Google Stadia Is a Big Idea, Maybe Too Big

After playing Google Stadia at E3 2019, the cloud-based gaming platform still has that feeling of "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." But my initial skepticism has been replaced by cautious optimism. There are more than a few lingering questions about the games library, pricing and data usage Google needs to address. But in terms of pure technological potential, Google Stadia is shaping up to be revolutionary.

stadia hands on 1

Why am I so convinced? Because I sat in the YouTube Creator's lounge at E3 and played Doom: Eternal, a AAA-graphical powerhouse that isn't even out yet, on a Pixelbook. There are a few caveats here. First, a Pixelbook is no slouch in the hardware department. It has 8 GB of RAM, which meets the minimum PC requirements for Doom: Eternal and is a bit more than you'll find in most cell phones. This set-up also used an ethernet cable, a big red flag for my inner skeptic, since the real promise of Google Stadia is the freedom to play untethered, anytime and anywhere.

And it's the play that sold me on Stadia. I experienced no issues, no latency whatsoever, during my demo of Doom: Eternal. A fast-paced shooter was a perfect demo choice, since no genre is more dependent on quick reflexes. Any lag would've been noticeable, and it wasn't. There was no rough edge on the visuals either. It ran at 60 FPS, and 1080p the whole time. It helps that Doom: Eternal is an immensely enjoyable game, too. The time flew by, and before I knew it my demo was over. It was as if I had played the game on the E3 show floor and not on a chromebook that could never actually run a Windows-based PC game. Google Stadia suddenly adds tremendous value to the poor man's laptop. Your $300 chromebook can suddenly keep up with an expensive gaming PC.

stadia doom eternal
Bethesda Softworks

A common misconception is that Stadia represents a "Netflix of gaming," and that the $10 monthly service will include a massive games library and endless streaming. In reality, it's closer to Steam or Epic Store. Stadia is a marketplace with no entry free. You will be able to buy games through Stadia and play them anywhere you have a Chrome browser and an internet connection. This means you won't have Stadia on your PS4 or Xbox One, but if the service works as intended, you won't need them anyway (except for console-exclusive titles, of course). It eliminates hardware without diminishing the player base.

The $10 a month service does include a few games, but its biggest draw is that it allows for 4K game streaming. Here's a quick rundown of what your money gets you when the service launches this November:

  • Resolution: Up to 4K
  • Frame rate: 60 FPS
  • Sound: 5.1 surround sound
  • Buy games whenever you want: Yes
  • Additional free games released regularly: Yes, starting with Destiny 2: The Collection
  • Stadia Pro-exclusive discounts on select game purchases: Yes

While 4K game streaming sounds amazing, there are very real data limits to consider. PC Gamer broke down the numbers, and you're looking at 15GB an hour for 4K streaming. If you don't have an unlimited data plan, you have to be wary. Even if you do, throttling is very real. You might find yourself with inconsistent internet speeds on the back end of every month because of Stadia usage. This isn't something Google can control, but it is a potential liability for the new platform. Even the oncoming 5G revolution might not solve the problem, if mobile carriers don't increase data limits to facilitate game streaming. This eventually happened with video streaming when the world switched from 3G to 4G, but it didn't happen overnight.

Stadia is a bold, big idea that could truly change the way we game. But it might be too big, and it seeks to disrupt some very major players in both the gaming and ISP/Mobile spaces. I'd like to see Stadia running wirelessly before I give it a full endorsement, but if it the worst-case scenario is my chromebook can now run Doom: Eternal that's pretty good, too.

For more info on Stadia, check out this video: