As I sit here gazing out toward the back garden, wishing the rain away I took some time to reflect on what 8 months as a Stadia Pro subscriber has been like.
So, prior to a gaming life in the cloud, I spent the vast majority of my time on an Xbox One X, with PC and Nintendo Switch as alternative ways to game. So, what changed? How have my gaming habits changed? What’s good? What’s bad? Let’s get into and I’ll share my experience of the last 8 months with Google’s Stadia platform.
Disclaimer: It’s a long article
What First Attracted you to Stadia?
As someone who works in the tech industry, I absolutely love technology. I know you may think this is a pre-requisite for working with technology but believe me, so many people don’t share that passion. When Google first announced Stadia, I could instantly see how all the dots joined and it would all make sense. Despite that it didn’t stop me from watching with amazement at the marvel they appeared to be announcing. It left me thinking could we really be on the edge of something that people have tried to deliver previously and failed so dismally.
What really sold it to me was the ease and simplicity of being able to play the games I wanted to without the usual day 1 patches, numerous updates or left alone even having to install a game, I mean who wouldn’t want to remove that headache from your gaming life right? More time to actually play versus waiting on downloads and installs. The ability to have one less box underneath the TV but not feel like I was sacrificing anything was an added benefit for sure. I should add that with my internet speeds of 500mb, my downloads are pretty quick but even then, it’s still annoying having to wait for patches and updates all the time.
Despite this, I didn’t initially pre-order Stadia’s founder edition because I knew there were bound to be bugs, fixes and all the normal stuff you expect from a new service. So, planned and patiently waited for January to take the plunge as I felt by this time, a lot would have been ironed out and my starting point of the experience would be better and hopefully more impactful.
Whilst I could say obvious areas that the platform needed to improve, I was impressed and in the year of next generation, it soon became Hello Google Stadia and Goodbye Xbox One X. So much so that by the time I hit May in 2020, I hadn’t even turned the Xbox on and soon after was gone. I put it up for sale and off it went to a good home for someone else to enjoy as an upgrade in their gaming life.
How have my gaming habits changed?
Since moving to cloud gaming, my gaming habits have changed immensely. For starters aside of Stadia, I added GeForce Now to my selection of platforms as a backup/alternative but I’m not talking about other platforms today. As I was saying, my habits had clearly changed. I game much more frequently, I keep up to date with news virtually every day and more importantly my horizon s have broadened for the types of game I now play. So not only am I playing more frequently I am now finding myself playing games that ordinarily I would never have even thought about purchasing or even looking at.
Part of the reason my gaming repertoire improved was thanks to the Pro Games with the monthly subscription, it really gave me opportunity to try titles I would never have bought and the end result with that is I now feel a more rounded gamer. It’s no longer just about sports games, the AAA titles.
The AA games, the Indie titles they all feature in my library and I’m finding despite their noticeably smaller budget, their stories and gameplay are truly engaging and immersive.
Stadia completely re-ignited my passion for gaming that was otherwise dwindling amidst the current generation of platforms available.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly about Stadia?
So, I’m going to give you, what’s known as a crap sandwich. For those unfamiliar with the term, in essence it means I’ll start with the good, work through the bad, ugly and finish up with the reasons to be positive.
First off, one of the biggest plus points for me is the community. It is by far the most welcoming, caring, and best community within the video games space in my experience. There’s none of this toxicity that you get with some of the others that I won’t name. That is something for me that made a real difference and really contributed to the whole experience of Stadia.
In terms of technology and on the gaming front, it works and it works well. For every bad comment, ill-informed review I’ve seen talking about latency, graphical performance and everything that comes with it, All I can say is that it has not been anywhere near my experience and I know that for those that actually try it and spend time with it, they broadly get the same experience as me. The most important thing I would say here is before you try it by signing up to a free month trial, go and do a service test which can be found here.
This will give you a good indication of the sort of performance that you can expect, at least you can go into with a realistic outlook of what Stadia will offer you.
The service is every bit the convenience machine you expect it to be and that they said it would be right back at its announcement. I can play on my TV via Chromecast, jump to my mobile or even login via a chrome browser on either my PC or my Pixelbook. I can virtually game anywhere provided I have a good enough connection or mobile data. I don’t have to worry about downloads, day 1 patches or system updates. I literally click to purchase or claim the game if it’s part of pro and within seconds I am in the game playing it and with that the load times on games are infinitely quicker than any other platform I’ve used.
Graphically it looks very impressive across the range of devices I game on and in the main, I don’t have any regrets in ditching my Xbox One X for Stadia, which in the main will be thanks to being able to play in 4K60 with HDR and 5.1, which is something of a feature benefit of the Stadia pro subscription
Aside of the above, the last element that I want to touch on for the good, is the fact that earlier in the year, games like Division 2 introduced Stream Connect, where you can view in mini screens within your game, where your team mates are and what may be going on behind you. It’s Stadia specific feature that really adds to your multiplayer experience in supported games and really adds value to the prospect of being online with friends.
Now for the bad. At launch and even as I write this now, features that were said to be included in the platform have been noticeably absent or slowly trickling their way out through experiments. As much as I’ve just praised Stream Connect, it is worth noting that it didn’t make launch like it was supposed to and arrived later. Achievement notifications were missing at launch but did finally arrive slightly later down the line, so you could earn the achievements but never received notifications that you had earned any. Crowd Play, being able to click on a link in a YouTube video from your favourite streamer and jump straight into a game, was missing from launch also.
