The Case For Google Stadia
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
From an early skeptic to owning over one hundred games - this is why Stadia is now my gaming platform of choice.
"Stadia is DOA."
"You're paying twice for games you already own."
"Just another project for the Google graveyard."
Even well past a year into the launch of Google's game streaming service Stadia, these are the same talking points that are repeated time and time again. And had you lurked deep enough in the depths of Reddit in late 2019, you might've caught me repeating those exact same things among like-minded gamers.
Fast forward to the present day, and my Stadia library is over 100 games and climbing. Also, I somehow own four controllers.
For the record, the Wasabi controller is the superior color scheme. This isn't up for debate.
So what exactly happened? How did I go from a local console purist to somebody who will actively buy a game for Stadia if it releases on one platform instead of another?
Rewind to late 2019. The reveal earlier in the year of Stadia didn't even register on my gaming radar, and it's probably better that it didn't. When Google's big reveal of the online-only platform happened at GDC, it didn't send shockwaves through the industry like they were probably anticipating. While the idea of playing a game on just about any screen you already own probably sounded great in a boardroom, it didn't quite resonate with gamers. Why?
Well, for one, whether Google intended it or not, the platform was inherently not designed for seasoned gamers. The library of games offered on day 1 was not only paltry but there were titles that a lot of gamers already owned. How can you convince somebody to throw down $60 for Red Dead Redemption 2 again? When your flagship title is Destiny 2, a game that was already 2 years old by Stadia's release, it creates an impression that the platform is just scraping together whatever publishers it can get to become early adopters of the service.
"(YouTube) saw an onslaught of coverage that dragged Stadia into a corner and beat it senseless, whether it deserved it or not."
Second, (and this is big) buying into the service, especially when the $130 Founder's Edition was the only way to play at launch, was a major vote of confidence that Google was going to support the product long term. The infamous "Google Graveyard" was the go-to resource for people like me who wanted to reassure myself that this wasn't worth my time or money.
Then, the launch happened. Oh boy. As many day one founders who survived those days will tell you, the issues were exaggerated but it still wasn't pretty. Severely delayed access code emails meant a lot of founders were holding a Chromecast and limited edition controller that they literally couldn't use. To make matters substantially worse, major tech review publications made a critical mistake when reviewing the service - they didn't consider that their communal workplace internet may not be the greatest way to play Stadia.
WaPo Games Reporter Gene Park's review of Stadia led to this infamous (and frankly, unfair) input lag critique.
I will say this - anybody with those Founder sparkles at the end of their username earned them after weathering this storm. YouTube's almighty algorithm, known for favoring negative coverage of gaming news, saw an onslaught of coverage that dragged Stadia into a corner and beat it senseless, whether it deserved it or not. That led people like me to effectively be gaslit into the assumption that a very short fuse was about to blow.
And yet, on the other side of all that, a core group of players seemed perfectly content with their purchases. Like most, they were frustrated with the initial complete lack of communication from Google (or any kind of timetable for new games) but seemed to be blown away by the tech itself. So what made me hop over?
In short, the pandemic. Like most, my career had a very sudden giant question mark branded onto it, and I found myself reassessing my gaming budget rapidly. Next-gen was just around the corner, and how was I going to justify a $400 purchase (or more) plus accessories and new games? Like many companies, the pandemic was an opportunity to bring in customers who may otherwise never have tried your product. Google smartly saw the chance and offered two months free with their Pro subscription, offering a wide range of free games among other perks. After a member of my extended family posted on Facebook about how much he was enjoying the service, I figured why not? It wasn't going to cost me anything.
"Input lag wasn't even a factor at this point - the magic of Google's infrastructure was in full play, and I absolutely became a believer that day."
Then, the unthinkable happened. I launched Destiny 2 on my potato decade-old gaming laptop and experienced lightning-fast load times, and the exact opposite of what the internet had convinced me of - almost unnoticeable input lag! Looking at the very limited library, I came across The Division 2, a game I already owned on Xbox. However, doing more research I discovered that the game ran at a buttery smooth 60 FPS on Stadia. This was a decision point for me - was I going to buy the same game twice? Is this some kind of long-term karma punch for me using that exact talking point against Stadia six months prior?
Yeah, I clicked buy. That was it for me, quite frankly. The game was instantly in my library, loaded outrageously fast, and was far more immersive and snappy than my experience on Xbox. I loved it so much, I simply had to pick up the Premiere Edition and get that streaming goodness on my TV.
