PotW: Google Stadia

November 29, 2020

This week I want to talk to you all about Google Stadia. This is Google’s venture into the gaming industry. They promise that you can play anywhere from a compatible laptop, desktop, phone, tablet, or TV. They say that with a 10 Mbps connection, you can enjoy games at 1080p and 60 frames per second. There’s a free tier that allows access to some of their free games, with more arriving each month, but there’s also a paid option which allows for exclusive discounts on certain games and streaming at 4K with HDR and 5.1 surround sound. 4K and HDR will require a Chromecast Ultra and a TV that supports those features. But, enough about specifications, let’s talk about the experience.

I started a free trial of Stadia with a Chromecast Ultra on a 4K TV with HDR. I received the Chromecast and Stadia Controller at no cost, due to a deal Google had during the month of November and the fact that we subscribe to YouTube Premium. Taking everything out of the box and setting it up was a snap. I downloaded the Stadia app to my phone, claimed the free games, and set out to enjoy an hour of relaxing game play. I first selected Tomb Raider. That’s when it all started to go downhill. Initially, the game loaded quickly and ran smoothly in the menus. But, then as I got into the game play I started noticing video artifacts every few seconds as the screen seemed to pause and tear a little. I kept pushing on, but as soon as my son started downloading the app to his device the artifacts in the game stream only got worse. I tried to play a few other games, but saw the stuttering, pausing, and artifacting in every single game. I tried to play it the next day when no one was online, but I saw the same thing.

This experience pained me, because there were a lot of things that were good about the experience. There were no game installs and downloads, for instance. Latency was hardly an issue and usually imperceptible. Some games even managed to play in 4K at 60 FPS, but it was hard to tell which ones did or didn’t at times, plus it was hit or miss depending on the title.

Overall, I was impressed by what Google managed to get done on their first attempt at launching such an ambitious project, but in the end there are still some finer details in the game stream itself which have to be worked out before I would consider using it full time and purchasing games in their ecosystem. Not to mention, I am already an XBOX GamePass subscriber which comes with over 100 games from Microsoft and over 90 games from EA. Not to mention, the titles from Zenimax coming next year. It would be hard for me to pay $10 a month for Stadia, plus have to purchase games in their ecosystem, and consider that a better value than what I get with XBOX GamePass for almost the same price. The barrier to entry is too high for Stadia and the value is too low for someone who already owns a console. For this one, I have to take a pass. Unless you are just starting out and do not mind putting up with some frame rate issues, I cannot recommend this service to serious gamers.

Ian’s Take

I got suckered into the Google Stadia debacle when I purchased the founders edition. It came with a controller, the chrome cast ultra, and three months of Stadia Pro. During this time, you got a copy of Destiny 2, and the promise of a free game each month as part of the pro membership. Like you DJ, I found the experience lacking. I had been comparing it to NVIDIA’s GeForce Now game streaming and found it far superior.

After three months of beta testing this product, I let my Pro subscription lapse and with it, my two other games, also were removed from my account.  I don’t trust Stadia to be around very long. They already had to change up their pricing model because no one wanted to limit their purchases to Google and their past activity of abandoning hardware. The argument most people made was, if I buy the game on Steam or Epic Games store, I can just stream it from my computer or from my XBOX. Why would I want to limit myself to Stadia.

The other thing that I didn’t like was that with the free tier you don’t get 4K streaming, you are limited to 1080p. And you still have to pay full price for games that you might have already purchased on another platform.

The one bright spot was the controller. Google decided to combine the PlayStation 4 and XBOX One controllers. Their is a nice heft to the controller and it charges via USB-C which is nice.

In fact, I brought my Stadia with me to Atlanta just to try it out one more time. As I write this, I think I’ll put the Stadia back into the drawer and try it again in a year’s time.

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