Google Stadia Black Controller Logo

Opinion post by
C. Scott Brown

Way back in June, I pre-ordered two Google Stadia controllers: one of the Founder’s Edition units and an additional “regular” variant. At the time, I was excited about playing some couch co-op games with my girlfriend using the mostly hardware-free gaming console of the future. However, I just decided to cancel my Google Stadia pre-order.

Luckily, Google doesn’t charge buyers for pre-orders until the devices actually ship out, which won’t happen until next week, so canceling my order was simple. Combined, the two controllers (of which the Founder’s Edition includes a Chromecast Ultra and several other perks) cost over $200, and I just couldn’t fathom spending that much money now that I have a better idea of what Stadia will be like on launch day.

Stadia will be incredibly basic at launch

google stadia logo at gdc 2019

Yesterday, two members of the Google Stadia development team took to Reddit for an AMA. Ostensibly, the AMA’s purpose was to make gamers get excited about Stadia’s launch next week and possibly convince some hesitant gamers to give Google a few extra controller pre-orders.

That isn’t how things played out, though.

So far, nearly every feature we know of coming to Google Stadia has a big asterisk.

Instead, the AMA proved that the Stadia we were promised back in June when Google formally took the lid off the product is definitively not the Stadia we will get next week. While the two Stadia employees should be commended for their honesty during the AMA, nearly every question they answered turned into an explanation of various features that won’t be available to gamers when they first boot up.

Here’s a very brief, incomplete list of the things you won’t be able to do with Stadia next week:

  • Use your official Stadia controller on your PC or phone wirelessly.
  • Use your official Stadia controller with your currently owned Google Chromecast Ultra.
  • Play games in 4K/HDR/5.1 on any device other than your TV with the Founder’s Edition Chromecast connected.
  • Share and play games you purchase with people in your family, even if your accounts are connected through Family Link.
  • Share the Buddy Pass you get with your Founder’s Edition pre-order with someone.
  • Track your achievements within any given game.

You don’t necessarily need any of those features above to enjoy playing Google Stadia, and they all will come down the pipeline eventually, but it’s clear that the service is simply not fully ready for release at the moment. Google’s pushing it out anyway and I don’t feel the need to be one of the first people to test out a half-baked product.

The real reason to use Stadia won’t come until later

Although Google actively dismisses the notion, most people want to imagine that Google Stadia and its Google Stadia Pro subscription service are a potential “Netflix for games.” The idea is that, for a nominal monthly fee, you can boot up your virtual console on any device you like — whether that’s a TV, smartphone, laptop, or whatever — and select a game from a curated list of titles. Within seconds, you’re playing that game at the highest quality with zero lag. That’s the dream and it’s a dream that Stadia will — eventually — sort of deliver on.

This “Netflix of games” idea will technically exist on launch day, but it will be incredibly limited to just one game: Destiny 2. Google promises Stadia Pro subscribers will see “one free game per month” after that. What these other free games will be, though, we are not sure.

Related: The Google Stadia launch games lineup isn’t nearly as bad as you think it is

Obviously, you can always buy a game through Stadia just like you would through Steam, Origin, the Epic Games Store, etc. However, of the 42 games Google promises are coming to Stadia, only a dozen will actually be available on launch day — and a quarter of those games are Tomb Raider titles. Google promises the other 30 games will become available gradually, but who knows when that will happen.

Paying full price for a game through an online store, though, is hardly a novel concept. Besides, I can already play games on my PC, phone, and television through Steam and I can use any number of wireless controllers to play it on all of them.

Without the “Netflix of games” aspect of Stadia working and proven to be a good value, it’s hard to be truly excited about what Stadia currently offers.

You likely already have all the hardware you need

Google Stadia Controllers

As I mentioned earlier, my Founder’s Edition Stadia controller and a regular edition controller combined totaled over $200. Even if you skip the Founder’s Edition (or the Premiere Edition which replaced it when it sold out), the cost of two regular controllers and a Chromecast Ultra is $207 ($69 each for the controllers and another $69 for the Chromecast). This makes the cost of entry for playing Stadia with a friend on a television not too far off from the cost of buying a Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, or Nintendo Switch, especially when you factor in all the sweet Black Friday deals just around the corner.

Luckily, you don’t need to buy anything to use Stadia’s core features. You can use controllers from those three major consoles I just mentioned or just use a keyboard and mouse. Hell, you can even dust off an old Xbox 360 controller and use that in a wired state on both your PC and your Pixel smartphone (all except for the OG Pixel).

Related: Here’s how Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo controllers will work with Stadia

In other words, the only feature of Stadia that you won’t be able to do with your current gaming controllers on launch day is play games wirelessly on your TV.

This, ultimately, was one of the more significant factors in my decision to cancel my Google Stadia controller pre-orders. I can just use the controllers I already have to test out Stadia and see if it’s really all Google is hyping it up to be, despite all the problems laid out in the previous two sections of this article. If it ends up being awesome, I can always buy a Stadia controller and a Chromecast Ultra later — I can possibly even buy them used and save a good chunk of change.

This strategy, of course, brings me to the biggest argument for canceling my pre-order.

You don’t need to pay to beta test Google’s services

google stadia app logo

It’s obvious from all the limitations Google Stadia will have at launch that this is not a consumer-ready product. Sure, you’ll be able to stream some games through the internet next week — but this is hardly a novel concept. OnLive did this a full decade ago, and that system is now the core of PlayStation Now, which offers the same kind of service.

I get the feeling the Google Stadia Founder’s Edition program really is a paid beta program. Considering the astonishing number of times Google has created a product and then killed it a short time later, it’s not in any consumer’s best interests to fork over cash to Google to test out its new service, especially when you consider you’ll be able to test out most of the service’s main functions with the existing hardware you already own.

If you have the money to burn, maybe you don’t care and won’t cancel your Google Stadia pre-order. That’s fine, it’s your money. However, you only have a few days left to cancel your pre-order before your credit card is charged and you will suddenly have a much more difficult time canceling.

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