Way, way back in 2019, Google launched its cloud gaming platform Stadia in a state that I described at the time as being more or less a beta. A ton of seemingly basic features were missing, some for quite a while: for months after launch, the platform didn’t have achievements, a proper TV app, or family game sharing, among other shortcomings. Hell, its store lacked basic search functionality until the spring of 2020. Today, many of those complaints have been addressed, and Stadia is better than it’s ever been — but it’s not as easy to get excited about as it used to be.
How it started, how it’s going
Game selection hasn’t reached parity with platforms like PlayStation or Xbox, but it’s improved significantly since the service launched with only a couple dozen titles. Currently, Stadia’s enjoying major backing from a bunch of large publishers: EA’s released games like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Madden, and FIFA. Square Enix launched Outriders on Stadia simultaneously with other platforms in the spring and Marvel’s Avengers last fall, plus ported a bunch of other games. And Ubisoft’s brought dozens of its titles to Stadia, including some of its biggest like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed games.
Today, more than 250 games are available on Stadia. It’s not all exciting stuff — nobody’s signing up to play Uno or The Addams Family: Mansion Mayhem — but in the past 12 months, we’ve seen big-ticket games like Far Cry 6, Madden NFL 22, Resident Evil Village, and Hitman 3 land on Stadia day-and-date with other platforms. During Cyberpunk 2077’s troubled launch in late 2020, Stadia was actually one of the best ways to play the game. Smaller but still noteworthy games like Chorus, Farming Simulator 22, Life is Strange: True Colors, and Little Nightmares II have shown up on time, too.
A surprising number of those games have been available to play at no additional cost with Stadia’s $10-a-month Pro tier. As a refresher, Google adds a handful of games to Pro every month, and once you claim one, it’s available to you any time you’re a Pro subscriber — even if you let your subscription lapse and come back later. If you’d been paying for Pro since the very beginning, your subscription costs — as of writing, that’d be $260 including January — would have net you access to more than 100 games. They’re hardly all bangers, but there’s something cool just about every month, including big-name games like Control, Jedi: Fallen Order, Resident Evil 7, and Mafia III Remastered, plus tons of cool, smaller indies like Celeste, Moonlighter, and the entire SteamWorld series.
So it’s hard to say there’s any dearth of quality games to play on the platform, but it’s still missing some of the pillars of modern gaming. Stadia’s got Destiny 2 and PUBG, but it doesn’t have Battlefield or Call of Duty. You can play Dead by Daylight, but not Back 4 Blood. There’s no Grand Theft Auto V, no Skyrim, no Minecraft, no Among Us, no Fortnite, no Stardew Valley. A lot of mega-hit games you can take for granted on other platforms just aren’t here.
That Google’s been either unwilling or unable to amass a catalog of games for Stadia that lets the platform hold its own against non-cloud competition is troubling, and it makes me wonder how the company views Stadia’s long-term prospects. Nintendo’s been able to stay relevant for decades despite frequently missing out on big-budget multiplatform games, but it’s done so largely on the strength of its exclusive IPs. Stadia, on the other hand, has no such exclusives. Outside a handful of small titles like Gylt and Outcasters, it probably never will: Google shuttered its short-lived Stadia Games and Entertainment studio early last year.
A lot of mega-hit games you can take for granted on other platforms just aren’t here.
Google has also started licensing the technology powering Stadia to third parties to use in their own cloud gaming products, a strategy some have speculated could mark the beginning of the company taking a more behind-the-scenes approach to getting a slice of the cloud gaming pie. It’s certainly possible, and taken with the closure of Stadia’s first-party games studio and Google’s penchant for abandoning well-liked products, it’s easy to interpret it that way. Stadia could very well stop existing in the way we currently know it in the near future.
