Google Stadia: Is it Worth It?

A Brief History of Google Stadia

About a year and a half ago, I questioned whether Google Stadia would be the end of consoles. Fast forward eight months and Google Stadia launched to a lukewarm reception.

Google wasn’t the first to try to make cloud gaming mainstream. I was lucky enough to get my hands on Microsoft’s Project xCloud beta and it really impressed me. Others, like OnLive, have been less spectacular and have fallen by the wayside.

With quarantine keeping folks at home, Google offered two free months of Google Stadia to new members! I took advantage of this offer and am here to share my thoughts on whether it’s worth paying for.

I’ll break down the key components that I think are most important in a cloud gaming service and tell you how Google Stadia stacks up. 

Google Stadia Controller
Latency

One of the key questions in the cloud gaming realm is whether anyone can actually provide low-latency gaming to a wide audience. This means low lag, smooth streams, and an experience that is similar to installing the game directly on your hardware.

Here are the bandwidth requirements directly from Stadia’s help site:

An internet connection speed of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) or greater is the minimum recommended to use Stadia. A slower network speed can cause issues while playing games on Stadia.

To play in 4K resolution, you’ll need an active Stadia Pro subscription and a network speed of 35 Mbps or greater. See below for hardware requirements.

I’m lucky that my desktop is wired and that my internet package gets ridiculous speeds. My download speeds exceed Google Stadia’s requirements but I was still astounded by the excellent quality of my gameplay. 

I experienced zero lag, zero skips, zero screen tearing, and an overall impressive level of performance through four different games. This was especially incredible to me since I have games that are installed on my computer’s SSD which will sometimes stutter!

Overall, the Google Stadia experience was exceptional from a lag-free perspective.

Component Grade: A+

internet speed test
Humble Brag: My Current Internet Speed
Input Options

Another attractive feature of Stadia vs typical consoles is the ability to use a wide variety of options to control your game. The $70 Stadia controller has some intrigue attached to it and a one-touch capture button, but players are welcome to use a variety of controllers or kbm options.

Steam has really made this level of accessibility the norm, but Stadia’s controller is significantly more attractive than the one from Steam.

For my Stadia experience, I primarily used the Xbox One controller that was plugged into my desktop. All the games that I tried automatically recognized this controller and had default button mapping for it.

Interestingly, I was able to begin a game with a keyboard and mouse and then pick up the controller without any in-game adjustments. I’m not sure if this is the case on other platforms, but it was a nice little surprise here.

Component Grade: A

Game Library

This is where things start to take a turn for the worst. Put bluntly, the Google Stadia game library is pitiful.

Sadly, the free games offered with Stadia Pro are nothing special. The highlight of the list is Destiny 2, a game that is literally free. The rest of the games are a combination of old AAA games and some interesting indie titles. 

This would be all well and good if these games came free with your subscription. But they don’t. You get a handful free and then you need to buy the rest, many of which are at the original launch price!

When I wrote my first article about the Google Stadia, I said they needed to come out with some exclusives. Google didn’t listen, and the library is nothing more than a much smaller version of what’s available in the Steam store.

Meanwhile, you have plenty of subscription services that offer access to larger libraries of content for the same price. Some options include EA Access, Geforce Now, and Microsoft Game Pass.

It’s beyond me why Google didn’t release with a stronger lineup of games. Google has the capital, connections, and product sense to figure out the proper titles to bundle with their biggest entrant into the gaming industry!

The only reason I’m not giving Google Stadia an F here is that I tried West of Loathing and it was hilarious.

Component Grade: D-

Portability

Another compelling part of Google Stadia is the ability to play across multiple pieces of hardware. You can seamlessly transition your game from PC to phone to tablet and back!

I was surprised at how good the games looked on my aging Pixel 2 XL. The graphics looked just as good as they did on my PC and ran as smooth as on the big screen.

From my testing, phone mode is best enjoyed with a controller that has a mount for your phone. I’ve got the PowerA MOGA Pro Power controller which is light enough to feel comfortable with the added weight of a phone but has a great feel to its buttons and joysticks.

This might be the best way to enjoy major releases in a handheld format. Google Stadia blows the Switch right out of the water when it comes to small-screen gaming.

