Google Stadia has been in development for at least two years. It was previously known as Project Stream, which was formally announced in October 2018. However, rumors have been circulating about a streaming service for much longer, with Project Yeti, which began in 2016, thought to be what the predecessor to Project Stream.
Google finally launched the new platform in November 2019, making it available to residents of the United States, Canada, and 12 Western European countries. Subscribers had to pay $130 for the “Founder’s Edition” which was a starter kit that included a limited edition controller and a three-month subscription.
A free version of Google Stadia was announced in early 2020 and became available on the 8th of April. It had most of the features of the paid Stadia Pro, but with lower resolution video and no free games.
What is Google Stadia?
Google Stadia is a video game streaming service. Instead of buying a dedicated games console like the Sony PlayStation or Microsoft Xbox, users connect to the service through their phone, computer, or TV.
The complex processing of data required by modern video games is done on Google’s servers, which use dedicated high-performance equipment developed by the company to handle the Stadia service.
This means that players can enjoy the latest games without having to fork out for a new console every 5 to 10 years or buy more powerful graphics cards like is common in PC gaming.
Playing games without a dedicated console or a gaming PC is not strictly new. Online casinos have worked in a similar way since their inception, with the user connecting to the server via their browser, smartphone app or the casino’s software to play games like Texas Hold ‘em or Omaha hi lo poker.
Users of Google Stadia can use the proprietary controller, but other HID class USB controllers are also compatible. There is a benefit to using the official Stadia controller because it has its own WiFi connection, so it might reduce the latency of the connection.
Is it Really the Netflix of Games?
After its launch, many described Google Stadia as the “Netflix of games”. This was mostly because it was a streaming service that didn’t require hardware and could, therefore, it became available anywhere. In this respect, it is like the “Netflix of games” since Netflix lets you stream on almost any device as long as it’s connected to the internet.
In reality, though, it’s far from being an accurate description. With Netflix, you pay a monthly fee and get to “rent” anything from its extensive catalog of original and licensed movies and TV shows, including everything from the prison show Orange Is the New Black, to the underground poker film, Rounders.
Of the 22 games available on Google Stadia at its launch, only Destiny 2 was included in the subscription. Users still had to buy any other games they wanted to play.
Many big titles are available on the service, including Red Dead Redemption 2 with its popular poker side-quests, NBA 2K20 and Football Manager 2020, and other big titles like F1 2020 and Watch Dogs Legion due to be released in the coming months.
There are also a lot of big games that aren’t available on Stadia, just like other video game streaming services.
The majority must be paid for though, with prices being essentially the same as they are on traditional consoles. Meaning Google Stadia is not actually like Netflix at all.
Free Game Streaming
People who want instant access to games without having to buy dedicated hardware have a lot of other options. Mobile gaming has advanced significantly since the early days of smartphones a decade ago.
It’s now possible to play games like Fortnite, Call of Duty, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds from a mid-range Android or iPhone with no hiccups. Plenty of classic games can also be played, including Texas Hold’em and other variations of poker, Scrabble, and even Monopoly.
Therefore, for people who don’t want to buy a new console, there are plenty of other alternatives that are free or significantly cheaper.
Does Google Stadia Offer a Good Experience?
Video quality, frame rate and lag time are all important factors for hardcore video gamers. That’s great because they provide good metrics to benchmark Google Stadia against the current generation of game consoles.
Final Fantasy XV was a disappointment for fans since they could only get 1080p HD quality video streams despite paying for access to 4K streaming and using the Google Chromecast Ultra and a 4K television.
Since its launch, users and critics have been reporting huge lag between the press of a button and the game responding. The Washington Post found that lag was most present on PCs, but it didn’t exist when using a mobile device and the controller. Meanwhile, PC Gamer conducted some comparisons and found that input latency is double and sometimes longer when compared to a locally installed game. Gamers Nexus had even worse results when they undertook tests.
This is understandable, and a concern that many commentators had before Stadia launched. It’s down to the fact that a natively run game only requires input commands to travel a few meters (at most), while Stadia requires them to be transmitted part way around the world.
So is Streaming the Future of Video Gaming?
At present, it’s difficult to say for certain whether Stadia is showing us what the future of video gaming will look like. It provides an interesting proof of concept, but it’s unlikely to rival the major console manufacturers unless they can overcome the issue with lag.
While it’s easy for online poker sites to offer high-quality gaming experience without the need for hardware, it’s proving a lot more difficult to replicate this with blockbuster video games and also maintain 4K, 60fps video.
Only time will tell if Google can overcome these huge hurdles.