Streaming game service Google Stadia has been available for about a month now and I thought I’d recap what’s been happening with the service
The launch was a mess and it unfortunately set the tone among “influencers” who decided that Stadia was going to be their “negative videos draw eyeballs” topic for a while (I’m sure Anthem breathed a sigh of relief) but at this point most of them seem to have moved on.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. The elephant in the room is performance. While Stadia works really well in terms of lag/latency (for me at least), we’re constantly left scratching our heads when it comes to graphics quality. Stadia offers 10.7 teraflops of processing power, we are told, but generally speaking the graphic quality of games seems to land right around that of an Xbox One X (6 teraflops).
So if you have a PS4, Xbox One S, or a Switch, Stadia can offer you a graphics upgrade. Those of us with reasonably powerful PCs, Xbox One Xs or PS4 Pros are looking at a cross-grade situation, and gamers with high end gaming PCs are looking at a downgrade.
This leads to a lot of “What does Stadia offer me?” questions from serious gamers and the answer is, frankly, “Not very much.” Stadia is reasonably portable; you can play on a cheap laptop at a coffee shop, or on a selection of phones (or basically any device that you can run Chrome on) but it requires a steady Wi-Fi connection. It’s hard to justify purchasing a game twice just to be able to play at a coffee shop, particularly since Destiny 2 is the only cross-save game on the service, as far as I know.
There’s also the issue of the still very small library of game titles, but presumably that issue will sort itself out over time. The price of games keeps springing up as an issue but I’m not sure how fair that is. Borderlands 3 is $38.99, for example. That’s a “Pro” deal but everyone on the service now is a “Pro” so… Anyway price controversy sometimes seems to be based on perception as well. For example Darksiders Genesis launched on Steam for $30 and on Stadia for $40 which caused an uproar, but the price on Xbox and PS4 will be $40 when the game launches. People seem to think of Stadia as another place to play PC games, rather than a separate platform, so they expect pricing parity with Steam. (Why a game is more expensive on consoles is a valid question, but that’s a question for the publishers, not the platform holders.)
With all the bad news out of the way, Stadia seems to be a hit with a certain segment of the community. If you hang out on the Stadia or particularly the StadiaDadia sub-reddits you’ll find a community of “used-to-be” gamers who’re getting back into the hobby thanks to Stadia. The no-fuss, no-hardware Stadia experience appeals to these people who have no interesting in spending money on a console or gaming PC.
At launch Stadia was ‘missing’ a lot of features. I put that in quotes because it seems like some of the missing features are really “features that game developers haven’t taken advantage of yet.” For example last week Ghost Recon Breakpoint launched on Stadia and it’s the first game to support “Stream Connect.” This allows you to let other players see your stream.
In other words, say you’re in a 4-man fireteam in Breakpoint. You could have 3 picture-in-picture windows showing you what the other three members of your team are currently seeing. The idea is that this allows tightly coordinated actions to take place. I could see it being useful as a teaching tool as well.
Other missing features weren’t dependent on developers, and these are slowly being rolled out. We can finally buy games through a web browser, and the Achievement System (or at least, a first pass at it) came out last week.
So what about me? I confess I’m pretty disappointed in the graphical quality of games. I was hoping Stadia would be an improvement over the Xbox One X and/or my mid-tier gaming PC; sadly it is not. It’s hard to justify buying a game on Stadia at this point; why fracture my game collection? These days I’m back to reaching for the Xbox controller rather than the Stadia one most of the time. I DO really love the load times of Stadia games (Destiny 2 loads SO much faster than on the Xbox or Steam) and it’s kind of cool to buy a game and be playing it literally seconds later.
I still have hope for the service in the long term, but with Xbox Series X and PS5 coming out in less than a year I think Stadia needs to get better fast. Or maybe Google is content to gather in all the folks who can’t be bothered with having a bulky console in the entertainment center.
Bottom line: if you’re reading my blog you’re probably a serious enough gamer that you have hardware that can offer a better experience than Stadia currently does; I really hope that eventually changes.