11:22 am
18 January 2022

Stadia Review 2021

Stadia Review 2021

Stadia is a cloud gaming service from Google. Stadia functions like most other cloud services. Players control games on their TV, PC, phone, and other devices, but the games are actually run by Google’s servers (the cloud) and are streamed to the player’s local device. Cloud gaming has been around for quite some time, but Google is the biggest company to invest in the market so far.

Today is the two year anniversary of the launch of Stadia, so it’s the perfect time to see how the service is performing and whether or not we recommend giving it a shot.

Stadia has two business models: á la carte and subscription. Both operate in tandem and can be engaged with individually or together, as you prefer.

The á la carte business model offers games for sale individually, much like games have been sold for the majority of the time they’ve existed. You need only purchase the games you want to play, and you can enjoy them as long as Stadia remains operational at no additional cost.

The second business model of Stadia is a subscription service, called Stadia Pro. Stadia Pro currently costs $10/month or your regional equivalent. A Pro subscription grants you discounts on a variety of individual games and, more importantly, the option to “claim” select included games at no additional cost. Once claimed, games remain yours in perpetuity, as long as you are subscribed to Pro.

The Pro library grows every month, and included games tend to remain “claimable”  for months at a time. As of today, the Stadia Pro library stands at 40 titles. Any and all of these titles, as well as new titles as they are added, can be claimed while you are a Pro subscriber.

This subscription ownership works the same way as with PlayStation+ and Xbox Games with Gold. Allowing your Pro subscription to lapse will forfeit access to the games you’ve claimed. Resubscribing, though, will again grant you access to all of the games you’d claimed in the past. You may unsubscribe from Pro and resubscribe later. Your claimed games will be waiting for you. 

Device Support

Stadia can be played across a variety of devices, which is one of the primary selling points of cloud gaming in general. Here are a few examples:

  • Chrome Browser on PC, Mac, and Linux
  • Android TVs
    • Certain models are specifically supported, but Stadia may be played on any Android TV as an experimental feature.
  • Chromecast Ultra
  • Chromecast with Google TV
  • Nvidia Shield
  • iOS via Safari
  • Android via the Stadia App
    • Certain phone models are specifically supported, but Stadia may be played on any Android device as an experimental feature.

One of the greatest benefits to cloud gaming, including Stadia, is the ability to jump between devices and screens. Let’s say you’re playing Stadia on your TV but your brother wants to watch a cartoon. You can open Stadia on your phone, press play, and your game stream will instantly transfer to your phone. You can re-pair your controller and play just as you were moments ago.

Controller Support

You can play Stadia, on any device, with a controller you already own, such as a DualShock 4, DualSense, or Xbox controller. These must be connected to your device via Bluetooth. Or, if you’re playing on a computer, you can use a mouse and keyboard.

Google also sells a Stadia controller, currently selling for $69.

Unlike with Bluetooth controllers, the Stadia controller connects to your game server directly over Wi-Fi. Connected over Wi-Fi, the Stadia controller operates at a reduced latency compared to a Bluetooth controller. With cloud gaming, every millisecond counts, and, in my experience, the Stadia controller is consistently responsive and indistinguishable for playing on a local console.

Linking (aka pairing) the Stadia controller with your cloud server is brilliant in concept, but it can be finicky in practice. Google has official instructions, but we’ve also created a video that may help.

Playing at 720p with an Xbox controller via Bluetooth, I found the experience to be perfect. When I played with an Xbox controller at 1080p, however, the game frequently lagged behind my input or often didn’t respond at all. For the games I’m playing now, Wavetale and Dirt 5, the lack of response is disruptive to the experience. But games that don’t require a quick response, like turn-based RPGs, can be enjoyed well-enough with a Bluetooth controller.

As a controller, the Stadia controller is fine. The shape is comfortable enough; the analog sticks are decent; and the triggers are wonderful. The pseudo-matt texture feels weird, though; the face buttons are small and feel super cheap; and the d-pad is objectively horrible. Nintendo mastered the d-pad long ago, and it’s astounding everybody else hasn’t followed their design.

Finally, Stadia also offers touch-screen controls on phones. The controls work for both playing on your phone itself and also as a controller for another screen. The control setup is a direct mapping of a regular controller, so it’s cluttered. There’s also no haptic feedback for button presses. As an on-screen controller for playing on phones, the option is fine for testing a game quickly, but it is not enjoyable for playing extensively. However, as a controller for playing Stadia on your TV, it actually does work decently. For local co-op, a phone isn’t a bad option when you don’t have enough controllers at hand.

