Wow! First things first this product was provided by Google. I spent no money on this, don’t judge me. Secondly I have tried it out with just the phone first. No controller just touch screen and well… I quickly decided to wait.
It was a functional if unenjoyable experience. So I waited for my free Stadia and Chromecast to come in the mail before going any further. It was actually kinda exciting. Not like Christmas Eve exciting. More like uh, waiting on DoorDash McDonald’s exciting. I was looking forward to it, but I could wait. So the package came while I was asleep and I went right at it when I got up.
I instantly knew this was more than a one man job so I got some Couch Cronies to help out with the unpacking.
So there is a magnet on the 2inch HDMI cable? Okay Google, that’s whatever. Time to set this up and come back to the post.
So that was the worst. Setting up a Chromecast and a Stadia controller at the same time also requires an Android phone and a lot of patience. So the Chromecast requires a phone for pretty much everything aside from Stadia use, and the Stadia phone app is required for adding free games (pro memberhip) and purchasing games after the whole set up is complete. That said the amount of guess work and switching back and forth was annoying. Not to mention I use two wifi frequencies in my house. One for gaming and one for everything else. My phone loves to just hop between them. Which the Chromecast absolutely hates. Though this isn’t about the Chromecast. It’s about the state of Stadia now a year or so after launch? I think? Eh it’s okay enough.
The “free*” games are alright enough. They are a selection of seemingly random titles for free each month you can claim to your account. So basically just like PlayStation Plus, PlayStation Now, Google Play Pass, Microsoft Games With Gold, xBox Gamepass, Nintendo Switch Online’s Untitled Incentive Program, and I dunno Sega Channel.
Now unlike the other competing services you don’t download the games to play at your leisure. Even Sega Channel would atleast cache the game until you powered off the system. Not Stadia, nope they just stream it like Playstation Now which tried to claim it was like Netflix when even Netflix doesn’t reliably keep it’s frame rate up 24/7. That said this is a platform agnostic service. So all you need is your phone, chromecast, or even a chrome web browser can stream the video. The controller itself connects to the available Wi-Fi (Using the Stadia app on your phone for the first time) in an attempt to minimize input lag when streaming a game over the internet. So yes basically you are playing a game a few thousand miles away from where you are sitting. Which is pretty cool, if you don’t think about it to long that is. Basically it’s no different than playing multiplayer games online just with a lot more lifting involved on the game server.
I found that gif when looking for input lag on Google. It’s not frequently that bad. Just being upfront here. It feels closer to dropped frames than lag when you are actually mid game. It had a minor stutter close to how early PS3 online felt. Fitting because I was playing a Power Ranger fighting game to test out what it was like. Even single player felt like shoddy online so how would actual online matches go? Not sure in Power Rangers but I did switch over to this awesome Bomberman Battle Royale game. That played pretty much the same, performance wise not gameplay, obviously. Surprisingly the matches ran smooth for something as hectic and bright as Bomberman. It was an all around enjoyable time. I mean I’d rather be playing anything else. So the fact I have a Nintendo Switch on the ready makes the portability aspect of the Stadia moot. The fact they only have a few games for free makes the value underwhelming. You can purchase full price new releases games you can only play with a decent internet connection to round out the options you have on hand. If you want to, I won’t stop you.
My biggest issue is who is this for? The amount of required tech for start up already puts you in a price range to where you could clearly afford a traditional gaming method. One that, I almost guarantee, has some game pass option. For around the same price and way better single player options. I can’t remove myself from that line of thought so I’m not gonna qualify it’s worth as a product. Just for $100 you could get a 2DS if you need portable gaming. Save a little longer and get a Switch Lite even. So for the sake of argument you can’t or won’t get anything else.
While the online infrastructure is not where it would need to be for a flawless experience from any and all users regardless of location Google Stadia plays better than expected and just at what I would consider acceptable from a streaming service. Having to purchase certain games, like that sexy as hell Pac-Man battle royale game that I think might be Stadia exclusive, is where the value tanks. I still get mad paying full price for digital versions when I don’t get a disk/cart, case, or instruction booklet when applicable. So full price and it runs awkwardly?! “Point me to that sign up site!” said no one. The fact I was given a Stadia Controller and a Chromecast Ultra for free like it was the last kitten from the box should point out how things are going over at Stadia HQ.
