When Google Stadia launched last fall, many had high hopes that the tech giant’s fledgling game streaming service would usher in a new future of cloud gaming. It made sense that Google’s entry in the world of video games would build upon its existing infrastructure. Instead of relying on heavy consoles or physical games, games would run on Google’s cloud servers, where players could effortlessly stream them in their living rooms.
But since then, Stadia has had a rough ride. Early reviews questioned whether Stadia’s limited selection of games, immense bandwidth consumption, and latency issues were worth the price of the service. Roughly two months after Stadia’s unveiling, the service has unveiled more games and had time to work out its kinks. Quartz decided to take Stadia’s Founder’s Edition for a spin.
The $129 Founder’s edition bundle includes a Stadia controller and a Chromecast Ultra, as well as two power adapters and a USB-C to A cable (extra Stadia controllers cost $69 each). The bundle also includes three free months of the Stadia Pro service—normally $10 a month—which lets players stream games in 4K and entitles them to complimentary games every month.
While setting up the Stadia was relatively simple, it’s pretty time-consuming. First, you’ll have to download two separate apps: Google Home and a standalone Stadia app, on either your phone or tablet. The Google Home app lets you control your Chromecast, which connects to your Stadia controller. The Stadia app lets you access games themselves. If you want to play games on your phone or a laptop, you’ll have to connect your Stadia controller with a USB-C cord, at least for now.
Once you’ve downloaded both apps and connected your Stadia and your Chromecast Ultra to your wifi network, setup is relatively straightforward. Stadia’s platform is bare and easy to navigate—it took seconds to claim a game and start playing.
Playing Destiny 2 on a TV, while connected to unlimited broadband internet, went pretty smoothly. Solo playing Stadia’s flagship game is a pleasure, and there are moments when you completely forget that you’re streaming at all. Playing Rise of the Tomb Raider, which just landed on Stadia last month, was equally thrilling at first. The graphics are crisp and stunning, and the Stadia seemed to be able to handle even the most high-octane action sequences.
But then, every now and then, the lagging became noticeable. For example, trying to sprint and turn went a little slower than you’d experience playing on a regular console. While such latency issues may not pose a problem with single-player, it’ll likely make things harder for multiplayer missions.
The Stadia controller. Google’s wireless gamepad is beautifully designed, with a smooth face and bumps on the rear that make it easy to grip. Its XYAB button arrangement will be a natural fit for those used to the Xbox One. It’s also voice-activated; there’s a Google Assistant button that triggers a microphone. It also has a capture button that allows you to quickly snap shots and video of your gameplay.
The portability. Other than a Nintendo Switch, it seems like no other console can outmatch Stadia for portability. The Chromecast Ultra is the size of a keychain, and the wireless Stadia controller is 268 grams, or a little more than half a pound. It’s the perfect size for a suitcase or a small apartment.
The selection. Even two months out, Stadia’s selection of games leaves a lot to be desired. As of February 1, there are 41 games available for purchase on Stadia—and with its large selection of first-person shooters and open world titles, it seems that Stadia is courting a very specific type of gamer. Its AAA blockbuster titles like Ghost Recon Breakpoint and Red Dead Redemption II will likely appeal to mainstream audiences. Variety comes in the form of two sports games (NBA 2K20 and Football Manager 2020), a simulation game (Farming Simulator 19), and the rather random addition of Just Dance 2020. Given the increasing popularity of mobile games, this seems like a missed opportunity.
The price. When you add it up, Stadia players don’t seem to get a lot for what they’re paying for. While the Stadia Premiere Edition is a fraction of the price of a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, the $10 per month subscription to Stadia Pro and the cost of an unlimited broadband plan will add up over time. There’s no guarantee you’ll like the monthly free games, or that you won’t already own them. Stadia does offer discounts on certain titles to subscribers, but those are still relatively rare; on the whole, game prices are roughly the same as their console versions.
Despite its drawbacks, it’s still fun to play games with the Stadia. For casual gamers—you only have time to play a few games per month, and aren’t too picky about what they are—Stadia’s pitfalls are a non-issue. Its portability and integration with Chromecast makes it a viable option for frequent business travelers or those with small apartments, too.
But it’s still unclear what an average gamer gets from Stadia that they can’t from their current console. It’s possible that Stadia’s game marketplace will eventually expand, and its latency issues will disappear. Until then, it may be better to wait for cloud gaming to smooth out the kinks, or for a competitor like Nvidia to come out with a better option.