If you are somebody on the fence about Stadia, the only thing you need to get from this article is this: You have NOT experienced Google Stadia until you have played it on a wired Chromecast Ultra. I couldn't believe what I was experiencing. The Wi-Fi-enabled controller coupled with the 4k output of that tiny little piece of hardware created an experience that is indistinguishable from having a physical console in front of you. Input lag wasn't even a factor at this point - the magic of Google's infrastructure was in full play, and I became a believer that day. Fast forward over a year later and SirDibs#3335 is still logging on almost daily to get my gaming fix.
Yeah, that's not an exaggeration. The Division 2 has to be played to be believed on Stadia.
Yet, in 2021 the narrative about Stadia's imminent doom seems to still be on repeat, like a CD-R that you only burned The Final Countdown onto and took on a road trip in the late '90s. Every little piece of news coverage that could paint Stadia in a bad light became the punching bag that never stopped getting walloped. Stadia's internal game development studio shuts down, and the platform pivots to focus on porting AAA games while also fostering a strong indie game presence? Obviously, the clickbait title needs to be "STADIA SHUTS DOWN?". Stadia's VP moves on, as happens with countless executive positions in the gaming industry and beyond? Clearly, the ship is sinking.
And yet, running entirely counter to that narrative is the steady, unrelenting stream of AAA titles like Cyberpunk 2077, Marvel's Avengers, Resident Evil Village, or the ever-expanding library of Ubisoft+ games. Then factor in the recent additions of FIFA, Madden, and other staple sports gaming franchises, and one has to wonder - how does a "failing" platform continue to rack up so many AAA titles?
Those Who Know, Go Pro
Starting a free Pro trial anytime since October has meant instantly walking into a library of around 30 games. Xbox Game Pass may be the king of value, but Stadia Pro is severely underestimated. (Graph by https://twitter.com/in7ead)
Out of the 100+ games I own on Stadia, over 70 of them (and counting) are Pro offerings. From indie masterpieces like Little Nightmares 1 and 2 to even AAA experiences like F1 2020, I've got a significant backlog of games that I can't wait to dive into. The Pro subscription is easily one of the biggest marketing hiccups from Google, as people to this day still believe that a Pro subscription is required to play anything at all, when aside from the Founder's Edition launch (and a few months after), literally any game you purchase becomes yours to stream for life, from any device, without ever giving Google another penny. (The only caveat is a cap of 1080p video quality with no HDR.)
As of June 1st, 29 games will be instantly yours when you fire up a free Stadia Pro trial, including a beautifully performing port of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Since late 2020 that number has been roughly the same, with various titles coming in and out of availability to claim. Make no mistake though, this isn't a Game Pass Ultimate model - once you claim a Pro title it is yours to keep as long as the Pro subscription is running. (And yes, renewing later after a lapse in your subscription gives you access to your entire previous Pro library.)
"Google Stadia is my main gaming platform right now, and gosh darn it, I'm not afraid to say it!"
I'm not going to lie to you and say Stadia is the second coming of video games. I am fully aware of the flaws, and even the potential risk of losing an increasingly robust library if the numbers stop adding up to certain Google executives. But as somebody who has tried the vast majority of game streaming options right now, I am beyond confident when I say that Google Stadia has the best infrastructure for streaming games to screens you already own - and it easily puts them in a unique position to capture a huge share of the cloud gaming market going forward. The input lag of xCloud, for example, is noticeable to the point of being unusable now that I've experienced what Stadia can do. And even if it did work well, I don't want a library of games that I will eventually lose access to when they rotate out of the Game Pass library. With Stadia I own what I own, and I like that.
Google's new store in NYC will feature prominent Stadia displays. Surely this means Stadia is doomed.
Despite the flaws and never-ending public mockery, Google Stadia is my main gaming platform right now, and gosh darn it, I'm not afraid to say it! Yes, many Google ideas that came to market have eventually been shuttered or rolled into other services, but it is extremely important to understand that Google is only going to get one shot at getting its foot in the door of the gaming industry - and they know it. Stadia calling it a day will all but guarantee that future attempts will be dead on arrival - and frankly, in a world of three major platforms that have largely gone unchallenged for entire console generations, I'm ready for a new challenger to approach.
AAA games can easily clock in at over 100 GB these days, and that becomes a hassle to download and manage. The sheer convenience of never having to decide which games are getting uninstalled to make room for my next purchase is a fantastic selling point for me. Being able to run a remarkably smooth 1080p game stream on a 4G LTE connection with my phone and Razer Kishi still baffles me to this day.
So you know what? I'll roll the dice. I say Stadia is here to stay, and you can count me in for the ride. The fundamentals are solid, the library is growing, and the community is easily one of the best in gaming full-stop. Stream on, my friends!