Impressions: Google's Stadia just ain't it

Julio Franco

TechSpot Editor
Staff member

Google’s game-streaming platform Stadia is finally here. 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 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.

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 has 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 $129 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 - $59.99 ($30.00 Stadia Pro Deal)
  • Gylt - $29.99
  • Just Dance 2020 - $49.99
  • Kine - $19.99
  • Mortal Kombat 11 - $59.99 ($41.99 Stadia Pro Deal)
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 - Launch Edition - $59.99
  • Samurai Showdown - $59.99
  • Thumper - $19.99
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider - $59.99
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider - $29.99
  • Tomb Raider 2013 - $19.99 ($10.00 Stadia Pro Deal)
  • Final Fantasy XV - $39.99 ($29.99 Stadia Pro Deal)

Special Editions:

  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Stadia Ultimate Edition - $119.99 ($60.00 Stadia Pro Deal)
  • Mortal Kombat 11 Premium Edition - $89.99 ($62.99 Stadia Pro Deal)
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 Special Edition - $79.99
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 Ultimate Edition - $99.99

Permalink to story.

 

arrowflash

TS Booster
I can only see cloud gaming working if they make it like a "Netflix for games" where you only pay a monthly fee that gives you unlimited access to the service's entire library. Or if, at the very least, the games were heavily discounted (at least 50% or better from regular price) AND people were allowed to resell their keys to other Stadia users.

But having to pay a subscription fee and/or a device, and on top of that paying full retail price to rent games you'll never own and will never be able to mod - knowing full well that Google can choose to terminate your account on a whim without any chance for refunds on the games you lost access to, because you used the wrong pronoun when talking to someone on a chat... it's a really hard sell.
 

McMurdeR

TS Addict
The media went too easy on this. Its another rehash of the same old fail. Time after time we see that streaming services suffer from visual and lag issues due to network latency, especially as gaming resolutions are getting higher and higher. And those prices! Games aren't movies and music. They rely on feel and low latency. Whole media sites like this one are dedicated to telling the story of gaming performance - its a big deal. Game streaming is never going to compete with hardware gaming until network tech gets latency down to credible numbers 100% of the time.
 

Burty117

TechSpot Chancellor
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
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 has gigabit internet, a 4K HDR TV, and even a damn Pixel 3.
This dude has a Gigabit Internet line and he still had the odd input delay?
I listened to an interview with someone at Google with BBC's newsbeat and they were explaining the reason for Stadia. Because Movies and Music have transitioned to almost exclusively streaming based consumption, they feel games are heading that way as well. The problem is they haven't really thought about it very hard. When I'm watching a movie or listening to music, Latency doesn't matter and both are a fraction of the bandwidth compared to streaming a game. If the experience isn't flawless with people who are lucky enough to have decent internet access, how bad is it going to be on dodgy copper phone lines?
 
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alchemist83

TS Rookie
I can only see cloud gaming working if they make it like a "Netflix for games" where you only pay a monthly fee that gives you unlimited access to the service's entire library. Or if, at the very least, the games were heavily discounted (at least 50% or better from regular price) AND people were allowed to resell their keys to other Stadia users.

But having to pay a subscription fee and/or a device, and on top of that paying full retail price to rent games you'll never own and will never be able to mod - knowing full well that Google can choose to terminate your account on a whim without any chance for refunds on the games you lost access to, because you used the wrong pronoun when talking to someone on a chat... it's a really hard sell.
Did I miss something? - cos ever since this was thought up, its been coined the Netflix of gaming. The subscription covers the cost of the games, just like on Netflix. They don't make you pay 1 fee and then another to watch something do they? Its a very easy sell for those that cannot save up funds, nor wan to dedicate funds to 1 device / console etc. Plus you can this cloud gaming anywhere on any device with a screen... Its the future and just has to be accepted.
 

arrowflash

TS Booster
Did I miss something? - cos ever since this was thought up, its been coined the Netflix of gaming. The subscription covers the cost of the games, just like on Netflix. They don't make you pay 1 fee and then another to watch something do they? Its a very easy sell for those that cannot save up funds, nor wan to dedicate funds to 1 device / console etc. Plus you can this cloud gaming anywhere on any device with a screen... Its the future and just has to be accepted.
Hmmm, nope, that's not how Stadia business model works. You are supposed to pay full retail prices for each game you want to play on Stadia. It even says so in this article together with a list of the prices for each title currently available... did you miss that?