If that bothers you, that’s hardly unreasonable. If PlayStation 5 consoles were liable to disappear at some unspecified time in the next couple of years, leaving PlayStation games unplayable, very few people would buy them. I don’t personally see it as too much of an issue. Unless you buy a controller or a Chromecast bundle, there’s no startup cost involved with Stadia, and if you’re only purchasing the odd game that interests you or messing around with whatever shows up in your $10 Pro subscription, there isn’t much to lose if the service goes belly-up. But I also have access to multiple gaming platforms and more games than I could ever hope to play, so I realize that’s kind of a privileged stance. If Stadia were the only place I could play games, I’d be less blase about the prospect of it no longer existing.
The reliability problem
For a long while, though, Stadia made up a large part of my gaming diet. From November 2019 to today, I’ve played the entirety of Red Dead Redemption 2, Jedi: Fallen Order, Doom Eternal, Cyberpunk 2077, and dozens of hours of Destiny 2 on the service, not to mention plenty of other games I spent less time with. Looking back on that time, I’ve had surprisingly few cloud-specific technical problems; Stadia’s stream quality on my home Wi-Fi network is honest to goodness very nearly indistinguishable from playing games locally.
There are tons of factors that can influence the quality of your stream.
But that isn’t universal. Everyone at AP has had a different experience with Stadia (the word “unplayable” has been used). All Google recommends for playing in 4K is a connection that maintains a speed of 35 Mbps where you’ll be playing, but there are tons of other factors that can influence the quality of your stream: Other bandwidth hogs on your network, how close you are to a data center, how reliable your Wi-Fi router’s connection is, et cetera. For its part, Google hasn’t been very communicative about those other factors. This unpredictability when it comes to stream quality and latency is a huge barrier to adoption. If you meet all the requirements for a good Stadia experience on paper only to find that reality doesn’t match that expectation, it won’t matter how good it is for me, it’s going to feel like it’s a bad product to you.
Should you sign up?
I think it’s a wholesale technological miracle that I can play high-end games on a $50 piece of hardware like a Chromecast (or basically anything else, for that matter) over a base-tier Wi-Fi connection. But despite my amazement at the tech, the fact that it performs ideally where I live, and my willingness to accept that I don’t really own the games I’m playing… it’s telling that I eventually got tired of relying on Stadia for my AAA gaming fix and bought an Xbox last year. I realize that’s not an option for everyone and that people without access to cutting-edge hardware are Stadia’s bread and butter, but I think Google’s courting a remarkably small demographic here.
Cloud gaming is going to be normal in the not-too-distant future, and if Stadia is still around by then, it could be a key player. But as Google is treating the product today, Stadia feels more like a supplement to than a replacement for gaming on local hardware. Assuming it’s reliable where you play, Stadia is great for someone who owns a Switch but wants to play more demanding games occasionally, or someone who’s on the hunt for a PlayStation 5 but really wants to play Resident Evil Village today, or someone who wants to steal a few minutes of gaming on a Chromebook after the kids go to bed.
Stadia really is the best it’s ever been.
If that’s you, the good news is it’s easier than ever to try: If you have a Gmail address, you can go to Stadia.com and start playing a number of entirely free games right away. But if there’s anything on the horizon you’d like to be able to play, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to do it here. Most of this year’s biggest multiplatform games, games like Elden Ring, Dying Light 2, Gotham Knights, Sonic Frontiers, and the Saints Row reboot, aren’t confirmed to be coming to Stadia.
In early 2022, Stadia really is the best it’s ever been: its catalog has ballooned to hundreds of titles, Stadia Pro continues to offer great value, and most of the functionality the service was missing early in its life is finally here. If what Stadia offers seems like it meets your needs, give its free games a try and take it from there. But if Google’s apparent interest in the platform stays the same, you might find yourself outgrowing it sooner than later.
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About The Author
Taylor Kerns (1113 Articles Published)
Taylor was a phone nerd long before joining Android Police in 2018. He currently carries a Pixel 6 Pro, which he uses mostly to take pictures of his dogs.