Game streaming has been tried before a number of times, from Onlive, to Gaikai, to GeForce Now, but Google Stadia could be the first time it goes mainstream. With the support of Google's hundreds of high-speed datacenters around the world, a budget that means it doesn't have to turn a profit if Google is happy to play the long game, and a serious mobile base to build off-of with Android devices, it has a lot of potential.
But none of this matters if it's too expensive, or the game library is poor, or Google decides to do what it often does and sack it off after a couple of years because it's not working.
So, following the big announcement Stream before E3 2019, what do we know about Stadia and will it be worth it when it launches?
Pro vs Base
Google Stadia will be a tiered service that comes in a couple of different guises. The Pro version will cost $10 a month, offer a resolution support up to 4K HDR (bandwidth support depending) at up to 60 frames per second. You'll also get 5.1 surround sound support.
In terms of games, you'll get Destiny 2: The Collection for free right off the bat and be able to play it whenever you want. There will also be other free games released periodically after that, we're told, but it's not clear which ones or when they'll be made available. There's the option to buy games as well, with any purchases being playable over Stadia whenever you want afterwards.
Some of those games will be discounted exclusively for Pro members.
For those looking to get in on the ground floor and hit it unning, Google is also offering a Founders Edition package which for $130 gives you three months of Pro, the ability to give three months of Pro to a friend with a "Buddy Pass," a limited-edition Night Blue Stadia Controller, a Chromecast Ultra (for adding Stadia to any TV), and a reserved name on Stadia so that you can get the online handle that you want.
Controllers will also be sold separately with a price of $70 each.
Stadia base will be entirely free but does have some limitations. It will still offer 60 frames per second support, but only up to 1080p. It will also have stereo sound, rather than surround, and will not offer periodic free games or exclusive discounts. You can still buy games individually though, and play them whenever and however you want.
Although Google hasn't announced when we can expect most of Stadia's game library to become available, it did detail a number of titles that will eventually be playable via the streaming service during its pre-E3 show in early June. These included:
- Assassin's Creed: Odyssey
- Baldur's Gate 3
- Borderlands 3
- The Crew 2
- Darksiders Genesis
- Destiny 2
- The Division 2
- DOOM Eternal
- Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2
- The Elder Scrolls Online
- Farming Simulator 19
- Final Fantasy 15
- Football Manager 2020
- Get Packed
- Ghost Recon Breakpoint
- Gylt (Google Stadia exclusive)
- Just Dance 2020
- Metro Exodus
- Mortal Kombat 11
- NBA 2K
- Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
- Rage 2
- Samurai Showdown
- Tomb Raider Trilogy
- Trials Rising
- Wolfenstein: Youngblood
Some are new, some are already out and one is a Stadia exclusive. It's a decent lineup, but is far from comparabe with other online storefronts and services.
If you want to play Stadia Base for free, you'll only need a 10Mbps connection to handle the 1080p, 60 FPS gameplay, but if you're planning on hitting the top-specs with Pro, you'll need a little more. Google recommends a connection of at least 35Mbps if you want 4K with HDR and surround sound.
In terms of devices, Google claims any system that can run a Chrome browser will be able to run it.That's just about any laptop and desktop released in the past decade. It's also supporting the Google Pixel 3 phones right out of the gate, though other Android devices will likely follow. Any TV connected to a Chromecast Ultra will also be able to take advantage of it.
Is it worth it?
Google Stadia will release in 14 countries in November 2019, with more games coming in 2020, but will it be worth using?
The base-version is a very attractive proposition if you can't afford a console or gaming PC and want to play some of the latest games. We have concerns over latency, especially in multiplayer games, but if people only have to pay for the games, Google could be tapping into an entirely new market of hardware-free gamers.
The Pro version and beyond is a harder sell. Especially the Founders Edition – just save up a bit more and buy a console for that kind of money.
Stadia seems more like the beginning of a new tier of gaming in the industry that we think will grow in the years to come, but out of the gate, it's a harder sell than Google is giving it credit for. It'll also be worth waiting to see whether Google wants to support this long term, because if it decides it doesn't want to, losing a whole library of games could be costly.