And yes, you also pay a monthly subscription fee, at least if you want 1080p or 4k. There will be a "free" subscription option but it will be restricted to 720p resolution and other limitations I forget...
 
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brucek

TS Guru
Not a good sign when even the artificial conditions of this review couldn't provide a more enthusiastic reception.

By "artificial" I mean that the reviewer was exempted from two of the biggest concerns I have:

1. Not having to risk his own money up front to buy each title on Stadia, and then have it be locked there.

2. Having a very high quality internet connection. I wonder how performance would be on my more ordinary "200 mb" connection (it's not that I care about the theoretical difference between 201 and 1,000 mbit, it's the "actual performance can vary" part of the fine print that goes with getting your connection from a cable company that has far less bandwidth than that per person to go around for everyone on your block / neighborhood, and more importantly, latency issues.)
 

Evernessince

地獄らしい人間動物園
Not a good sign when even the artificial conditions of this review couldn't provide a more enthusiastic reception.

By "artificial" I mean that the reviewer was exempted from two of the biggest concerns I have:

1. Not having to risk his own money up front to buy each title on Stadia, and then have it be locked there.

2. Having a very high quality internet connection. I wonder how performance would be on my more ordinary "200 mb" connection (it's not that I care about the theoretical difference between 201 and 1,000 mbit, it's the "actual performance can vary" part of the fine print that goes with getting your connection from a cable company that has far less bandwidth than that per person to go around for everyone on your block / neighborhood, and more importantly, latency issues.)
There's no saying what the terms are for those games either. If you can only play them on stadia, you are essentially paying full price to be locked into their ecosystem. Not to mention, you will loose out on any chance of sales.
 
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treetops

TS Evangelist
P.S. would save on your cell phone battery life
p.s.s. Go to google.com and tell me what you see below the search, that has to be the most powerful place to advertise on the planet

If you played 8 hours a day and somehow 4k 60 fps system only used 60 watts. 8 cents a day, 30 days. $2.40. My GPU 200 wattish, CPU say 100 watt. Since using my own computer would be $12.40 a month. Stadia pro would be paying me $2.40 to play on their system. Of course games cost money. Just an example of an avid gamer.

I'd try it out with it's free game monthly or a cheapy but I don't see the $10 a month option on their site yet. They sent me an email stating it would be ready at launch in July. KB mouse support and likely no way to cheat. Evened out FPS among all players etc. System systematically being upgraded. It can be a competitor.

It will be interesting to see what it's like in a few months. Free 1080p is a win for consumers.

Day one available games comparison:
Xbox One day one launch list
  • Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
  • Battlefield 4
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts
  • Crimson Dragon
  • Dead Rising 3
  • FIFA 14
  • Fighter Within
  • Forza Motorsport 5
  • Just Dance 2014
  • Killer Instinct
  • Lego Marvel Super Heroes
  • LocoCycle
  • Madeen NFL 25
  • NBA 2K14
  • NBA Live 14
  • Need for Speed: Rivals
  • Peggle 2
  • Powerstar Golf
  • Ryse: Son of Rome
  • Skylanders: Swap Force
  • Watch Dogs
  • Zoo Tycoon
  • Zumba Fitness: World Party

Stadia day one launch
 
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haliax33

TS Rookie
There are lots of people out there that can't afford gaming computers and don't like consoles. I would definitely get it to play Cyberpunk 2077 if it becomes playable in my country.

a 2k USD gaming rig costs 3k USD in my country due to import taxes and a weak exchange rate. So if I could get to play for a premium game for 200 USD that's a bargain.
 

Joe Pineapples

TS Rookie
If the games were free and it was a subscription service like Netflix then maybe. But having to pay for the games and not owning them, on top of all the other draw backs versus local PC/Console gaming it just doesn't make any sense to gamers who already posess a PC/Console. It may make some sense to individuals who currently do not have any hardware for them to try out and to play games on, but is that a big market? I dunno, as it is, I'm skeptical. I can't wait unitl we get a total technical analysis with screeshot comparrisions etc... 4k stream vs 4k local...the reviewers will tear them a new a**hole....LOL!
 
