With the launch of Stadia on 19th November 2019, Google were clearly hoping to revolutionise the world of online gaming and transform how gamers play. But were they successful in their ambitions?
We reflect on a month of Google Stadia: have Google managed to rewrite the rules of gaming, or is it back to the drawing board for developers?
What is Google Stadia?
You’d be forgiven for feeling in the dark when it comes to Google Stadia. Despite coming from one of the world’s largest tech giants, Stadia seemingly slipped under the radar for anyone not immersed in the gaming community, with many noting that it’s launch was somewhat half-hearted.
But, to those not in the know, the concept behind Google Stadia is simple: a video game streaming service that does away with the need for a console. Instead, gamers can simply stream their favourite game directly to their PC, TV or mobile – dependant on certain criteria such as additional hardware and the model/make of their mobile.
With a monthly subscription of £8.99 per month, some had hailed Stadia as “the Netflix of gaming”, however this isn’t strictly true. Unlike Netflix, where users have all films and boxsets included the monthly fee, Stadia charges an additional download fee for most titles, with a couple of free options available.
Ghost’s initial reaction to Stadia
At Ghost Gamer Broadband, we made no secret of how excited we were to try out Stadia. You can imagine our disappointment then, when our pre-ordered Founder’s Edition package did not arrive on the 19th November as promised.
Instead, we had to wait another six days for arrival – an issue that seemed to have been experienced by many others who had also pre-ordered. For us, this was disappointing and certainly not reflective of the high quality that consumers come to expect with a company such as Google.
Unfortunately, the initial disappointment didn’t end with Stadia’s late arrival. In it’s launch, developers were keen to remind us that gamers who had subscribed to the Pro service (as opposed to a free version which is set to launch in 2020) would be privy to several free games, including Destiny 2: The Collection.
However, once we were set up, we found that there were only two free titles. We would have preferred to at least have the option to trial games before committing to a purchase, in order to get a better idea of how each game would play on Stadia.
However, this isn’t to say that our first impressions were all bad. Everyone in our team was particularly impressed with the quality and design of the Stadia controller, that comes included in the Founder’s Edition. We were pleased to find that the controllers had an impressive reaction speed, as promised by Google developers, which helped guarantee smooth gameplay.
Admittedly this quality is to be expected: Google were keen to make quite the fuss around their exclusive controller, and rightly so. Stadia can actually be used with any games console controller, so Google had no choice but ensure that their offering was of premium quality to encourage users to actually buy it. Although a controller was included in the pre-order packages, to buy one separately will set you back £59.
We also found that set-up was pleasingly straightforward; plugging the hardware in was uncomplicated, and downloading the accompanying app was also without issue. However, it must be said that using a phone to navigate the menu was slightly uncomfortable when you’re used to a console dashboard, as most of the Ghost team are. Admittedly this could be attributed to personal preference; other gamers may enjoy using a mobile display.
Overall, our first impressions were positive; developers had clearly invested some serious time into creating a premium product – we just wish it had arrived on time, as promised.
Video game streaming quality
Prior to launch, many within the online gaming community were concerned that streaming games live, rather than playing a pre-downloaded title, would result in a poor quality game.
Unfortunately, for many users it seems that these concerns about Stadia were legitimate. Upon launch, Twitter was rife with disgruntled customers. Whilst many were encountering the same frustrating delays experienced by the Ghost team, a huge number were taking to social media to air their annoyance over the picture quality.
— Phandroid (@Phandroid) November 22, 2019
Although Google claimed that with the Pro subscription, Stadia users would experience up to 4K gameplay, this doesn’t seem to have always been the case. Even when their broadband was at the optimum recommended speed (35Mbps), users still complained of poor picture quality.
For example, Daniel Bloodworth of Easy Allies reported that when playing Red Dead Redemption, details that appear crystal clear on a console had the appearance of being “mushed together” with Stadia. With games such as Red Dead, where the meticulously designed graphics are almost as important as the storyline, compromises cannot be made when it comes to picture quality.
However, in terms of actual gameplay, at Ghost we found using Google Stadia to be a seamless experience. Using our dedicated gaming broadband, which guarantees no throttling and a reliable internet connection, we were all delighted to find ourselves forgetting that we were streaming games and not playing on a standard console. If you’ve been playing on Stadia and have been left disappointed by the picture quality, it may time to consider upgrading to a dedicated provider.
Google Stadia: the verdict
Overall, we like Stadia. Our whole team has loved played on it over the past month and we’ve all been impressed by the quality – both with the gameplay itself and hardware aspects such as the controllers. Of course the initial delay was disappointing, but quickly forgotten.
However, we are hesitant to hail Google Stadia as the future of online gaming, as we were hopeful for in the run up to its launch. Whilst Stadia will allow gamers play without a console, making for more portable gaming, there are a number of prerequisites for the optimum gaming experience on this platform.
Although developers have released the minimum internet speeds requirements for streaming games on Stadia, what they haven’t outlined is the importance of broadband quality. If your ISP throttles your connection at peak times, or prioritises certain types of traffic, you’re unlikely to find that the experience of playing on Stadia is parallel to that of traditional games consoles.
Equally, if you are using a shared broadband connection, with other users regularly browsing the internet or streaming films, you are likely to experience lag, which could seriously impact your gaming success. Ultimately, Google Stadia requires a dedicated gaming broadband connection to provide the optimum experience.
Our review of Google Stadia, one month on: so close, but not quite – unless your broadband is up to the task.