Stadia | Google
60 DAYS WITH GOOGLE STADIA
Can Google's new games service hold up to today’s high demand?
by Felipe Parada
I recently had the chance to go hands-on with Google’s new, highly-anticipated, cloud gaming service, Stadia. To be honest I was a little skeptical because the service sounded too good to be true and we all know what happens when something is too good to be true. Advertised to be capable of streaming video games up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, who wouldn't want to jump in?
Google Stadia is the first true attempt at a cloud gaming, console-less gaming experience. They also boast about supporting High Dynamic Range which seems to be all the craze right now. After spending decades of upgrading from console to console, I felt like it was time for a fresh perspective on the gaming experience.
So... How does it work?
That’s a very good question because at first, I didn't even know. It was like venturing into a brave new world when I first signed up. Thankfully Google’s step by step guide is very accessible for veteran and New players alike. Google Stadia is accessible through Google Chrome web browser on desktop, Pixel smartphones, Chrome OS tablets and most supported smartphones ranging from Samsung, Razer and Asus. Google is currently in the process of adding more support for smartphones in the future.
Once you select your plan, you log on https://stadia.google.com/home and you are ready to go, that’s it. Customers access the content via the company's numerous data centers scattered all across the world. It's actually pretty impressive the amount of data centers used to make this happen. A report by Gartner stated that in a July 2016 report, Google at the time had an estimated 2.5 million servers. That’s A LOT of data.
Google Stadia Homescreen
Stadia | Google
Once you log in, you are greeted by a very simple and sleek interface. You have 2 tabs on the upper left hand corner which grants you access to gaming content and 3 tabs on the upper right for personal preferences/settings. The home screen will always list the Last game you played and all subsequent games in your library. In my case, the last game I played before my trial expired was GRID followed by PUBG and then Get packed.
The Games Available during 60 day Free Trial were:
Panzer Dragoon Remake
Player Unknown Battlegrounds
Stacks on Stacks
Serious Sam Collection
Steamworld Dig 2
The Turing Test
Zombie Army 4
Out of all the games listed during my 60 day trial, there was only 1 game that I previously played (Destiny 2) but I still tried it out to see how it holds up. Stadia gives you access to their digital library from anywhere in the world. This is where I got a bit skeptical. This is a real ambitious venture for Google, and for a company that has almost no experience in the console industry, getting on board with the idea was tough from the start.
The Need for Speed. No Seriously, you need a Speedy internet connection.
I currently live in Pennsylvania where the only big name high-speed internet company is Blue Ridge Communications. Yeah, prior to living in PA I never heard of them either. The internet companies operate differently outside the NJ/NYC area. Companies like Verizon and Optimum will offer you different plans with unlimited upload/download. Here in PA, You have a data cap of 1 TB per month. That’s right, you have a data cap on your internet. I currently have the 50 mbps Plan - Up to 50Mbps Download/4Mbps Upload. It's not great and it's not terrible by any means.
Navigating the menus was a breeze. The UI was simple to navigate and jumping in and out of games was a pleasant surprise. Stopping one game and jumping into another on a different platform is a feature that I didn't know I needed. Seriously, PlayStation 5 and XBOX Series X should take some notes.
Unfortunately gameplay is a different story. I tried out all the games, and I do mean ALL OF THEM. Games like Gylt, Steamworld Dig 2, Spitling and The Turing Test ran surprisingly well. There was no lag or frame rate drop but there were a couple of instances where the graphical fidelity took a massive dip. This was a bit of a head-scratcher because these games weren't that graphically taxing. Considering the gameplay was still consistently stable, it was smooth sailing. Sadly I can’t say the same for the other games on the list.
YOU’VE JUST MADE THE LIST!
Now it was time to test the heavy hitters, Destiny 2, GRID and Zombie Army 4. Since these were shooters, I knew I was going to have issues with the gameplay but I wasn't expecting it to be THIS inconsistent. Keep in mind that on Google Stadia’s own support page it indicated that:
“It is recommended to have a download speed of at least 10 Mbps to stream games on Stadia, and faster speeds for resolutions greater than 720p.”
So having a plan of up to 50Mbps Download/4Mbps Upload shouldn't be a problem right? I severely underestimated my bandwidth. We’ll first talk about Destiny2. Starting off was great but once the Fallen began to swarm the screen, the game became borderline unplayable. There were so many frame rate dips and stutters that my character would skip entire areas before once the game got all caught up. The latency wasn't that bad but it was very frustrating not having the game keep up with a mere 50 Mbps plan.
I had the same issue with GRID and Zombie Army 4 but this time around the latency was absolutely atrocious. The graphical fidelity took a massive hit maxing out at 720p, at best. Playing GRID was more like playing pong than playing a racing game. I spent more time smashing into the guardrails than racing the game. Zombie Army 4 wouldn't even run properly so at this point I just gave up and called it a night.
The strange thing was, I kept having the sensation that I was doing something wrong. Maybe it’s my network connection that is the problem. I went as far as to wait until everyone was off the network to see if the increased bandwidth made a difference. Sadly, it did not make a bit of difference.
Let’s take a step back and re-group.
About a week later, my oldest son had a playdate with his cousin so we decided to head over to her house. I remembered that they had just recently updated their internet service to 500mbps, so this was a perfect opportunity to test out Google Stadia on a faster bandwidth. I was still a bit skeptical but anything was better than I was experiencing at the current moment. I specifically wanted to re-test all the games I was having difficulty with, namely Destiny 2, GRID and Zombie Army 4.
Let me tell you that it was a completely different experience. It still had its drawbacks but it was smoother sailing. All the games ran like they were supposed to but there were instances where the graphics dropped to 720p. It was at this moment that Google Stadia really shined. Jumping from one game to another and then loading it up on a tablet was the stuff of dreams. I had a real problem sticking with one game because the skies were the limit with this streaming service. There was a small part of me that wanted to upgrade my internet plan just so I could get Stadia. Unfortunately it is still something I need to think about because I’m still not 100% sold on the idea.
And the Verdict is?!?!?!
Google Stadia is the game-streaming service that I’ve waited for. If you pay for a minimum internet speed of 100Mbps, Google Stadia will perform wonderfully. Unfortunately if you have a slower connection, or if you are like me and have a capped data plan, Stadia won't be all sunshine and rainbows. It will still work, don't get me wrong, but it wont work as advertised. Since I am tied to a data cap I did notice that Stadia chewed through my (1TB) data plan, not drastically but it was noticeable.
Before my Google Stadia 2 month trial: Monthly data usage (Average) - 625 GB
During my Google Stadia 2 month trial: Monthly data usage (Average) - 875 GB
Keep in mind that i have 2 kids why abuse Netflix and I play games on the regular. My wife browses more than she streams so I wont factor in her data usage that much. But it is interesting to see how much data we burn through a month. It will be interesting to know how much gaming I would need to do to burn through T1TB of data for the month.
After finally testing Stadia in my own home I can firmly say that it is a true console alternative but it has its drawbacks. I still feel that Google bit off more than they can chew. I'm still not sure who this is meant for? With no real exclusives, and the new console generation upon us, I am a bit concerned that Google Stadia will fall further behind. I know in due time Google Stadia could potentially be a platform killer. But who knows how long that will take? I can’t tell you to jump in, nor can I tell you to pass because I feel that Stadia is still in its Beta testing phase. Given more time, and more exclusives, maybe within 2 years Google could cement itself as a worthy streaming alternative.
Sometimes less is more.