If you’ve used the internet at all in the last week or two, there’s a solid chance you’ve heard of Google Stadia. The latest project from the all-encompassing tech giant launched earlier this week, on Nov. 19, and has a name that is impossible to parse if you didn’t already know what it did. So what does it do? Why does it exist? Who is it for? We honestly can’t answer those last two questions, but we can help you with the first one.
Stadia is Google’s new cloud gaming service
Yep, Stadia plays videogames. And not the kind of mobile games you might think Google would be involved with. Stadia is a new platform that lets you play the big name, big budget gaming blockbusters found on consoles like the PlayStation and the Xbox, without having to buy a videogame console. If you want to keep up with the latest games but don’t want to drop several hundred dollars every few years to get the latest technology, Google is here to help with Stadia.
Okay, wait, what does “cloud gaming” mean, anyway?
It’s got nothing to do with the cloud you can ride in Super Mario. “Cloud gaming” lets you play games using the cloud—the internet cloud that people in suits are always talking about in the ads that run during golf events on TV. What that means is you don’t actually own the hardware that you’re playing games on. The hardware is based in a Google data center somewhere else in the world, and you connect to it online through the cloud. All you need on your end is an internet connection, a device that runs Google Chrome, and a Stadia account—or subscription.
There’s no actual console? And I don’t need a high-end computer?
Nope. You can seriously run Stadia on anything that can run Chrome. You’ll be able to play games like Red Dead Redemption II and Final Fantasy XV on a phone, if you want to. The hardware on Google’s end does all the heavy lifting, and then streams the video direct to your device.
So what’s this going to cost?
Right now if you want to start playing through Stadia you’ll need to buy the Premiere Edition. It’s $129 and comes with a controller, a Google Chromecast Ultra dongle, and three free months of a Stadia Pro subscription.
There’s that world “subscription” again. What’s this really going to cost?
A Pro subscription is $10 a month—$9.99, to be exact. That’s currently the only way to sign up for Stadia, but there will be a free monthly Base plan starting in 2020. The Pro subscriber will get some perks for that $9.99, though, including the ability to stream games in 4K and HDR, higher end sound, discounts on select games, and an expanding catalogue of free games. Think of it like PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold.
So what games are available for free through a Pro subscription right now?
At the moment the only game you get with your Pro subscription is Destiny 2. But Stadia just launched three days ago, so give it some time, buddy.
And how do I play the other games available through Stadia?
You’ll have to buy them all individually, at the same price you’d pay for a console or PC edition. Since there’s no physical copy, and the games run on Google servers and not on your end, you’re paying anywhere from $20 to $100 (that’s what the Red Dead Redemption 2 Ultimate Edition costs) for games that you won’t own in any way, physically or digitally, on your end. Expect most games to be $59.99 when they come out, and eventually drop in price until settling in at $19.99 for the long haul. So even if you have a Pro subscription, you’ll have to pay separately for any game that isn’t part of Pro’s lineup of free games.
Google has shut down a decent number of its products in the past. What happens to those games I bought if Stadia ceases to exist?
That’s a great question! Those games are gone. If Stadia goes away, you don’t own the games you bought through it anymore. You’ll be able to locally save your game save files, and perhaps if you buy those games again for your PC you’ll be able to access those save files. But if Stadia goes away, so do your games.
Google has tried to assuage these fears by repeating that they plan on supporting Stadia for years to come, but business is business. If something doesn’t sell well a company is liable to stop making it—or in Stadia’s case, stop supporting it.
What games are we talking about, again?
Google has a deal with some of the biggest third party publishers in the industry, including 2K, Ubisoft, Bethesda, and Square-Enix. Don’t expect any major exclusives from any of those publishers, or any notable exclusives at launch (there’s only one, a game called Gylt), but Google will be publishing some exclusive games in 2020.
Here’s the lineup at launch:
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Attack on Titan: Final Battle 2
Destiny 2: The Collection (Stadia Pro)
Farming Simulator 2019
Final Fantasy XV
Football Manager 2020
Just Dance 2020
Mortal Kombat 11
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Red Dead Redemption 2
Samurai Shodown (Stadia Pro)
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider 2013
Later this year Borderlands 3, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 and Darksiders Genesis will be available. And more top games will be arriving throughout 2020, including Cyberpunk 2077, Doom Eternal, Watch Dogs Legion, Marvel’s Avengers, and more.
Okay, now that I know what Stadia is, how’s it working so far? Are people digging it?
We haven’t tried it out ourselves yet, but reviews have been… well, let’s just say “mixed.” Metacritic has a rundown, if you want to take a look. The biggest concern seems to be latency issues, especially when it comes to online games, and the most common takeaway seems to be confusion over why Stadia exists, other than as a way for Google to get a foothold in an industry it wasn’t already active in.
We haven’t played Stadia ourselves, but basically the entire project has been greeted with skepticism since the day it was announced. People who have tried it out didn’t really seem to have had much of that skepticism resolved. But then people who are paid to play and write about games probably isn’t an ideal market for something like the Stadia. Most of us already have a gaming PC or a current console (or three), and have already played most of the Stadia’s launch games when they initially came out on those other platforms. I would think the people who would most appreciate the Stadia are people like my brothers, or my friends—adults with families, children and jobs who don’t keep up with the latest consoles because they don’t think they’ll have enough leisure time to get their money’s worth out of them, but who are still generally interested in at least the concept of videogames. I could see some of my friends who haven’t owned a console since the PlayStation 2 paying $60 a pop to play something like Red Dead Redemption 2 or NBA 2K20 on their living room TV (or phone), even if they know they’ll never have time to finish even a quarter of any game they start. The Stadia lowers the barrier to entry for people who might be interested in games like this. It’s odd Google is focusing so hard on reaching the dedicated gaming audience, one that presumably already has all the high-end hardware they’d ever need, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they shift those plans when the Stadia’s base plan rolls out in 2020.
This is a pretty long-winded answer to the question poised in the headline above. Honestly, though, I don’t know if it even counts as an answer. Yeah, I can tell you what the Stadia does, but nobody, including Google itself, can seem to answer the deeper question, which is why the Stadia exists right now. Cloud gaming probably is the long-term direction the industry is headed in, and it’ll be fascinating to see how much of a role Stadia plays in that future.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.