Whether it was a case of lack of preparedness or just simply over promising on what would be delivered. It didn’t set a very good tone for the launch of the platform. The other areas that I would put in the bad category are the way that party functionality works, the lack of ability to message on there is a real issue and something that seems a very fundamental feature for a gaming platform.
The various other platforms have been doing it for years and I really don’t understand how such a glaring omission could have been made. In my opinion in trying to create revolutionary, rationale went out the window and some of the basics were missing, I’d probably even say that Stadia should have launched in Beta, allowing much more control over the narrative of the platform.
Being able to manage your library is something that really falls into this category, If you want to play a game that you last played or played within the last couple of games, sure it’s easy to find but if you haven’t played something in a while, it proves a little clunky to work your way through your library to get to that game that you want to play. The simple answer is being able to categorise games, put them in folders or even a search function would make sense and make it easy to find the titles you want quickly. After all, this a platform that boasts about the ease of click and play.
The one area I’m not going to include in the bad, is the size of the games library as it’s a point that’s consistently raised by the critics of the platform.
Ultimately my take on this is that other platforms such as Playstation and Xbox have launched with approximately 20 titles in the past and grown over the first year, which is no different to the approach that Google are taking with Stadia. Stadia launched with 22 games from memory and put a marker down that by the end of 2020 they library would be at 120 games.
However, I will say that the lack of a clearly defined launch timetable is something that Stadia is very much suffers from, but we’ll come on to that more as we move into the ugly.
Hold on tight, it’s about to get ugly. Those of you familiar with Stadia probably know exactly where this is heading.
Without a doubt one of the ugliest elements of Stadia is their communication, whether it’s the now infamous coming soon for games, shadow drops, or the out and out radio silence that we’ve experienced at points in 2020, it is something that needs to improve. Where games are concerned as mentioned above, they need to have a proper road map for games and I also believe for features too so the community have an insight into what to expect. Without it everything turns into speculation, disappointment and frustration. Now I know that you could argue that the frustration comes from the speculation but ultimately this derives from the poor communication.
One of the things they teach you in business about marketing and social media in particular is to be consistent and to have regular meaningful content. Whilst I acknowledge that the Tuesday community blog has become more consistent, it’s by no means full proof. It is something that has seen a marked improvement in recent weeks, with things like engagement with the user base across social media but we need to see more effort and it is going to be critical to controlling the narrative when it comes to talking all things Stadia.
There are so many people out there who still don’t even know what Stadia is or that it even exists, so whilst founders and early adopters have proved to be a fantastic resource for data, they need to up their game big time in getting the message out there that Stadia is here and it’s here to stay.
The other element that I want to cover here, relates to games, specifically the launch of games. We know that they people steering the ship at Stadia have a wealth of game industry experience but the whole launching games on the platform in Google time, isn’t working and again needs consistency, as well as change. On the other platforms, if a game launches, it launches globally on the launch date, Not at times that suits the platform manufacturer. So if a games launches on the 21st of August let’s say. It’s available in that time zone when it hits the 21st. We shouldn’t find ourselves in a scenario where it’s available early in one time zone, then much later in another time zone’s day.
As Stadians, we should not be finding ourselves when a title is going to hit our platform of choice on launch day. The extension of this is when games are announced by developers, Stadia suffers from the now infamous logo gate. If Stadia have a deal with a publisher, then do one of two things.
Either get the logo on the trailer as part of the announcement so that Stadia has the visibility with everything else or alternatively, if they really have to make the announcement through their own channels then time it within minutes of the developer announcement. Too many times the Stadia player base see titles announced, trailers released with no mention of the platform.
We then end up spending months waiting to see if anything comes or alternatively create speculation that it will come. One thing is for certain, we need to get agreement from more developers that the platform works with to get new titles day and date, something which is starting to show late 2020 and into 2021.
Consistency is key, communication is key and whilst I acknowledge the steps already made by the Stadia team to improve in these areas, it needs to improve quickly, like I said to seize control of the narrative and also for the sanity of the Stadia community.
Hopefully by now you’ve not had enough of the sandwich, so here’s the final piece.
As far as Stadia goes, it’s still within it’s infancy, it may be hard to believe but from a consumer availability perspective, it has only been in the wild for 10 months. They are not alone in making mistakes early on, let’s face it, pretty much every platform has completely screwed up at some stage. So it’s natural that mistakes will be made but as a community, whilst it’s our job to be honest, we need to exercise patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was Stadia.
As we head deep into the latter half of 2020, we are seeing more and more titles arriving. Developers announcing titles coming in 2021 and Stadia listed among them. This sets the tone for a much more positive message and one that will keep users captivated as it progresses.
Every time a new title launches that is something we may have played a previous iteration of the game on another platform, it feels like a mini milestone moment. A couple of examples from a personal perspective on this, are the launches of F1 2020 and PGA Tour 2K21. I’ve played the previous generations of these games on a different platform and being able to purchase and play them on Stadia this year, brings a sense of yes, Stadia is becoming more rounded and starting to feel normal.
This is something I’m sure people will continue to feel later this year as we see Madden, FIFA, Jedi Fallen Order arrive on Stadia.
Is the platform perfect? No it’s far from it but it is progressing in the direction it needs to as features are developed out to release, the library expands and we start to get the new titles as they launch.
It is a technological marvel given how well it performs, now it just needs to be nurtured and grow up. As a community we play a part in that and we need to exercise patience. That doesn’t mean we can’t be frustrated or say that mistakes have been made, because we can that’s all encompassed with us playing our part.
The future of gaming is bright, the future of gaming is here and it’s cloud gaming.
Incidentally, the length of time that it took me to write this, the sun is actually now shining. So my article writing and wishing the rain away did the trick.