Community Features

Stadia has a long way to go with community-building features, but they’ve laid the groundwork. For starters, Stadia allows for capturing screenshots and videos. The Stadia controller has a dedicated capture button. Pressing the button snapshots that moment, and holding it saves a recording of the previous 30 seconds. Screen captures can be posted to the public feed, downloaded, and shared individually.

If you’re playing on a PC with mouse and keyboard, F12 will also take a capture. Here’s an odd deficiency, though. Bluetooth controllers cannot take captures. Not even the share button on the DualShock 4 can take a capture. This is one of several discrepancies in the Stadia experience between playing on varying devices and with varying control methods. Part of the pitch of cloud gaming, and especially Stadia, is accessibility: play on any device and with any controller. But this type of caveat tarnishes the sales pitch and restricts the “complete” Stadia feature-set to only those who have adopted Google’s product line.

If you have the means to capture screenshots and video, you can post them to an Explore feed. The feed shows community captures, but the functionality is oddly anemic. Posts cannot be shared to social media, and there is no “like” feature to reward or boost community posts. You also cannot filter posts to your friends or players you’ve followed, nor can you visit a friend’s profile to see only their posts. Stadia just recently launched the Explore feed, so the feature is likely to be expanded in the future, but Stadia has a track record of releasing features prematurely, giving the impression that Stadia is a sub-par service and that Google has invested minimally to keep it running.

Platform Features

Stadia offers a number of platform features. They’re all cool ideas and have plenty of opportunity for improvement and growth.

Let’s talk about one: State Share.

In supported games, screen captures will automatically save parameters of your game state, the specifics of which are unique to each game. In Hitman – World of Assassination, for example, the state share is essentially a level loadout, so you can compete with others for the best score under the same circumstances.

From your capture gallery, a link to the game state can be shared with others. The game state can also be shared to the Explore feed. Anyone with access to the game can load the game state and play under the defined conditions.

Another platform feature is Stream Connect. It’s basically screen peeking with your co-op friends. I don’t own any of the supported games, so I haven’t experienced it myself, but it’s definitely a neat idea. Here’s a screenshot.

Live Stream

On computers, Stadia has a unique feature that really does take advantage of Google’s platform suite. Players can live stream their gameplay directly to YouTube. The live stream can be made public or private. The effort is instantaneous and smooth, and the stream is automatically saved to your YouTube account for you to publish if you so please. You may also use software such as OBS to stream to YouTube or Twitch or anywhere else.

To reiterate, however, live streaming is capable only while playing on computers.

While streaming, players can operate two additional platform features: Crowd Choice and Crowd Play. Crowd Choice allows the streamer to run a live poll for viewers to vote upon. In Samurai Shodown, for example, viewers can vote on the streamer’s character choice. Crowd Play, meanwhile, allows the streamer to create an open invitation for viewers to jump into their game. For example, in Outcasters, you can open your party to your stream viewers, and they can hop right in. Suddenly, you’re all playing together.

One feature missing from YouTube streaming, though, is easy access to live chat for the streamer. To view and contribute to live chat, you must currently load your YouTube feed in another tab and switch to it, or else open YouTube on another device, such as your phone. Chat in the Stadia overlay would be nice to have.

Fidelity

Stadia can be played in 720p and 1080p, which you can manually select at the device level. Audio is in stereo. With a Pro subscription, though, Stadia can be played in surround sound and in 4K resolution. On my little 5.8 inch phone screen, I play at 720p, and the resolution is indiscernible from 1080p. On my PC and TV, I play at 1080p because the difference is absolutely discernible. I play on a 5G Wi-Fi connection exceeding 100 Mbps. Regardless of my streaming resolution, Stadia is consistently smooth and responsive. I will have the occasional hiccup, but they’re rarely egregious and I can forgive the hitch. 

Streaming fidelity and performance is possibly the greatest argument for Stadia against Google’s competitors. If performance is your primary concern with cloud gaming in general, you may be surprised by the quality of your experience with Stadia. Google claims that Stadia will operate at a download speed as low as 10 Mbps. I find that claim dubious. You really want a standard cable plan for Stadia to function reliably.

