Google on Tuesday raised the curtain on its Stadia streaming gaming platform, and the early reviews are mixed at best.
For US$129, gamers can get the hardware they need to take the service for a spin — a Stadia controller, and a Chromecast Ultra for playing games on a TV.
The package includes access to one game and a three-month subscription to Stadia Pro, which supports 4K 60 frames-a-second gaming. Other offerings from Stadia’s limited library of 22 games cost from $30 to $60 each.
A free version of the service is scheduled to launch in February.
“There’s no reason anyone should buy into Stadia right now,” wrote Sean Hollister for The Verge. “Google has made sure of that, partly by underdelivering at launch and partly with a pricing scheme that sees you paying three times (for hardware, for the service, for games) just to be an early adopter.”
The service seems to be incomplete.
“Any time you look too hard at Stadia’s launch features, chances are you’re going to see more than a few vaguely listed as ‘coming soon,'” wrote Jess Grey for Wired.
“This is one of those things that’s getting a lot of attention because it’s Google,” said David Cole, CEO ofDFC Intelligence, a market research firm in San Diego, California.
“If it was anybody else, I don’t think it would have gotten any attention,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It’s kind of a beta product that they’re launching.”
Indistinguishable From Console
Beta or not, some reviewers found the service’s performance impressive.
“The technology that powers Stadia works better than I expected, and I expected it to work well enough,” wrote Jeff Grubb for VentureBeat. ” So far, I’ve had nothing but good experiences using it.”
Stadia’s performance won more praise from Alex Hern, who reviewed it for The Guardian.
“Once Stadia is up and running, the system is nearly indistinguishable from playing a game on a console sitting under your TV, except there’s no fan noise, no downloads or discs, and, well, no console,” he wrote.
Some reviewers didn’t report that streamlined experience, though.
“Even under ideal conditions (fiber connection, directly plugged into the router, 4K HDR OLED TV), there is a noticeable difference between playing a game on Stadia and running the game on local hardware, like a PC or PS4,” Hern wrote.
“There’s a certain clarity, depth, and sharpness you get when a game is rendered in real time,” he continued, “and that’s absent with a stream, no matter how high quality it is.”
Stadia earned some high marks for certain aspects of the user experience.
“Taken as a whole,” Grey wrote, “Stadia’s strength lies in its versatility, and that’s never more apparent than when you’re playing a game on a laptop without a graphics card. There’s something delightfully subversive about firing up Destiny 2 on the kind of Chromebook they hand out to high school kids.”
Another strength of the service is its convenience.
“I’m used to buying a game and then waiting at least some time for a download,” wrote VentureBeat’s Grubb.
“Even with small games and fast Internet, I still expect to wait a minute or two. But with Stadia, Red Dead Redemption 2 was ready to go the second I entered the activation code. This is the kind of convenience that a more mainstream audience should love,” he added.
A big annoyance with console games is the length of time it takes to download them, observed Mark N. Vena, senior analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy,a technology analyst and advisory firm in Austin, Texas.
“Download waits for Stadia games are surprisingly fast,” he told TechNewsWorld. “That’s a big plus for gamers who might want to check out Stadia. The instant gratification is exhilarating.”
Stadia’s controller received mixed reviews.
“The Premiere Edition’s official Stadia controller is great,” Wired’s Grey wrote.
“It’s a familiar design, a hybrid of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers with soft rounded edges and a pleasantly textured surface.The buttons are snappy and the joysticks feel smooth,” she continued.
“After a while, I’ve begun wishing I could use it with more than just Stadia games,” Grey added.
That wasn’t the case for The Verge’s Hollister, though.
“Functionally, it arrives with two practically useless buttons (Google Assistant and screen capture, both of which are barely functional at launch), a currently disabled Bluetooth radio, and it can’t control PC or phone sessions using its WiFi-based direct-to-server connection, even though its internal WiFi radio was pitched as the way you could seamlessly switch from one Stadia platform to another,” he wrote.
Nailed Impossible, Failed Possible
One weakness of Stadia out of the gate is its absence of multiplatform support.
“Another huge trouble spot for Stadia is that it’s in its own silo,” VentureBeat’s Grubb wrote. “That means online multiplayer games will only really work if enough people buy the game on Google’s platform.”
Another weakness of the service is the size of its offerings.
“Its library and outlook are uninspiring to the kinds of people who spend a lot of money on games,” noted Grubb.
“Few hardcore players are going to want to build their library on Stadia when they can do the same thing on Xbox with better games, Xbox Game Pass, and the promise of xCloud,” he pointed out.
“Right now, Google Stadia is a platform for nobody,” Grubb added. “The company just doesn’t seem to understand any of the audiences it is trying to reach.”
Stadia nailed the impossible but failed the possible, suggested The Guardian’s Hern.
“The single most important challenge facing Google — getting video game streaming on a par with local play — has been passed with flying colors,” he wrote.But on everything else, the company’s approach is baffling.”
“Some aspects suggest a rushed launch, with the company overly comfortable in its ability to push software updates down the line, failing to appreciate the importance of giving early adopters — the most engaged, eager fanbase — something for their loyalty,” Hern continued.
“Yes,” he added, “in six months’ time, many of the problems will be fixed. But the lackadaisical approach to quality is concerning….”
Console Shelf Life
Success in streaming games is going to come down to marketing and developer support, observed Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, aconsumer technology advisory firm in New York City.
“Google is investing in marketing resources and is ahead of some of the other options in the market in that respect, and they’ve lined up some strong developer support,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“On the other hand, historically they haven’t been great at holding on to developer attention,” Rubin acknowledged.
Despite the benefits, the day when streaming games will replace console gaming is on the far horizon.
“It certainly won’t happen in the 2020s,” said Lewis Ward, research director for gaming at IDC, a market research company in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Sony has had a streaming game service for five years and has been able to attract only one million of its 100 million users to it, he noted.
“So, over the next few years we’re not going to see a large share of the gamer population abandon the ways that they play games now,” Ward told TechNewsWorld. “There are ways to make streaming competitive with other ways of game distribution, but it’s going to take years to get there.”