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Adorerai

TS Enthusiast
People who don’t have a PC or console for gaming now probably won’t just start gaming with Stadia. And those who do, don’t sound like they’re going to switch. I haven’t heard many positive reviews/comments from gamers about this service.

I got a new PS5 or XBox sounds a lot more impressive than saying I got a new “Nvidia Shield” (I know it’s not the shield).
 
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Ravalo

TS Booster
Did I miss something? - cos ever since this was thought up, its been coined the Netflix of gaming. The subscription covers the cost of the games, just like on Netflix. They don't make you pay 1 fee and then another to watch something do they? Its a very easy sell for those that cannot save up funds, nor wan to dedicate funds to 1 device / console etc. Plus you can this cloud gaming anywhere on any device with a screen... Its the future and just has to be accepted.
Yeah.... but I don’t think they will add tf2 or csgo anytime soon so I’ll stick to my 400$ gaming pc
 

mbrowne5061

TS Evangelist
Everyone keeps calling this "the Netflix of gaming", and completely forgetting that the streaming wars robbed Netflix of all the good content that was on there.

Even if it succeeds, the Stadia will fail - simply because EA, Activision, Valve, and the rest of the publishers will circle wagons around their own content and make their own streaming services in time. No one will license their games to Google, and if they want to keep Stadia alive, they'll have to become a studio and publisher as well.

If the time is ripe for game streaming, it is going to follow the exact same path as every other streaming market: balkanization.
 
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loki1944

TS Maniac
There are lots of people out there that can't afford gaming computers and don't like consoles. I would definitely get it to play Cyberpunk 2077 if it becomes playable in my country.

a 2k USD gaming rig costs 3k USD in my country due to import taxes and a weak exchange rate. So if I could get to play for a premium game for 200 USD that's a bargain.
You absolutely don't need a $2,000 pc to play current games.
 
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LNCPapa

TS Special Forces
So I got mine in yesterday and tinkered with it last night on my TV and today on my PC. I've got to say that it's better than I was expecting for a launch of this type. Sure, there are many features missing that they talked up pre-launch but the features that are there seem to work really well. I think, though, that I'm using the service in the best possible scenarios. On my TV the Chromecast Ultra uses a wired connection (because I have a dedicated switch for my game consoles and other streaming devices) and my home internet is 1 Gb/s fiber. I also have multiple WAPs in the house to provide decent (~410 Mb/s) wireless throughout the house and there is one in the ceiling right next to my living room.

On my PC I cranked up Samurai Showdown (one of the free titles for Pro) and noticed a lower resolution and no ultrawide support, but the performance and gameplay was perfect. I then left for work and when I got here I decided to show it to a coworker who is very hesitant to give this service a thumbs up. The game popped right up and gameplay was once again flawless on my work PC. I let him play a bit (he is a true gamer) and was immediately impressed by the lack of any perceivable latency. It worked great with the X-Box controller connected to my work PC via USB.

I've only been playing the free stuff so far but I am pretty impressed. A couple of the things that I was hoping to see but are still not available or are not good enough are:
  • Family Sharing (right now my kids and lady have to play the games as me)
  • Screenshot management (can only access them via the phone and can't retrieve them or at least I don't know how to yet)
  • GoogleAssistant (completely unavailable even though it has a dedicated button on the controller)
 

Gezzer

TS Booster
This dude has a Gigabit Internet line and he still had the odd input delay?
I listened to an interview with someone at Google with BBC's newsbeat and they were explaining the reason for Stadia. Because Movies and Music have transitioned to almost exclusively streaming based consumption, they feel games are heading that way as well. The problem is they haven't really thought about it very hard. When I'm watching a movie or listening to music, Latency doesn't matter and both are a fraction of the bandwidth compared to streaming a game. If the experience isn't flawless with people who are lucky enough to have decent internet access, how bad is it going to be on dodgy copper phone lines?
To add to your very true comment. Music and movies can buffer to absorb any latency issues. But because games are a real time media they can't. A game would have to buffer so much of the game world to allow for player agency that you might as well just download the entire game instead.