A challenge to cloud gaming is data use. You probably won’t exhaust your ISP data plan in a given month, but you may have trouble streaming games smoothly if you share a home with others. If you like to play Stadia while your family is playing Splatoon, streaming movies, and scrolling through social media, your Stadia performance may suffer. There’s only so much bandwidth to go around.

Library

People choose consoles for the games. They don’t necessarily have to be exclusives, but exclusives certainly don’t hurt a console’s value proposition. Switch enthusiasts may like the console, but almost all of them want to play Nintendo’s games too. Same for Playstation and Xbox. Just as importantly, though, is library size and diversity. If you want the largest library of games for the cheapest investment, get a PC. It’s indisputable. A $500 PC will play 90% of games worth playing, and almost all of them are extraordinarily cheap and frequently on sale.

Stadia currently has four exclusives: GYLT, Hello Engineer, Young Souls, and Wavetale. GYLT is a wonderful game. I’ve yet to play Hello Engineer and Young Souls, but Wavetale is exceptional, and it’s available to claim with Pro right now. It’s well worth a single month subscription to Pro alone. But you know what, it’s coming to PC next year, and probably to consoles too.

But here’s what’s more concerning: there simply aren’t that many games on Stadia. According to Wikipedia, there are currently 255. There are 3K to 4K games on consoles. And on PC, there are easily tens of thousands. But it’s not just the count that matters. There’s also diversity to consider. While the Stadia library does have some diversity, you still might find only a handful in your genre of choice.

Accessibility

With cloud gaming, unlike with PC and console, you don’t technically need to invest several hundred dollars. You probably have a laptop, and it’s almost guaranteed to run Stadia. You definitely have a phone, or even a tablet, and it will likely run Stadia too. But if you think you’ll prefer your phone, you will definitely want to invest in a Power Support CLAW. It’s currently unavailable on Google’s store, which is odd, but you can find it on the Power Support manufacturer’s website. The tool is probably the best phone clip currently available and is essential to enjoying Stadia on your phone.

But let’s say you prefer to play games on your TV. Then, you have fewer choices. You’ll need to invest in a supported device, much in the same way that you need to buy a console to play that platform’s games on your TV (although that restriction is very quickly changing).

Do you have an Android TV? That should work. The Nvidia Shield is also a good option. Otherwise, I hope you own a Chromecast Ultra or Chromecast with Google TV, or that you’re willing to invest. But let’s say you already own a Roku or Firestick or Apple TV, buying a Chromecast would be frankly redundant. The purchase would be a commitment to Stadia, like buying any console is. But the commitment to Stadia feels different. For one thing, you probably should buy a Stadia controller too. And therefore, your best option is to buy either a “Stadia Premiere” bundle or a “Play and Watch with Google TV” bundle. You’re looking at $80 or $100, respectively (the Premiere Edition bundle is currently on sale for $22.22). With the Google TV bundle, you also get a free month of Stadia Pro (Note: this promotion is for brand new Stadia members only. If you have ever registered for Stadia in the past, you will not earn this promo).

One “promise” of Stadia is that the system will never become obsolete and will run the entirety of its library forever. Theoretically, this is true. The hardware will always be up-to-date and presumably will remain compatible going forward. This is a great comfort. You don’t have a console to box up when you move, or physical games to fill a shelf, or hardware that will eventually break down with age. My PlayStation 3 of ten years died, and my entire collection is now unplayable.

However, short of downloadable executables, digital “ownership” isn’t ownership at all. It’s an á la carte rental service founded in trust. I own over 400 games on Steam. I have high confidence that Steam will survive past my lifespan. I feel the same way about PlayStation and Xbox. Purchasing digital games on any of these platforms is an exercise in trust. In fact, generally, I trust more highly in digital ownership than physical.

But Stadia feels like a riskier investment. Why? Because I simply do not trust Google. At any moment, they could pull the plug on Stadia. Your Stadia controller, your phone clip, your redundant Chromecast would instantly become useless. Remember Google Plus? It was a sleek social media platform with some awesome features, like circles. But a couple of years ago, Google, one of the wealthiest companies of all time, changed their mind and shut it down. Even more concernedly, Google invested into founding and purchasing three development studios to make games exclusively for Stadia. That is commitment because game development is extraordinarily expensive. Somehow, Google failed to realize this fact before their investment, and, overnight, they shut down all three. It was short-sighted and, honestly, disgraceful for Google to have made false promises to hundreds of developers. Does that sound like a company you can trust?

