Back in March, Google unveiled their most notable attempt yet to step into the gaming industry in the form of Stadia, a cloud streaming platform that would allow users to play games across a variety of devices without the need for downloads or patches. The initial concept sounds promising, particularly when backed up by such a prominent figure in the world of technology, but outside of a pre-unveiling test of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey on Google Chrome browsers, there have been few opportunities to mess around with Stadia outside of controlled environments. That all changes this week, as those who pre-ordered the Stadia Founder’s Edition, which comes bundled with a Chromecast Ultra, Stadia controller and copy of Destiny 2: The Collection, can check out the platform at its earliest days with three free months of Stadia Pro, the currently required subscription that provides the best quality streaming along with additional free games and discounts. While a base version of Stadia without the monthly subscription is scheduled for the masses next year, there are still several concerns for Stadia that have yet to be addressed over the past eight months, leading to some warranted caution for both the platform’s early adopters and potential customers.
At the Stadia’s unveiling, Google also showed off a variety of secondary features that would enhance the experience for those who played on the cloud streaming platform. A number of those have recently been confirmed to not be present at launch, however, with a wide timeline of when users can expect to take advantage of these features. Some will be available shortly after launch, including the ability to see other players’ viewpoints in-game via Stream Connect, more advanced Google Assistant support, UI for achievements and Stadia support for previously-purchased Chromecast Ultras. Others are slated for next year, such as Chrome support for 4K HDR streaming, sharing save files via State Share, joining multiplayer games through YouTube streams via Crowd Play and sharing games across accounts via Family Sharing, while even more are without a timeline, including buying games on Chromecast Ultra or Chrome, support for iOS and non-Pixel Android devices, and wireless functionality for the Stadia controller on mobile devices. With so many missing components, it’s a little curious to still see Google so set on sticking to its current launch schedule when it seems like the platform would be much more feature-complete if it were delayed by only a matter of months.
As useful as many of these new features would be, Stadia’s launch could still have plenty of potential if it functions well enough and featured a sizable library of playable games at launch. Just over a week before launch, Google officially revealed the set of titles planned for the platform in 2019, with a mere twelve being available on day one and fourteen more planned to be added in the following six weeks. With the day one lineup featuring only one Stadia exclusive title, Gylt, three from the same Tomb Raider franchise and only three titles that were released after June of this year, it’s hard not to come away a little let down when considering how over forty titles, many of which are already available on other devices, have been teased across the two Stadia Connect presentations that were livestreamed primarily to show off the platform’s exciting offering of titles.
Outside of the launch lineup and secondary features, there are still plenty of questions that remain for the initial release and post-launch plans for Google Stadia. Will the platform provide support for DLC and microtransactions? Will Stadia be able to take advantage of the increasingly common cross-play implementation? Can Stadia provide a consistent flow of both first and third-party titles available to purchase in 2020 and beyond? And most importantly, can Stadia function well enough in uncontrolled environments, particularly for games that require quick reflexes and in a landscape of American users that hosts a wide variety of fluctuating internet speeds and data caps? With so many lingering issues to address, the weeks and months that follow will be key to determining Stadia’s potential to bring cloud gaming to the masses in a reliable and user-friendly manner.