Oh those Kickstarter style preorder backers were so excited. Tossing money on the chance to be one of the first to play the future of gaming. Told all sorts of promises that I have not seen any indication of being here, or even the infrastructure to support those claims. Things like streaming losslessly to YouTube and letting your viewers join in just by pressing a button on their own Stadia compatible controller. Could be that I have no friends or social presence… on Stadia, frickin’ smartass, so perhaps game sharing is there. I wouldn’t know. In an attempt to be minimalist in UI they sacrifice conveyance for a unified experience across devices. Even though the only device that matters is your phone to purchase or add games. The Chromecast has little more than a glorified playlist with no options to sort, that I had found.
So shortly after launch the attention fades. Foot traffic around the Stadia box was getting slow. Google was tired and just wanted to go home, so they take out the sharpie and call it a day.
Now Stadia don’t be scared. Though yesterday no one cared. They’re getting your place prepared. Where you want to be. Keep your stream alive. Streaming is still how the strong survive. In a bloated market place of games as service, er New York City, or whatever catchy Huey Lewis mock lyrics you like. Sad cats tank my creativity so here are the other two options I see aside from a short life as a stay platform. Poor Ouya, little guy went to live upstate somewhere.
Where as the Ouya was a shameless Android phone in a box that hooks up to your TV the Stadia is an imaginary box that you summon with a Chromecast that also let’s you put your phone on the TV. So no worries there, it’s already better than Ouya. So how can they keep little Stadia safe and streaming?
Option One: Keep on keeping on.
Oliver was already happy and safe when he was poor. He embraced it and he had New York City heart. There is no shame in being next to unheard of as long as you are reliable. uPlay and EA Origin proved that you can be a once a year boot up for an exclusive or free game. So Stadia could focus on that. Get some solid exclusives and keep online multiplayer free on games you purchased out right and I could see a bump in Stadia Controller sales. Just they gotta focus hard on uniform experiences each time and for every player. Nintendo has been rolling out 4 year old tech in brand new systems since practically forever now and they still make it. You don’t have to be the best, just offer something others can’t. Anywhere reliable gaming as long as you have Wi-Fi, your controller, and a screen is a great product if you can deliver it. If not then it’s time for Plan B.
Option Two: Sell out hard and fast
If you ever have the chance to better a service by fundamentally undermining it’s sole reason to exist, think hard about it. Netflix was originally just disks in the mail. The streaming came later and we see how well that worked. When was the last time you saw anyone with a disk plan for Netflix? Now wait, don’t think it’s always a good idea. Cable providers switched to DVRs and On Demand a bit to eagerly and only went on to make me, and I assume a lot of you, to realize how much you prefer on demand even over DVR. So Hulu just slid up like “Hey, you don’t have to even set a DVR… for just $8 a month” and I was all about that. Then upped it for ad free because those 30 seconds became torture. So maybe let another company help shoulder this service. Playstation or Switch perhaps? Anything that might help with performance. I know that some Switch games like Resident Evil 7 use some form of half streaming half downloaded hybrid thing and people liked that. Well liked that as much as any Nintendo fans like anything online. It was extremely divisive and I don’t know anyone who played it but everyone chimes in on it. Oliver is just as happy being rich. It’s not as fun, but it’s way safer. No matter how you look at it Oliver was going to be alright. Stadia can as well as long as they don’t give up.
It’s gonna be hard. Expect to see Stadia get it’s nuts rocked and hard. It’s all about how they handle it after that. Because I can list off a fair amount of failed Google products and services. Yet there are so many more that stuck it out. Being a Google product is basically being a Warner Brothers movie. There is no connecting thread between most movies they make. It’s more an indication of money and backing not so much talent and intent. Yet I still have hope for this service it’s far from a lame duck.
I can’t recommend you pick one up unless you happen to need both parts independently. The controller is a solid USB/Bluetooth input for your PC or smart phone. The Chromecast is a Chromecast you know what it does already. If you don’t then you are thinking of a Roku. It’s not a Roku. Now let’s roll those review percentages.