Google Stadia is the latest entry into the game streaming world. Streaming games that are being rendered on hardware farms isn’t anything new, but with faster internet speeds and more competent hardware, the concept is sure to get popular soon. Google’s attempt is definitely intriguing, but it has some major downsides you should consider before buying into the Stadia hype.
4K60 support isn’t free
Stadia doesn’t inherently have a monthly fee. In fact, you can use the base version for free which is awesome. But if you’re going the free route, you’re going to be limited to 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second. Is that a decent gaming experience? Of course! But if you’re a gamer, it feels decidedly… 2014. We’re long in the age of 1440p gaming at the minimum, and we’re quickly entering the age of 4K gaming becoming the standard. The Xbox One X can do 4K60 and PC gamers have long enjoyed 4K gaming with high-end graphics cards like the GTX 1080 Ti and RTX 2080 series.
If you want 4K60 gaming, along with 5.1 surround sound support, you’ll have to get a Stadia Pro subscription. This will cost you $9.99 on top of the games you have to buy. It’s not a high price to pay considering there’s no real cost for hardware, but it’s still a barrier for those who already have some decent gaming hardware.
Rebuy all your games
To use Google Stadia, you have to buy Stadia’s games. All the games you already own won’t work. And Stadia’s game library will be full price, so don’t expect the magical and frequent sales of Steam to make an appearance here. Having to rebuy all of your games means starting from scratch with a new platform, and that’s always tough.
Basically, Stadia won’t be your only gaming option for a long time. Want to play new games? You’ll need to buy them from Stadia. Want to play old games? Well, you’ll need your existing PC or console to do so. So why start buying from Stadia at all?
Limited game selection
Speaking of games, the selection from Stadia will be limited for a long time. In fact, the launch lineup will consist of just twelve games. It’s a decent lineup with a few hits like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Destiny 2, but it’s still a tiny lineup.
We’re likely to see the game lineup grow over time, but it’ll be a slow growth at first. It may be a few years before Stadia’s selection is varied enough to catch the attention of most people.
Latency and internet speed requirements
When it comes to playing games on local hardware, you’re limited by your specs. But when you’re streaming, your internet speeds come into play. You’ll need some speedy internet to game in 4K60. It’s not like streaming Netflix, because you’re not just downloading a video stream that you can cache to prevent buffering. You’re constantly downloading realtime data and uploading data back to the server. So let’s hope your internet is quick. And internet has fluctuations, so you’ll likely see quality change as you’re gaming.
This also comes into play with mobile gaming, which will require a solid connection. 5G is the future and we’re hoping a stable high-speed connection can be used for Stadia, but for many of us, 4G LTE simply isn’t consistent enough in many markets for streaming high-quality games.
The other major issue is latency. Having to send your controller inputs to the cloud and receive data back inherently means latency issues. We got to try Stadia and the latency wasn’t an issue, but that’s with a few caveats. It was a private demo so it wasn’t being used by thousands of people, the server farm was nearby, and it was using a wired connection to Ethernet as well as between the laptop and the controller. Is the delay going to be noticeable once servers are being loaded up, and what if you’re far away from a server farm? Will the controller and network connection being wireless add enough latency to make gaming unpleasant? We’re sure Google is on top of it but it may not be as snappy as our favorite gaming setups.
Mobile availability limited to Pixels
If you want to stream games to your mobile phone, well you better own a Pixel. At least at first, mobile streaming through Stadia will be limited to Google’s own smartphones. Not only is this an issue because an incredibly small amount of people own Google smartphones (it’s estimated that Pixels have around 2% market share in North America), but such Google-specific features often stay Google-specific for quite some time. Wireless Android Auto, anyone?
So while Google keeps the mobile experience tied to its own smartphones, it gives a chance for other companies to step in and provide the same experience across all of Android, and Microsoft’s xCloud is poised to do just that.
There are many other nitpicks that can be made about Google Stadia. And if you’re already a gamer, we’re sure you’re curious but hesitant. Starting a new library of games while a new streaming service works out the bugs isn’t exactly appealing when you already have that console or gaming PC that works great and is sure to provide a better experience. Not to mention that consoles and especially PCs have a massive amount of games to choose from, often at dirt cheap prices on the used market.
But for the new gamer or those who stopped paying attention and are looking to get back into gaming, it might make sense. No console, no ties to a specific device, and everything in the cloud could be just the thing for some. But for me, my Steam library with over a hundred unplayed games will do the trick.