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The potential hidden costs of Google Stadia

Google is taking on game streaming with Stadia, but is it really cheap? Let's take a look at some potential hidden costs!

Published onJune 18, 2019

A photo of Google Stadia Controller
Google Stadia is building all kinds of hype. It was mentioned by many developers and publishers at E3 and its catalog of games grows every week. Stadia seems a little too good to be true. You pay $69 for a controller and then you can stream games at 4k and 60FPS for $9.99 a month. It has the potential to disrupt an already massive gaming industry in a lot of ways. However, it may not be that easy or that cheap. Here are some hidden costs you may incur with Google Stadia.

Networking equipment

Flashrouters picture of Linksys-3200ACM

Google Stadia’s biggest challenge is its all-online presence. It’s easy to dismiss latency and speed issues as occasional problems. However, the stats tell a different story. A recent survey shows that 52 percent of gamers who quit playing online multiplayer games do so because of high latency issues (lag).

Google Stadia actually has systems in place for a bad connection such as scaling down the resolution if you hit high lag. However, Stadia can’t fix people’s home networking woes. Unfortunately, the only way to do that are potentially expensive upgrades to your modem or router.

A lot of people out there can't play PC or console games over wireless without lag. They won't be able to on Stadia, either.

You likely won’t need anything too dramatic and we aren’t recommending a $300 space station looking thing to anybody unless that’s what you want. That’s a bit of overkill. However, a lot of people are still working with older routers like the famous WRT54G on a 2.4GHz connection. It may work fine in a regular house, but it won’t work very well in tightly packed areas like apartment complexes or college dorms where signal interference is a real concern. We would recommend something like the NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 or the Linksys WRT AC3200.

This isn’t as much of a problem with PC or console gaming because of how little data traditional console and PC games actually use. Xbox Support recommends a data connection with 150 millisecond latency, a 0.5Mbps upload speed, and a 3Mbps download speed. PlayStation 4 and PC gaming are very similar most of the time. The problem isn’t speed with consoles and PC. Ping and packet loss are the real culprits.

Stadia needs more than three times that amount for even its lowest (720p) setting and more than ten times that amount for 4K (60FPS). Additionally, latency is going to be much higher on Stadia than a console for obvious reasons. A good router will help keep the ping down, the speeds up, and give you plenty of overhead to reduce lag spikes and buffer issues. However, those perks don’t come cheap.

Data caps and network speeds


Console and PC gaming require a surprisingly small amount of data to actually play online. You can reliably play a console or PC game online and use less than 1GB per hour in basically all cases. Those numbers don’t include the one-time data use for installing the game, of course. In any case, you can game all day on a console or PC and only use a couple of gigabytes per day at most. For now, you can’t use your mobile network for any of this either, so your home Wi-Fi is all you have.

Probably the biggest downside for me so far with switching to internet TV. Already hit my usage cap.
— Lanh (@LanhNguyenFilms) June 13, 2019

Stadia, on the other hand, streams the whole time you play games. We estimated that Stadia could use up to 6.5 to 11.5GB of data per hour on the 4K setting and that is a lot of data. Our own Lanh Nguyen (above) hit his data cap just watching Internet TV. He’s also a huge Fortnite fan, so imagine his data usage if he adds Stadia streaming on top of his Internet TV subscription. Data cap overages at Comcast are $10 per 50GB or about 50 minutes (estimated) of Stadia game play at 4K.

Another problem is network speed in general. Stadia’s maximum setting needs about 35Mbps to operate properly. If your ISP advertises that you’re getting that amount, there’s a huge chance that’s not the case all the time, or even frequently. ISPs have a nasty habit of promising “up to” a certain speed and not that speed consistently.

There are many potential Stadia players who may need to upgrade their network speeds a tier or two in order to get Stadia to work properly, and that’s a permanent monthly cost.

Google Stadia accessories

Google Chromecast Ultra

Google Stadia doesn’t work out of the box on everything. Unfortunately, you need a Google Chromecast if you want access on your TV. More specifically, it only seems to work on a Chromecast Ultra. That means those with regular Chromecasts have to upgrade and those without a Chromecast are springing for the most expensive version of the device. You can find them for about $70 on Amazon.

All you get is a controller. You have to buy your own Chromecast Ultra to play on TV.

Additionally, Stadia controllers don’t come with a phone holder so you may need a clip if you want to game on your phone. You may also need a stand for your tablet if you use one. Those who don’t already game will most likely need a gaming headset as well to talk to friends online.

Related: Google Stadia fixes one of the Pixel 3a’s few flaws

None of these are very expensive, but they are still necessary or recommended for a good gaming experience. Google Chromecasts are one of the simplest and easiest streaming sticks in technology so it probably wouldn’t hurt to own one anyway. All these things still cost money, though.

Game costs

Destiny 2 Google Stadia

Finally, let’s talk about game costs. We’ll side step the obvious cost of actually purchasing games on the platform like any other platform. That’s not so much a hidden cost. However, Stadia Pro goes for $9.99 per month and includes access to 4K (60FPS) streaming, 5.1 surround sound, “roughly” one free game a month (only Destiny 2 is confirmed for launch), and exclusive discounts on other games.

That’s twice as much as you’d pay for an Xbox Live Gold subscription over the same time frame (one year) and Xbox Live Gold has similar perks.  While online multiplayer is technically free on any Google Stadia subscription, the cost of Stadia Pro will still meet and exceed the cost of similar console subscriptions — even when you factor in the sizable upfront cost of the console — over a longer period of time. The ten year cost of Stadia Pro is ~$1,200 while the ten year cost of Xbox Live Gold is $600, if you opt for the 12-month subscription.

These publisher subscription holes are hidden costs on consoles too. This isn't a Stadia-only problem.

Ubisoft recently announced its $14.99 per month game service for Stadia in 2020. EA Access is EA’s game service and we assume it’ll make its way to Stadia eventually. These competing gaming-as-a-service initiatives will no doubt overlap and eventually cost gamers quite a handful of money over time or, at the very least, limit what options Stadia Pro users have when it comes to free games.

Of course, there is a free version for those who only want stereo sound and up to 1080p resolution so you can bypass that cost if you want to. However, you still have to buy games and they’re no cheaper on Stadia than they are on Xbox, PC, or PlayStation 4.

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Stadia is still one of the most exciting platforms in gaming this year. However, these little extras increase the price of a Stadia setup by quite a bit if you’re not careful and could result in Stadia being the most expensive platform over the long term. In the case of network speeds, those costs add up every month, taking the cost well beyond just $9.99 a month for Stadia Pro.

Do you think Google Stadia is still worth it? Let us know in the comments below!

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