Google Stadia launched in 2019. And to say the launch was underwhelming would be an understatement. Two years later, how is the service holding up? And will it be able to survive another year?
Stadia launched with the hope of bringing game streaming to the masses. It hasn’t quite delivered on that promise. Google has a history of abandoning poor projects, and Stadia seems to be a prime candidate for deletion.
Game streaming seems like the future of video games. Stadia works exactly how you would want it to work. You go to their web store, purchase your game, and play it on any device. You don’t need any expensive hardware, you can use pretty much any peripheral you want, and as long as your internet is reliable, it just works. This is the dream of game streaming, and Stadia, for the most part, is delivering on that.
It’s not that Stadia is a bad streaming service, quite the opposite actually. When you compare Stadia to other game streaming services it outperforms them on most margins. It delivers a higher resolution than Amazon Luna, much lower lag than Gamepass cloud streaming, and it’s easier to set up than GeForce Now. So why is it failing?
I used Stadia for a few months late last year. It was nigh impossible to find a PS5 or Xbox Series X throughout the year, even harder in the early months, and my base PS4 and Xbox one were really slogging. Stadia was offering a free controller and Chromecast ultra to Youtube premium subscribers. As a premium subscriber I decided, let’s get one.
Destiny 2 was and still is completely free to play on Stadia. Naturally, this is the first game I decided to load up. I have installed Destiny on no less than 5 different systems in my lifetime, and when I went to start it on Stadia I waited for that downloading screen. Suddenly though, I was logging into my Bungie profile and remembered, oh yeah, this is all cloud-based. There won’t be any downloading. To go from zero to Destiny 2 in less than three minutes is something special I still think about.
It wasn’t long before I was buying games for the platform and had subscribed to their premium membership. This membership gave me a library of games, new ones added each month, and the ability to play in 4k. I thought to myself “why do I need a PS5? Stadia works great”. And for most people, I would say this actually is the case, with a few major caveats.
The first cracks in Stadia’s glass I started to see were the sub-par offerings from their premium monthly service. The Stadia Pro games leave a lot to be desired, especially when compared to Gamepass or Sony’s PlayStation Now. Coupled with the fact that it was required to play my purchased games in 4k, it felt like I was getting a pretty raw deal.
The second issue I ran into was how lonely the Stadia experience was. I couldn’t find anyone to play with. Some games do allow cross-play with PC players, but for the most part, Stadia games’ user base is desolate. If you desire to play with friends at all, Stadia should not be your first choice.
The last and final nail in the coffin came with Cyberpunk 2077.
The launch of Cyberpunk 2077 was, to put it nicely, a mess. I ran into one particular bug while playing on Stadia where I couldn’t reload, or change weapons, or do anything really except die. It was a pretty common bug and almost immediately CDPR was releasing patches and bug fixes at a weekly clip. I knew it was only a matter of time until that glitch would be fixed. Two weeks later CPDR released a bug fix for the reloading problem. I logged back into Night City, right where I left off, in the middle of an intense firefight. I unloaded a clip into some thugs heading towards me and realized, I couldn’t reload.
Confused, I looked back at the patch notes to see what I must have missed. I could have sworn that glitch was fixed. Checking again, sure enough, reloading bug, fixed. It was then I realized I was looking at patch notes for console versions. The Stadia version of Cyberpunk had yet to receive any bug fixes.
This trend continued not just with Cyberpunk 2077 but also with Outriders, Marvel’s Avengers, and every new Ubisoft release. Stadia versions of these games had such a low player base, that studios felt little urgency to fix these bugs. It makes sense on paper, but when you’ve spent the same sixty dollars as a PS5 owner for a broken game that isn’t getting fixed, it doesn’t feel very fair.
Stadia is in an odd position. The only way their platform will improve is through increasing their player base, but they cant increase their player base without improving their platform. It’s a catch-22.
Stadia could be a great platform for a large swath of gamers. Those that buy FIFA and Madden every year but play little else, could truly benefit from forgoing expensive hardware needed to run these games. But after they buy the sixty dollar title, they’ll quickly realize there’s no one around to play with.
The gamer who is constantly traveling could greatly benefit from taking Stadia on the go. Having your entire game library with you on your phone or tablet is invaluable. But when that game library consists of paltry pro offerings and broken games with no patch in sight, what’s the point?
Stadia has a future somewhere. They probably won’t be fighting Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo throughout 2022, but their software is good. The streaming works. Controller input lag is minimal, the resolution is far better than its competitors, and the ease of use is unparalleled. Google just bit off a bit more than they can chew.
I’m excited to see this technology licensed to someone that can use it. That needs to be Google’s Play. If they don’t, Stadia is going to be the next project heading to the graveyard.