Let’s return to a critical element of Stadia, though, to their benefit. They have two business models: á la carte and subscription. The á la carte model offers individual games for purchase. If you own the game, you can play it on Stadia for as long as the service survives. A Pro subscription is not required to play games you’ve individually purchased. Furthermore, a Pro subscription is not required to play games online. Unlike with Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox, any games you own or have claimed on Stadia are playable online completely free of charge.

But Stadia being a service that (evidence supports) could be shut down any day, I can’t possibly recommend purchasing games for the platform, especially if you are concerned about retaining your library for decades to come. In this way, purchasing a game on Stadia is literally a very expensive (though hopefully long-term) rental. If you’re ok with that possibility, then Stadia is a good option for purchasing games.

Far more attractively, Stadia offers a Pro subscription. It’s $10 a month, though the first month is practically guaranteed to be free if you’ve never registered before. A Pro subscription, even for a single month, grants you access to claiming a huge number of games. Right now, it’s 40. You can subscribe to Pro and instantly claim 40 games. Now, you’ll need to remain subscribed to play those games, but the offer is lucrative regardless. Even if I weren’t covering cloud gaming and weren’t going to write this review, I still would have subscribed to Pro for a month. Though games claimable on Pro eventually fall off, Stadia also adds more every month. In October, they added five.

Finally, Stadia Pro subscribers get discounts to purchasable games, just like PS+ and Xbox Live.

If you’re playing Stadia without a Pro subscription, your games will run in 1080p, at a maximum of 60fps, and in stereo sound. With a Pro subscription, Stadia will play in 4K and in 5.1 surround sound, if you have such a setup. I don’t own a 4K TV so have never tried streaming at that resolution, but I am doubtful that the stream fidelity will hold up, even with the best network setup. I cannot speak to its performance personally, though.

Here’s my argument. Stadia is excellent as a subscription service. Although, I also feel it’s important to be transparent about the plethora of consumer options available to gamers. There are several alternative cloud gaming choices, all worth considering. And, for example, there’s also Humble Choice. It’s $12 a month, granting DRM-free ownership of 10 games each month. But Stadia has its own advantages, and you may prefer them.

Stadia Consumer Perks

For example, Stadia has several games that are entirely free. You don’t need to buy them, nor do you need to subscribe to Pro to play them. Specifically, the games currently available are: Super Bomberman R, Destiny 2, Crayta, and Hitman – Free Starter Pack.

Once you’ve signed up for a Stadia account, you can play any of these right away. One boon for cloud gaming is that games are not installed locally. Destiny 2 is 70 GB. Console or PC, that’s a lot of space. On Stadia, though, not only will Destiny 2 run well because it’s powered by a gaming computer in Google’s warehouses, you also don’t need to relinquish a large percentage of your disk space to play.

Stadia also offers free demos. To play these demos, you need a Google account, but not a Stadia account.

Riders Republic also ran as a brief open beta on Stadia. For just a weekend, I found the game was too big to install, but on Stadia, I simply launched the stream and played. Cloud gaming has much less friction than physical or digital games and feels like a more streamlined experience.

Family Sharing

Like several other Google services (Android Play Store most relevantly) a Stadia library can be shared with other members in your Google Family. Your family members have equal access to the Stadia games you’ve purchased and to those you’ve claimed, as long as you’re actively subscribed to Pro.

Family members may play different games simultaneously, but they may not play the same game simultaneously. One unfortunate failing of this restriction is that members of a family group cannot play a game from their library cooperatively with one another. Each player must own the game individually. Google’s competitors are offering this cooperative feature, however. Amazon Luna has couch co-op, Steam has Remote Play Together, and Parsec’s Arcade mode allows anyone to jump into a host’s game. The reason for Stadia’s co-op limitation may be due to licensing contracts, but Google should consider the investment if they want to keep up.

Verdict

My suggestion is to try the free trials of Stadia. If you like it, feel free to invest. If not, you’ve learned it’s not for you. We recommend not registering for a Stadia profile until you’ve decided to subscribe to Pro or play the free-to-play games.

To celebrate the second anniversary of the launch of Stadia, Google has discounted the Premiere Edition bundle to $22.22.

We’ve compiled a list of features and improvements would love to see implemented by Google. Read it here.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Stadia, and answer any questions you may have. Please tweet us or send us a DM at @ninthgencloud. You may also email us at contact@ninthgen.com