What is Stadia? According to Google, it’s the future of gaming. Although the internet giant may be right about this, Stadia’s promise for the future doesn’t mean that it will be a viable platform for the present.
First announced at GDC in March, Google Stadia is a service that is capable of streaming games to any device that supports the Google Chrome browser or Chromecast adapter. In practice, Stadia should allow you to play a game on every one of your screens and seamlessly transition between them at any time. There will be a premium version of the service launching this November that includes the highest streaming quality and selected free games, but a free version of the platform will also release next year. Regardless of which version you use, most games will have to be individually purchased – this isn’t the “Netflix for games” that many have been hoping for.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE?
Stadia’s cloud streaming model is already controversial among gamers. However, I will go on the record and say that I believe that streaming is indeed the future of gaming. Music, movies, and television have all adopted streaming as a significant platform, and I feel that the games industry will follow suit. In a world with the infrastructure to provide everyone with blazing fast internet, I think that a streaming platform like Stadia would be a fantastic option for gaming.
However, that’s the world of a very distant future. Our present situation couldn’t be any more different. Something as data-intensive as video game streaming requires not only an extremely fast internet connection, but also a consistent one – a combination that’s all too rare around the world today. Then there’s the issue of Stadia’s somewhat anemic games selection, which provides little reason for the majority of gamers to play on Stadia instead of their console or PC.
Of course, the quality of the game selection doesn’t matter if they’re constantly lagging and buffering due to an unstable internet connection. This is perhaps the single most notable issue with Stadia. The entire platform hinges on your internet connection. Since Stadia is based off of Google Chrome, your Stadia game library is inaccessible if you’re not connected to the web. Even if you’re playing an offline single player game like Final Fantasy XV, the performance of your game will suffer if your connection ever fluctuates.
If you can access your games, the variability of your connection may decrease their quality significantly. For instance, Mortal Kombat 11 (which we enjoyed in our review) has been confirmed for the service. Like any fighting game, Mortal Kombat 11 requires quick reflexes to pull off the best combos, and a rock solid 60-frames-per-second performance is needed to make this possible. This reliable performance likely won’t be feasible on Stadia. If your internet fluctuates even a little (which frequently happens, at least in my case), your game’s performance is bound to suffer, and input lag becomes inevitable. This issue would affect every game on Stadia and fighting games like Mortal Kombat 11 would be particularly harmed.
Google’s own livestreams about Stadia have shown how easily connections can be broken and streaming disrupted. For example, the stream of their announcement conference at GDC featured excessive buffering and loading. If Google can’t even get their own video presentations to stream adequately, how can they get something as complex as a video game to run smoothly?
Any gaming platform will live or die by the games it offers. Stadia currently seems to be a mixed bag in this regard. On the one hand, it’s already amassed an impressive array of AAA games from major publishers, including titles like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the newly announced Baldur’s Gate 3, and Destiny 2, the full version of which will be included for free in the premium subscription version of Stadia. On the other hand, few of these games are exclusive to Stadia. Many of them are cheaply available on other platforms – the base Destiny 2 will even be free-to-play on all platforms later this year. Out of all the games announced for Google’s new platform, only two are Stadia exclusives: GYLT, a stylish indie adventure title from the developers of 2017’s RiME, and Get Packed, another indie with a focus on wacky multiplayer. While these titles do seem interesting, a few quirky independent games likely won’t make many people rush to adopt a new platform.
This lack of major exclusives is a big issue for Stadia. Its known library consists almost entirely of games that can be either bought cheaper or experienced better on other platforms. This leaves little incentive to stream them with Stadia instead of playing them natively on PC or console. That’s not to mention the issue of ownership. Since all games on Stadia are streamed rather than downloaded on your device, you technically don’t own any of your games. This could be a significant issue for players who take pride in curating their collection of games over time.
Stadia is a platform that could potentially transform the gaming industry. Even perennial rivals Microsoft and Sony have teamed up to combat the looming threat of Stadia by improving their own game streaming efforts. Yet with the restrictions of internet speeds and its meager game selection, Stadia isn’t fit for the current gaming environment. It truly is gaming for the future—it won’t work in 2019, but maybe it’ll be ready in a few decades.