Google Stadia is a curiosity that is as alluring as it is eyebrow-raising. From shipping woes to the last-minute addition of launch titles by way of some pretty bold ‘negative latency’ claims, it remains wholly unproven and one that feels shy of the basic requirements of a successful launch.
In anticipation of tomorrow’s grand release (that is if you’re lucky enough to receive your Founder’s kit tomorrow morning), the first reviews have hit. Somewhat unsurprisingly, not everyone is impressed. The media is trashing Stadia across the board. And, this not so much for the technology itself but for the lack of a service backing it up, whether that means games or functionality.
In other words, the Stadia is underwhelming and, well, boring.
Google Stadia feels woefully undercooked, which doesn’t bode well for its long-term future in light of Google’s notorious habit of axing projects before they are truly allowed to get off the ground.
To give you a sense of where we are going with this, here are the takes of a few select outlets who’ve had the chance to sample Stadia ahead of release.
Google Stadia is simply not ready for launch. There’s the kernel of a good idea here, a good concept for a service, but what Google is launching with simply isn’t up to snuff. It’s messy, it’s missing features, and the Stadia experience across platforms simply isn’t uniform enough to justify this full release.
But there is a reason it’s felt like Google has deliberately avoided a splashy launch for a service that otherwise seems positioned as a huge part of the company’s future: this is an early access debut for Stadia. For most people, the answer as to whether you should buy this is a resounding no. The technology is there, but the service is not even close.
But as the old saying goes, just because you can doesn’t mean you should, especially if you’ve got traditional gaming hardware within reach. During roughly a week of tests, Stadia exhibited a lot of small pain points. I expected to not to have to sneer at sub-optimal latency, video compression artifacts, or wrestle with finicky software. Regrettably, I bumped into all of these issues on multiple occasions. I can play games for long periods of time under generally acceptable conditions, but it’s all too easy to focus on the little annoyances that make Stadia feel like a less-than alternative to traditional console or PC gaming.
The Stadia nailed the impossible, and then failed the possible. The single most important challenge facing Google – getting video game streaming on a par with local play – has been passed with flying colors.
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. Yes, in six months’ time, many of the problems will be fixed. But the lackadaisical approach to quality is concerning, and we can only review what we’ve already got.
What you’re looking at here isn’t bad streaming; the stream is 4K. Not only that, but it’s also some of the best streaming image quality I’ve seen, without loads of the nasty compression artifacts that make other cloud gaming services look like there’s an ugly haze between you and much of the game. But where’s the detail in Lara Croft’s character model? And where are the high-resolution textures? Google told me that Stadia is designed to run games at the highest resolution with all of the settings turned up, but clearly, that isn’t happening here.
With Destiny 2, it’s even more obvious that the game isn’t running at the highest settings. On a Chromecast Ultra, a “4K” stream looked closer to 1080p, and my colleague Tom Warren and I swore that the 1080p streams we were getting in the Chrome web browser looked more like 720p.
Right now, Google Stadia is a platform for nobody. The company just doesn’t seem to understand any of the audiences it is trying to reach.
Perhaps more pressing is the value proposition. Netflix works because the subscription model is easy to understand – you pay extra for more screens and UHD but that’s it. Stadia is the same in terms of demanding a premium for UHD (even if key titles don’t seem to be rendering at 4K) except that you’re still paying top-end prices for your games on top of that. Combined with the feeling that the platform and the ecosystem is still some way off completion and I do feel that it’s perhaps too early for Stadia to be rolling out as a full service, especially when games are limited and the all-important platform exclusives are very thin on the ground.
Stadia is being released to the public with a fizzle, missing most of its key features. No family sharing; no viewable friend lists; no ability to stream games in the iOS app; and no games featuring Stream Connect, Stadia’s promising multiplayer experience that lets players jump straight into any game they’re watching. The list goes on. To call this a full launch requires a gargantuan asterisk.