Component Grade: A

Google Stadia Performance Settings
Subscription Options
Google Stadia Experiments
Zombie Army 4
Stadia Explore Screen
The Summer of Games Sale
User Interface

Stadia’s UI is clean but fairly light. Steam set many precedents here and has elevated what the gaming community expects from a platform.

My guess is that Google opted for a minimalistic approach to the Stadia design and will be added things in the future. However, we’re approaching a year after release and haven’t seen any updates on the UI front.

The screens are easy to navigate and they even make it surprisingly simple to cancel your pro subscription. Overall, things are fine, but I expect significant improvements and additions to how we view the non-gaming content.

Component Grade: B-

Google Stadia Avatar Selection
Your Games on Stadia
Google Stadia Store on Desktop
Value

Google initially offered a Founder’s Edition for early adopters of Stadia. This $129 package included a Stadia controller, a Chromecast Ultra, a game, and three months’ worth of 4K gaming for both you and a friend.

If you missed out on the initial Founder’s Edition, you’re out of luck. However, the Stadia Premiere Edition is still available for $99. This basic bundle doesn’t include the night blue controller, buddy pass, or access to preregister a username.

The Stadia controller is cool and all, but most gamers already have their own compatible controller. Additionally, if you have enough patience, you can snag a Chromecast Ultra for under $60 through slickdeals alerts.

For me, there isn’t a strong enough reason to buy the Premiere Edition. You’ll likely still end up either buying overpriced games from the Stadia library, paying for a monthly Pro subscription, or both.

If you have no controller or your keyboard + mouse combo is not gaming-ready, the Stadia controller is a decent option. There are plenty of other controllers available on the market, many of which can be had at a lower price.

Component Grade: C-

Potential

I remember The Verge covering Stadia’s launch announcement and being enthralled by the massive potential that Google had in its upcoming platform. Their team made promises of clicking a Youtube ad to enter a game, split-screen multiplayer

All of this sounded way too good to be true…and it was. 

We’re still waiting on the full-fledged version of Google Stadia with all the bells and whistles. ‘Early Access’ has become an expected tag on new games, as the devs collect community feedback and iterate on releases. Google didn’t apply this nomenclature to Stadia, but they are likely to treat this as an iterative process.

Even though the deck is stacked against anyone trying to make cloud gaming the new norm, Google has the resources, reach, and ingenuity to be the company to do it. They’ve also got Google fiber and an absurd amount of data on all the humans in the world. This combination means they can make sure their users have the internet speeds they need and deliver the offering that people want.

Component Grade: A

Google Stadia – The Final Verdict

On paper, Stadia sound like the natural incumbent of the future. What’s happened since launch is a meager reception followed by several months of silence on new developments.

With a good internet connection, latency is non-existent. Players can choose their weapon when it comes to playing with your preferred input method. Google Stadia makes AAA titles accessible on the go, without having a dedicated gaming phone. The sky is truly the limit!

Even with all of these things going for it, the Google Stadia library is not in a position of power and needs some major buffs to be relevant. Here are the changes that I think are necessary:

  • At least one exclusive game with mass appeal. My preference is a shooter that they can grow an esports community around. I’d also accept an MMORPG that could rival World of Warcraft.
  • The ability to trial a game before buying.
  • An option to rent a game instead of buying. Do you remember the days of Blockbuster video??
  • Remote play, so only one person in my friend group needs the game and we can all mooch off that person.
  • Content sharing! Google owns Youtube and put so much emphasis on the one-button sharing controller, but I’ve seen so little footage of Google Stadia gameplay!
  • Discounted titles for Pro subscriptions.

Without at least some of these changes, Google Stadia doesn’t really have a place in the crowded gaming market today. I could see there being a niche for people who are constantly traveling, but we aren’t likely to see loads of travel in the coming months.

Ultimately, the majority of gamers already have a gaming PC, gaming console, smartphone, or some combination of these that dominates their game time. There isn’t a distinct benefit to switching over to Google Stadia vs maintaining the status quo.

I still want cloud gaming to have a place in the future of gaming, but we aren’t there yet.

Final Verdict: You don’t need to pay for a Google Stadia Premiere Edition and/or Pro subscription right now. The platform has massive potential but is a non-buy in its current position.

What are your thoughts on Google Stadia? Do you disagree with any of my component grades? Let me know in the comments section!

Also, we just started a new podcast! Check out episode one here, where we talk about the free-to-play gaming model!

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