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Google Stadia - Good, but good enough?

I had almost forgotten about the Google Stadia system I ordered on June 11th until I saw a charge on my credit card go thru on Nov 16th. I received the invite code for Stadia on Nov 18th, and the shipment from Google arrived on Nov 19th (at least that is when I checked the packages that were sitting in my office).

The first thing I did was to download the Google Stadia app on my mobile device (iOS and Android versions are both now available). You then enter the Google Code that is sent to you and confirm by using the Google account you want to link to. Simple enough. You can supposedly play on a variety of devices, but iOS is not supported.

I then decided to open my Google Stadia package. I always enjoy opening a product when the packaging is nicely designed. The first thing I noticed was the controller, and as I held it I realized immediately that it felt great! Had a great firm, solid feel to it. It does not feel quite as refined as a PS4 controller, but I don’t think you will have any regrets.

The next thing I noticed is that there is no game device or console. The stadia games use cloud streaming. Google’s servers are doing the heavy lifting in the background as far as processing, and you are simply getting a stream of the video.

Now we integrate using Google’s best streaming device, the Chromecast Ultra 4K. Google. It is recommended that you use a wired connection to connect to your Chromecast, and it comes with a power adapter that has a network connection for that very purpose.

Set up Chromecast Ultra by downloading the Google Home app and follow the on-screen instructions. When you are done with that setup you then launch the Stadia app. The Stadia app will link your Stadia account with Google Chromecast and walk you through setting up the controller which connects to your wireless network.

Currently, the game lineup is a little lacking. Most titles are probably ones you have played or seen on other platforms. Unfortunately, there is no cross-platform compatibility at this time.

The founder’s edition includes a 3-month Pro subscription to Stadia. The Pro subscription gives you discounts on games, which appears to be in the $10 - $20 range, and includes a few free games. Google promises more free games in the future for the founder’s edition. It is important to remember that none of the games actually belong to you, even the ones you buy. They are all sitting on Google servers. You simply see a stream of the game.

I have dealt with game streaming services before but have never been impressed. The delay in games is typically too noticeable, and that means the game selection is limited to those that don’t require split-second reflexes. Google is promising that will change, and their machine learning models can anticipate what your next move will be to help close the delay gap.

Another point - launch titles do include hits such as Samurai Showdown and Mortal Kombat 11. If you have some all-time favorites you hope to see included in this service, it might be wise to investigate what is provided prior to purchase.

There is no doubt the performance from Stadia is much better than other streaming systems. The 4K graphics are decent. Some of the detail seen on other systems that interface with games natively is missing. I think there might be some over-compression techniques that kick-in, causing a few odd side effects. Most of the time everything looks great.

There is some noticeable delay and latency. This is most evident with Mortal Kombat and Samurai Showdown, particularly when I was trying multiple combos, quick jumps, or some other slightly complex moves. Even when playing against the CPU, there seems to be a little jerkiness. I think this would have been even more noticeable when playing against a human opponent. Keep in mind I am on a 1Gb synchronous Internet connection.

Speaking of human opponents, trying to find one online resulted in zero players. Granted, the system is still officially in beta and systems are just starting to go out, but there is a distinct lack of available participants.

This brings us to a few conclusions. First off - who is this target audience of this system? Hard-core gamers are going to demand more responsiveness from their systems, and will probably want to take full advantage of high-end displays. The system does not appear to be able to keep up with those demands.

Limitations in Internet speeds and latency will be an issue, even when using the fastest available connections. This seems to indicate the system is geared towards the more casual gamer. It has lots going for it as a relaxed gaming experience. However, many casual players I spoke to were turned off by a required monthly subscription to keep their games. There will be a tier subscription available in February that will allow users to only purchase the games they want. However, with a price tag of $40 - $60 for many games, it seems like this might be a little more commitment than the target audience will tolerate.

Lastly, many players told me they see a resurgence of interest in retro games. These days retro gaming consoles are inexpensive and include systems such as RetroPIs, 1Up Arcade Machine, and Nintendo minis (which are already on the market). Stadia does not seem to be focused on attracting developers for retro games.

Bottom line: there is still a relatively small library, and it’s too early to tell if this will be a successful venture. So far the user base seems a little thin. The latency issues might smooth out over time, but I wonder what it will be like to have an AI making decisions with me. It will be interesting to see that in action. My thinking is that this might be an example of a not-quite-ready-for-primetime system, but it is pretty close.

Until next time, happy gaming!