One Year Later, Google Stadia Still Can't Stick the Landing

Stadia logo on the game controller Michael crider

It’s been a year since Google launched Stadia. It was something really new – fully content, quality games delivered from a platform built for the cloud from scratch. The start of Stadia was difficult, with many (including me!) calling it “beta” and waiting for the real launch when new players could join a free tier earlier this year.

Google made many fascinating and tantalizing promises when it initially advertised Stadia as not just a service or console, but a platform. He was saying that Stadia would be capable of things we had never seen before, both in terms of system capacity and gameplay. After a year, has Google kept these promises?

To be honest: no. While Stadia still offers features that cannot be replicated elsewhere, even with an increasing stability of competitors, it is simply too lacking to be considered a true player in the market again. And the competition is growing in a direction that Google doesn’t seem interested in following.

Without a major change in Google’s approach, Stadia is only going to fail gamers and developers. Despite Google’s initially ambitious goals, Stadia seems more of a curiosity than a revolution.

Slow deployment of features

When I first called Stadia in beta, I did so because it looked less like the fully realized gaming platform that Google first launched and more like a proof of concept. The base streaming game itself worked – and performed well enough, delivering content up to 4K over a solid connection – but that was about it.

Stadia and Pixel 3a XL controllerMichael crider

Over the next 12 months, Stadia has grown quite a bit. Besides the basic multiplayer it started out with, Stadia has a few other things to offer these days. For example, players can now share Stadia with their family members, access their screenshots and videos captured from the web, and… that’s about it. There are a few other YouTube tools that more experienced content creators can use, but only if their viewers also have the same game and are using the right material.

Other comforts were added as well, to the point that I would no longer call Stadia a beta. Those who own the official Stadia controller can now play it wirelessly from the browser. You can also use the Stadia Android app in landscape mode, and Google Assistant is now sometimes available in-game. Small touches, like the ability to adjust web game volume independent of system volume, make it unnecessary to have to enter and exit the game.

At this point, you could argue that Stadia is at least trying to approach some of the same features as some of its more conventional rivals (consoles as well as the Steam and Epic stores). Far from the least of these, but most of the essentials are there.

(Always) Nothing to write home about

But the creators of Stadia didn’t set out to emulate games as they are; they intended to break expectations and deliver something revolutionary. And they didn’t. Not by far.

Stadia Controller and Chromecast UltraMichael crider

Besides the cloud streaming functionality – which, again, is pretty good! -, most of the high abilities demonstrated during Stadia’s public debut at GDC 2019 did not come to fruition.

I went back through the initial announcement and listed the capabilities claimed in Google’s “Future of Gaming” vision. Let’s take a look at them.

Click on a YouTube Game Trailer to access a “Play Now” Stadia session in “Just Five Seconds”: This is used in a very limited capacity. The Fenyx Rising trailer on the Stadia channel, one of its few exclusive content, does not, although it appears to have been activated at some point. Here at least another example.
Instantly switch from playback on PC, phone or TV to another platform: Kind of. You can disconnect from a session abruptly and switch back to another platform in about 10-15 seconds … but often the remote game quits once the app or tab is no longer active .
Stadia controller: Some of the original promises regarding the Stadia Controller have been kept, now that you can use it wirelessly on the PC and use the Assistant on Chromecast. But the Assistant’s lack of integration anywhere other than the Chromecast Ultra is extremely odd, given the latter’s promotion by Google.
4K 60 frames per second, HDR and surround sound: Yes, Google took care of all of this at launch. At this point it should work on the Chromecast Ultra, on phones, and on Chrome browsers.
Up to 8K, 120 FPS: Nor. 8K would be overkill at this point, but many console and PC gamers would love 120 FPS support for their high-end gaming monitors and TVs. The lack of 120 FPS is part of the reason why I always prefer the games I own on multiple platforms to be played from Stadia.
Dynamically expanded data centers: This was explained as the ability to scale up or down Stadia’s datacenter usage based on game needs at the time. If this is implemented in any meaningful way, I haven’t seen it yet.
Multi-GPU graphics performance: Nope. There is no indication that different levels of graphics are available to gamers or developers other than 4K resolution with Stadia Pro.
Scalable multiplayer for developers: GRID developers claim that its 40-pilot race mode is not possible outside of Stadia. Other than that, it doesn’t appear to be used in anything – Google has hinted at things like battle royale modes with thousands of live players. The Unknown Player Battlegrounds are on Stadia, with the same 100-player matches everywhere else.
No cheating, no hacking: Google’s fully server-side platform should prevent this. I haven’t heard of any cheaters on Stadia yet … but then again, I’ve seen so few people play it that it could be a case of security by obscurity.
Complete cross-platform game: This is a developer-side feature, and it seems to be enabled in at least some games.
Massive and complex online environments with hundreds of concurrent players: Nothing shown so far exceeds the current capabilities of conventional platforms or matches the GDC demo from Tangent Games.
Splitscreen local cooperation powered by several Stadia instances: Nope.
Cooperation with asymmetric gameplay powered by multiple Stadia instances: Nope.
Real-time, machine-learning style transfer visuals: If the developers use this feature, it’s not easy.
State share: This feature was sold as the ability for players to share a simple link on social media and allow other players to jump straight into a level multiplayer instance or position almost instantly. State Share is currently only available in the Crayta game’s “creation engine”, and it is hugely disappointing. A representative for Q-Games, developer of Nom Nom Galaxy, said State Share was so impressive that it had designed a whole new game around it, “the greatest title ever for Q-Games” … but that it was secret and will be shown later in 2019. That game hasn’t arrived yet, and there isn’t a Q-Games title for Stadia either. Yesterday, Google announced that Hitman 3 will be the first game to get the “full” version of State Share at some point next year.
Crowd play: This was sold as the ability for YouTube streamers to link viewers to allow them to jump into the same multiplayer game with built-in management. It is activated in Orcs Must Die 3, The Division 3, Baldur’s Gate III, Super Bomberman R Online and Dead By Daylight. Unfortunately, the viewer must own the game to get started. With Stadia’s limited penetration on YouTube, this appears to be a feature that is hardly ever actively used.
Google Assistant in-game tips: Nope.
Stadia games available on the Google Play Store on Android: No.

