Google’s Stadia sport service is formally coming November: The whole lot it is advisable know
Today, Google has revealed the key details that were conspicuously missing from its March announcement of the new Stadia game streaming service. Namely, what the heck we’re going to be able to play, how much we’ll pay, and when we can get started with the exciting new service — which beams high-end console and PC games to any Chrome web browser, Chromecast Ultra TV dongle or Pixel 3 smartphone from beefy new Google servers.
The short version: Google Stadia will launch in November, in 14 different territories including the US, UK and Canada, with at least 31 games from 21 different publishers, for an initial “Founder’s Edition” price of $130 for a hardware starter kit with three months of premium service, and $10 a month afterwards. There’s a separate free tier coming in 2020.
Pre-orders for the “Founder’s Edition” are now open, and I’ll explain what it is in a tad, but there’s something important you should know first.
While you’ve probably heard predictions that Google’s Stadia will be the “Netflix of games,” it turns out the analogy only goes so far. While Google intends to eventually have a back catalog of free games included for your $10 monthly fee, Stadia is not primarily a subscription service. The subscription only includes a single game as of today — Destiny 2. Primarily, Google tells us you should expect to buy, not rent cloud games for the same retail prices you’d find on other platforms like PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, and Steam.
“We will sell these games like any other digital storefront,” Google’s director of games Jack Buser tells The Verge.
So you’re probably wondering: which games and game studios are on board? I won’t leave you in suspense any longer.
Square Enix – Final Fantasy XV, Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider
2KGames – NBA 2K, Borderlands 3
Tequila Works – Gylt (Stadia exclusive)
Warner Bros. – Mortal Kombat 11
THQ – Darksiders Genesis
Ubisoft – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Just Dance, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, Trials Rising, The Crew 2
Google says this isn’t the entire list of games, either, with more set to be announced next week during E3 and in the run-up to the November launch. Still, it already looks like a who’s who of video game publishers are interested in the idea; some enough to bring brand-new games from high-profile franchises like Borderlands, Wolfenstein, Doom, Darksiders and Ghost Recon to Stadia’s catalog.
Buser says that the just-announced Baldur’s Gate 3 will ship simultaneously on Stadia and PC, in fact — and that those two platforms will be the only ways to play it.
Which is probably why Google’s catering to early adopters willing to drop $130+ on a “Stadia Founder’s Edition” before it goes any further. For less than the price of a new PS4 or Xbox One, the company’s cobbled together its own console of sorts — a Chromecast Ultra to plug into your TV and a limited-edition dark blue version of Stadia’s surprisingly cool controller.
Since each of those devices will retail for $70 on their own, you’re arguably getting your money’s worth in gadgets right away, plus the chance to choose a special founder username before anyone else. You’ll also get three months of the Stadia Pro tier of service for you and a friend — who, like you, will also be able to play on a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3A phone (Google says it hopes to expand to other phones and platforms “over time”) or in the Chrome web browser with the standard HID controller of your choice.
The other two controller options: Just Black and Wasabi.
Stadia Pro gives you 4K, 60fps streaming with HDR and 5.1 surround sound assuming you’ve got the required 35Mbps of bandwidth, plus access to Stadia’s eventual free catalog, and exclusive discounts on games. The free tier launching in 2020 is limited to 1080p60 with stereo sound, and requires 10Mbps of bandwidth to stream at 720p.
Then there’s Destiny 2. As rumored, Bungie’s Destiny 2 is coming to Stadia, and it’s the streaming service’s flagship title in many ways. It’s the only game guaranteed to let you pick up where you left off on Xbox or PC thanks to new cross-save functionality — Stadia project manager Andrey Doronichev says “we’re still working with PlayStation to figure out the transition” — and the only one that’s confirmed to include DLC, with the Stadia version bundling every single add-on including the brand-new Shadowkeep expansion.
Maybe as importantly, Destiny 2 is the only game that comes free with the Stadia Founder’s Edition and the only game Google’s confirmed you won’t need to buy separately. Though like any other free-with-Stadia Pro title, it’s only available so long as you keep paying that $10 monthly.
Google Stadia launch regions and pricing
Stadia Pro (monthly)
Stadia Pro (monthly)
Note: Google says Stadia won’t be available in Hawaii or Guam at launch.
Of course, you don’t need to drop the initial $130 or $10 a month on Stadia if you’re willing to wait until 2020, and you don’t necessarily need to buy into Google-branded hardware at all if you’re willing to wait. It’s coming to more Android phones, and when I ask if we can expect the service to eventually hit Apple TVs, Rokus, maybe even iOS devices, Doronichev says the goal is to go as broad as possible: “We want to be everywhere.” He says there’s no particular spec another Android phone would need to support Stadia, merely certification to ensure it’s a good experience. (You won’t need to re-pair the Stadia controller over and over to each supported device, by the way – it’s a Wi-Fi device that communicates directly with Stadia’s servers so you can swap platforms easily.)
Note that “everywhere” doesn’t necessarily include playing games on the go over a cellular connection quite yet though, merely Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet to start. “You should not expect your existing cellular connection to work,” says Doronichev, adding that the company’s bullish on 5G’s potential to change that.
And Google says not all of Stadia’s lofty vision from its March announcement at GDC — see our video below — will necessarily make it by launch. While that nifty feature that lets you click through a YouTube video ad for a game and instantly start playing should be available, and Ghost Recon will offer split-screen multiplayer with friends, it’s not clear that YouTubers will be able to simultaneously play and livestream a game to YouTube quite yet, nor invite their fans to join in (perhaps for good reason, considering YouTube’s challenges right now).
Over time, Buser says we should not only see additional exclusive games on Stadia, but also cross-platform games doing things on Stadia “that would be impossible to do on a console or PC.” Instead of dividing up virtual worlds into tiny “shards” where only 100 or 150 players can occupy the same space at a time because of the limitations of individual servers, he says Google’s internal network can support living, breathing virtual worlds filled with thousands of simultaneous players.
It’s not clear how the economics support throwing additional cloud compute power at a game, though, if people are paying the same $60 to buy a game that they do today. Since Stadia’s servers are powerful enough to actually let you play games, they likely cost more to maintain than the ones digital distribution platforms like Steam, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo use to let you merely download files over the internet. (Buser wouldn’t say.)