It’s been about seven months since Google launched its game streaming service, Google Stadia. At the time, Stadia was difficult to recommend. There was only a subscription-based Pro tier available, the game library was sparse, and Google hadn’t delivered many of the marquee features that were meant to make Stadia unique. It felt like you were paying to take part in a beta program — a feeling that’s become all-too-common when talking about Google services.
How much has Stadia improved in the last seven months? Is it finally good enough to recommend?
When Stadia first launched, Google promised a free tier called Stadia Base was coming. Stadia Base (eventually rebranded to simply “Stadia”) wouldn’t have access to any of the free games you would get with Stadia Pro, but at least it offered a way for people to try the platform. And because much of the experience is dictated by the quality of your internet connection, it was important to let the pubic try the service without paying upfront.
Unfortunately, it took Google a very long time to launch this option. Google just released Stadia Base in April, bundling sign-ups a free two-month trial of Stadia Pro. But by waiting a full six months to release the free version, Google severely limited its user base, removing a lot of value from the platform.
The free version is finally (finally!) here.
Google has marketed Stadia as a place for people to come together and play games from anywhere. You can use your TV, computer, or even your phone. But adding a big paywall in the first few months made it hard for people to actually do that, especially in massive multiplayer games like Destiny 2. You have to give people a big incentive to switch to a completely new gaming platform, and a paid barrier of entry is not it.
Fortunately for Google, it seems making Stadia free has had some effect on the player base. According to 9to5Google, after the launch of the free tier, Destiny 2 had its concurrent players skyrocket, at least for a bit. Clearly, giving people access to the service for free was beneficial to the user base. But how many of those people will stick to the Pro tier after the two-month trial is over?
Still missing features
When Google announced Stadia, it revealed a number of features that could only be done on a game streaming platform. You would be able to press the Google Assistant button for help getting through a level, jump in a game at the exact same point as a streamer, and play on any screen. While most of these features sadly still haven’t made it to the platform, Google is slowly expanding the service.
The company has expanded the list of compatible devices by quite a bit. At the time of publishing, Stadia now works on nearly every flagship Samsung phone since the Galaxy S8, the Razer Phone 1 and 2, Asus ROG Phone 1 and 2, and the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro. This is certainly nice to see, but it’s a bit perplexing why Google won’t just allow Stadia on every Android device. As long as you have a good Wi-Fi connection, the display you’re playing on shouldn’t matter. You can even play on low-end Chromebooks.
A representative from Google told Android Authority that it is optimizing individual devices in order to get the best experience. Android phones have so many different display aspect ratios, so Google wants to make sure everything scales correctly. It’s a slow process to internally test devices.
Google has also added the ability to play with the Stadia controller wirelessly on a computer. We’ve been waiting for this feature for a while, but unfortunately you’ll still have to use a cable if playing on your phone. Just like the limited number of devices, this a confusing restriction. Because the controller is connecting directly to Google’s servers over your Wi-Fi connection, you shouldn’t need a cable to play. In fact, adding a cable actually adds latency. When playing with a wire, the input has an extra step of going to the phone and then to Google’s servers versus going directly to the server from your controller.
That being said, you can use a Bluetooth controller on your phone with Stadia. If you have a third-party controller you really like, you can hook it up to your phone or PC and play that way. While it won’t have the same first-party support as the official Stadia controller, it is nice to be able to use what you want.
Sadly, the lack of features this far after launch is pretty crummy. While Stadia’s game library has been updated frequently, we’ve yet to see the fruits of a platform that was meant to evolve over time. Let’s hope Google introduces some innovative features soon.
The game library is much bigger
At launch, Stadia was hammered for having a fairly small library of games. Of course, that’s true for any new console. But people were left wondering how quickly Google could convince developers to port their games to the platform. Fortunately, the answer seems to be fairly quickly.
While Stadia still doesn’t have nearly as many games as the Xbox One X, PlayStation 4, or Nintendo Switch, its library is growing fast. With big games like Doom: Eternal and Octopath Traveller, the platform can finally start to pull some potential players. At the time of publishing, there are 48 games on the platform, and big releases like FIFA and Cyberpunk 2077 are coming soon.
Google has also been pretty good about keeping its release timeline up to date. Games like Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla are sure to get people interested in the platform when they launch.
Is it still laggy?
While the answer to this question depends on your internet connection, I definitely experienced an equal amount of lag to when I first started using the platform last November. At times, the games felt fluid with zero input lag and zero stuttering. But after playing for about half an hour, games began to get choppy. I’ve heard this same story from a number of people, who mentioned that games started to slow down after extended play. Restarting my router seems to fix the issue, but it can be quite annoying.
This really reiterates how Stadia is only as good as your internet connection. As I said in my review, Stadia can pull over 56Mbps if you’re playing in 4k 60fps. The quality is the first thing to drop before frame rate, but it started to look pretty bad as my internet started to chug. Even at 720p, Stadia can take between 12 and 20Mbps. If your internet connection is spotty, your experience may not be great.
You should still try it
When Stadia was first launched, you had to buy the $120 Premiere Edition bundle to even have access to the service. This was a big gamble for anyone that didn’t know how well Stadia would work on their internet connection. Now that the service is free and you can get two months of Pro free, there really isn’t a reason not to try the platform.
Even if you don’t have the Stadia controller, you can play on your computer with a mouse and keyboard or any device with a supported third-party controller. And with the two months of Pro you get for free, you’ll have instant access to 12 different games, including Destiny 2: The Collection, GRID, Gylt, SteamWorld Dig 2, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech, Serious Sam Collection, Spitlings, Stacks on Stacks (on Stacks), Thumper, PUBG, The Turing Test, and Zombie Army 4: Dead War.
Even with the issues I mentioned, Google’s game streaming service still feels magical. The ability to jump into your favorite game on nearly any display anywhere in the world is revolutionary, and I’m hoping the platform gets even better as time goes on.
Give Stadia a go and let us know what you think.