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Stadia first impressions: Instant access to jank

How is Google's game streaming service? Is Stadia worth your time even as a free trial? Not really

Derek Strickland | Apr 14, 2020 at 1:28 pm CDT (4 mins, 19 secs time to read)

Right now Google is letting everyone try Stadia Pro free for two months. But should you even bother? The short answer is: Not really.

Even as a free trial, Stadia just isn't there yet. It's not really worth your time. Free is free, and there's really no risk if you cancel your sign ups before the two month period is over (yes, Google makes you put in credit card info and Stadia Pro is $10 a month after the trial ends in May). But there's a very valuable cost--your time. Honestly if you're not a gamer I don't think Stadia should be your entry point into gaming. You should simply do something else with your time.

Is Stadia horrible? No, it's not. But it's definitely not the ideal way to play games. Instant access is great at first, but as you play it becomes clear why convenience doesn't beat performance when it comes to Chrome gaming. We didn't try Stadia on our phones, just on a desktop PC via Chrome.

The idea of Stadia is great. Sign up and get access to games even if you don't own a high-end gaming PC or console. You can play games on devices you already own.

But in practice, Stadia is frustrating and awkward. The problem here is Google's pricing and weird layered business decisions. Stadia requires a mobile app to sign up, even if you only want to play on a laptop or PC. You also have to buy a Chromecast Ultra to play it on your TV, and a Stadia controller is promoted too. If you buy the founder's edition, you're shelling out $130 which is roughly half the price of a decent games console.

Read Also: How to sign up to Stadia's free two month trial

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Skewed value proposition

Insofar as pricing, Stadia isn't really a service so much as it is a storefront. It's a store first and a platform second. The social features are pretty bad and Stadia feels like an experimental market where publishers see what people will buy and what prices.

You buy games a la carte even if you subscribe to the Stadia Pro service. Stadia Pro gets you discounts, unlocked streaming resolution like 4K and access to a pool of free games, but make no mistake, this isn't PS Plus. With the exception of Destiny 2 and maybe the Serious Sam Collection, the free games are rather lackluster. Without Stadia Pro, most games are $59.99, the same price as a fully-fledged dedicated system.

The value proposition isn't there. The investment is massively skewed. Buying a game on Stadia is not like buying a disc or digital game, and you're ultimately getting an inferior product because it's so dependent on circumstances you can't always control like data bandwidth and latency.

Spending more on a console or gaming PC upfront is a better investment because it will deliver more consistently enjoyable experiences over time. Stadia is cheaper in the short-term, but the frustration will build once issues arise--issues like lag, or even problems with your Google account that restrict access to your library.

The jank is real

As I played Destiny 2 on a 39mbps download/12mbps upload connection, Stadia's jank was apparent right away. There's a smidgen of lag, as if something's not right. The entire experience felt off somehow and I couldn't really pinpoint it. The visuals were also washed out even at 1080p streaming settings and ultimately the experience felt like a free-to-play trial version of a premium game.

Stadia is definitely not the ideal way to play video games. There wasn't any game-breaking performance issues per say, and it wasn't an absolutely horrible experience. But it just didn't feel...engaging. Everything had a tinge of jankiness to it, as if the service wasn't ready to handle a high-octane shooter full of action and chaos.

Feel free to try Stadia out for yourself, but I recommend just doing something else with your time. Streaming won't replace dedicated hardware-based gaming for a long, long time, and Destiny 2, one of the most beautiful games with excellent FPS mechanics, was reduced to a strange impostor of itself on Stadia.

Stadia is incomplete

Stadia isn't a terrible service. It's just not all there yet. Until Google fixes the pricing to make it more of a value proposition to gamers, I don't think it'll take off. The idea of paying premium prices for access isn't appealing just yet, especially given the limitations of today's network infrastructures.

At best, Stadia will attract everyday consumers. It won't really attract gamers. Gamers already have their hardware, their games, their ecosystem, etc. Google is trying to jump into a world they don't understand and relies on the might of YouTube and Gmail to try and make it happen, but ultimately, the service is just missing way too much for it to be viable. It make take years before Stadia is where it should be.

Last updated: Apr 14, 2020 at 07:09 pm CDT

Derek Strickland

ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Derek Strickland

Derek is absorbed with the intersection of technology and gaming, and is always looking forward to new advancements. With over six years in games journalism under his belt, Derek aims to further engage the gaming sector while taking a peek under the tech that powers it. He hopes to one day explore the stars in No Man's Sky with the magic of VR.

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