Where are the games?

Selection of Stadia games

This last point is crucial. At the time of writing, Stadia had around 90 games in its catalog, not including Special Editions. Much of that comes from Ubisoft, Google’s initial partner for Project Stream. And many of them are several years old. Some highlights that have been released at or around the same time as other platforms include:

Red Dead Redemption II
Orcs must die 3
DOOM: eternal
Baldur’s Gate III (early access)
Borderlands 3
Marvel avengers
Superhot: mind control removal
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Watch Dogs Legion

Stadia has a few exclusives so far. Here they are:

Gylt (launch title)
Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle
Super Bomberman R Online (a battle royale version of a Switch game)
Immortals: Fenyx Rising Demo (just the demo – the full game will be released soon on Stadia and everywhere else)

Notable upcoming Stadia games, announced in the store at the time of writing, are:

CyberPunk 2077
Destiny 2: Beyond the Light
Hitman 3
Immortals: Fenyx Rising

All of these games will also be available on several other platforms.

See the common denominator here? A year after its launch, Stadia’s game library, the most crucial competitive element on any platform, both physical and digital, is nothing short of approximate.

One could argue that neither the Xbox Series X nor the PlayStation 5, at least not yet. But these platforms have pedigrees stretching back decades. The players are invested in them, comfortable with them – they even trust them, to a certain extent. Stadia does not have such support apart from the Google name.

Play Store Stadia sheet

When Stadia was first announced, I said you absolutely have to get the games in 2020 to be competitive. It could have come either with a huge diverse library or with a few must-see exclusives. Stadia has neither – the closest thing to a killer app is Cyberpunk 2077, a frequently delayed title that should shine on Stadia if only because many gaming PCs couldn’t. not even run it.

Compared to any other gaming platform, Stadia just doesn’t compete.

A good deal

But the lack of games is just the beginning of Stadia’s worries. As the industry shifts from classic game-by-game sales to Netflix-style subscription models, led by Xbox Game Pass, Stadia’s game store model seems at odds with the appeal of its all-streaming streaming platform. -in-one.

Make no mistake: Xbox Game Pass, with its built-in game streaming for Android (and soon iOS and maybe even Windows), raise the bar. It’s a fantastic library, already bigger than Stadia, which is constantly being enhanced by new releases from Microsoft and its partners. At $ 15 a month, that’s a steal too, before even offering discounted prices for newer Xbox consoles.

Xbox Game Pass Microsoft

Stadia, even with its frequent giveaways (for Stadia Pro $ 10 per month subscribers only), isn’t even close. My free games with Stadia Pro currently include a lot of older indie titles like Republic, Celeste and Lara Croft and Temple of Osiris – small change in comparison. Heck, even the free pc games i get every week from the epic game store, which do not require a subscription to access, have been better over the past year. Google says it will offer more games that are completely free, no Pro required, starting with Destiny 2: New Light.

Competing with the growing number of console options isn’t Google’s only problem. On the one hand, NVIDIA is fighting hard to gain traction in streaming, capturing the market for PC gamers who already have large game libraries to stream on GeForce NOW. Access to NVIDIA’s service is free at the lower level for all games, and it adds new games from Steam, Epic, and uPlay as they are released.

And Google’s web services competitor, Amazon, test Luna, a system that will work much like its Prime Video setup. You can pay a small fee to access a large library of games, with minimal additional fees added to expand it with larger premium collections. Luna has many of the same features as Stadia, including a low-latency Wi-Fi controller (though nowhere near as nice, in everyone’s opinion), and uses a much more focused pricing structure. to come up.

It should be noted that Luna, GeForce NOW, and Xbox Game Pass have all announced their intention to bypass Apple’s de facto blocking of streaming game services. Stadia has announced plans to complete a browser-based iOS version in the next weeks.

Beware of the Google Graveyard

I had hoped that Stadia would use its unique features to attract developers. Or, having failed in that, Google would just hand over a truckload of cash to the developers and buy a bunch of awesome games that I could play in the browser or on my phone.

However, with a few exceptions (Ubisoft seems to want to play in every streaming sandbox it can find!), That just didn’t happen. What if Google discount and give directly One indication of this is how little Stadia hardware exists, it may already be less enthusiastic about its gaming platform.

Take a look at this promotional video for Chromecast updated from Google, which now offers more complex Google TV applications. You’ll see YouTube TV, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime Video – many of Google’s competitors. What you won’t see is Stadia, as Stadia doesn’t work on the new Chromecast yet. You’ll have to wait until next year to get it on any dongle aside from the Chromecast Ultra … which, by the way, isn’t even available on the Google Store anymore.

Google Stadia on tabletMichael crider

In short, things don’t look too good for Stadia. What could have been a year full of opportunities for the platform, with cash-strapped gamers stuck in their homes due to quarantine and reluctant to deposit huge sums on a new console, turned out to be be a slow crawl to get there. should have been at launch.

With Google apparently tightening the belt on web servicesI fear he is losing his resolve to tackle the competitive gaming market as soon as possible.

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