on shipping it back.

  10. Mark from CO

    I understand the desire to have competition. But the history of the tech industry tells us that being #3 or #4 (unless you have a niche market - see Nintendo) is to be in purgatory - low market share, and no profits. Moving up usually occurs when #1 or #2 makes a strategic blunder. If history holds true in the gaming market, only 2 of the big 4 - Sony, Microsoft, Google or Amazon will win big in gaming. The "rule of 2" may be the reason Google and Microsoft seemingly "abandons" markets, but the fact is, a long-term commitment to being #3 or #4 is not a reasonable tech business strategy, unless you see the market leaders make big mistakes.

  11. tripleplayed

    Stadia desperately needs cross-play and cross-save support across the board on all of their games. People will want to play games locally and on the go via streaming. So easily being able to move between both is critical.


    I guess what Stadia also really needs is an offline license as well. Either through a partnership with someone like Steam or have their own PC storefront.


    Its a very hard sell to go against other streaming solutions like a GeForce Now or xCloud that will have offline and online licenses for games with a single purchase where your saves and friends travel with you.


    Biggest barrier for Google is definitely them being a new ecosystem. They seem to have the streaming tech figured out.

    • datameister

      In reply to TriplePlayed: I guess what Stadia also really needs is an offline license as well.


      I agree. After Steam announced their intent to enter the game streaming arena, one has to assume it will mean any (cloud compatible) game from your existing Steam library. It might take Steam a year to get up and running, but this pretty much makes Stadia dead in the water if they can't offer something nearly equivalent.


      Pretty soon the big three players, Steam, Xbox, and Playstation, will have local games when you want to save on internet bandwidth or just don't have it, and cloud play when you are out and about without a console. Not having dual play options will be a niche market.

    • William Clark

      In reply to TriplePlayed:

      This just doesn't make sense to me. Why does Google need to sell the game in the first place? GeForce Now allows you to purchase the game anywhere and just enter your license code and it's added to your library.


      The value of streaming, for me, is primarily the ability to take my average laptop on a trip and still be able to game (assuming good Internet). It's not streaming at home. At home I'll play on my desktop which is built for gaming. This is why I need a digital copy, which also protects me in the future.


      So far I'm not seeing enough to bring me to Stadia since Nvidia's service is currently free and doesn't require me to repurchase games.

    • nbplopes

      In reply to TriplePlayed:


      "I guess what Stadia also really needs is an offline license as well."


      My impression is that Stadia is a duck in the water compared to xCloud. I mean what xCloud might be because .... we never know with MS what might actually come out in terms of quality in the consumer market.


      Anyway, these services will need 5G to reach their potential.

       

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