Mobile device running Mortal Kombat 11 on Stadia with official controller
|Launch date||November 19, 2019|
Stadia is a cloud gaming service developed and operated by Google. It is advertised to be capable of streaming video games up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second with support for high-dynamic-range, to players via the company's numerous data centers. It is accessible through the Google Chrome web browser on personal computers, supported smartphones, as well as Chrome OS tablets and Chromecast for TV support. There is also an experimental mode with support for all Android devices capable of installing the Stadia mobile app. In December 2020, Google released an iOS browser-based progressive web application for Stadia, enabling gameplay in the Safari browser.
The service is integrated with YouTube, and its "state share" feature allows Stadia players to launch a supported game from a save state shared by another player via permalink. It is compatible with various non-Stadia game controllers through USB and Bluetooth. Stadia requires users to purchase games from its store in order to stream them. While the base service is otherwise free, a Pro tier monthly subscription allows users to stream in up to 4K resolution, 5.1 surround sound, and offers a growing collection of free games that the user has access to while they are subscribed. Both tiers allow users to play online multiplayer without any additional costs.
Known in development as Project Stream, the service debuted through a closed beta running Assassin's Creed Odyssey in October 2018. Stadia publicly launched on November 19, 2019, in select countries and initially received a mixed reception from reviewers. On April 8, 2020, Google launched the no-cost base service of Stadia. The service competes with Sony's PlayStation Now, Nvidia's GeForce Now, Amazon's Luna, and Microsoft's Xbox Cloud Gaming.
Stadia is a cloud gaming service, and does not require additional computer hardware, only requiring the device to have an Internet connection and Google Chrome support. Stadia works atop YouTube's functionality in streaming media to the user, as game streaming is seen as an extension of watching video game live streams, according to Google's Phil Harrison; the name "Stadia", the Latin plural of "stadium", is meant to reflect that it is a collection of entertainment, which the viewer can choose to sit back and watch, or take an active part in. As Google had built out a large number of data centers across the globe, the company believes that Stadia is in a better position for cloud gaming compared to past endeavors like OnLive, PlayStation Now, and Gaikai, as most players would be geographically close to a data center. Stadia supports the streaming of games in HDR at 60 frames per second with 4K resolution, and anticipates eventually reaching 120 frames per second at 8K resolution. Players can start games without having to download new content to their personal device. Players can opt to record or stream their sessions onto YouTube through Stadia. Viewers of such streams can launch the games directly from the stream with the same save state that they were just watching.
The streaming technology enables new features on Stadia. Stream Connect allows Stadia players, cooperatively playing the same game with friends, to have picture-in-picture inserts on their display of their friends' point-of-view in the game. This feature was first launched with the release of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint. The streaming technology allows for larger number of concurrent players on a game server; for example, servers for Grid are normally limited to 16 players, while the Stadia version allows up to 40.
While Stadia can use any HID-class USB controller, Google developed its own controller which connects via Wi-Fi directly to the Google data center in which the game is running, to reduce input latency. Google is also exploring further ways to reduce latency, using an idea called "negative latency" which involves prediction of user input through various means so that any apparent network lag between controller and game response is minimized. During its GDC 2019 keynote reveal, Google confirmed that the controller would also feature Google Assistant, which will automatically search YouTube for relevant, helpful videos related to the game they are currently playing at the touch of a key.
Stadia offers two tiers of service, a free level (initially at launch known as "Stadia Base" but after April 2020, simply "Stadia") and a monthly subscription Stadia Pro level. The free Stadia level limits streaming to 1080p resolutions. The Pro tier costs approximately US$10 per month, but allows users to access higher streaming rates up to 4K resolution, access a library of free games over time, and get discounts on other games offered for Stadia. Harrison stated they are also looking into offering publisher subscriptions and other models in the future; for example, Ubisoft announced its Uplay Plus subscription service will be available to Stadia users. Since April 2020, new users to Stadia are offered a limited period of free access to Stadia Pro features, and retain any games purchased this period to their account if they fall back to the free Stadia level; initially, new users received two months of Pro access, which was reduced to one month starting on June 3, 2020.
|Bandwidth required||Video quality||Audio quality|
|10 Mbit/s||720p, 60 FPS||Stereo|
|20 Mbit/s||1080p HDR Video, 60 FPS||5.1 Surround|
|35 Mbit/s||4K HDR Video, 60 FPS||5.1 Surround|
Upon launch, Stadia's cloud hardware initially uses a custom Intel x86 processor clocked at 2.7 GHz, with AVX2 and 9.5 megabytes of L2+L3 cache. It also uses a custom AMD GPU based on the Vega architecture with HBM2 memory, 56 compute units, and 10.7 teraFLOPS. The service also has solid-state drive storage, and 16 GB of RAM (supporting up to 484 GB/s bandwidth) shared between the GPU and the CPU.
Google developed the controller for Stadia. The controller includes two thumbsticks, a directional pad, four main face buttons, two sets of shoulder buttons, and five additional controller face buttons. The controller can connect either using a physical cable to the device or directly to Google's servers via a Wi-Fi network, to reduce the latency of controller communication with Stadia services. The controller has been available since launch in three color schemes, Clearly White, Just Black, and Wasabi; the Founder's Edition bundle included a limited edition Midnight Blue controller.
Stadia initially launched on November 19, 2019, with a Founder's Edition bundle, which included a Chromecast Ultra, a limited edition Midnight Blue Stadia controller, three months of Pro service, and an additional three months of Pro service to gift to a friend.
The service was expanded to several Samsung Galaxy, Razer Phone and ASUS ROG Phone devices in February 2020. Starting in June 2020, Stadia became accessible on OnePlus' 5, 6, and 7 series phones, and access can be enabled on other Android phones and tablets with Android 6 and above as an "experimental" feature. At the same time, touch controls were made available as an alternative to using a supported controller for touchscreen Android devices.
A progressive web application-based version of Stadia for iOS devices was announced by Google in November 2020 and released on December 16, 2020. This version runs through Chrome or Safari web browsers as to avoid restrictions Apple had in place for apps that directly stream libraries of games; the browser-based method had been similarly adapted by GeForce Now.
"This [Stadia] starts with our platform foundations of Linux and Vulkan and shows in our selection of GPUs that have open-source drivers and tools. We’re integrating LLVM and DirectX Shader Compiler to ensure you get great features and performance from our compilers and debuggers."— Dov Zimring, Stadia Developer Platform Lead
Project Stream was Google's first announced sign of interest in video gaming products. The company had previously been rumored as working on a service called Project Yeti since at least 2016. Google had also hired gaming industry executive Phil Harrison and was seen recruiting developers during industry events in 2018. Project Stream's main differentiator from past services, such as OnLive, GeForce Now, and PlayStation Now, is its ability to run in any desktop Chrome browser, so no additional software needs to be installed. The service uses AMD Radeon graphics hardware. Internally, the service was developed around 2016's Doom to show that the proof-of-concept worked in realistic settings across the public internet.
Google announced the service in October 2018 and soon after, opened invitations to beta testers with access to Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Players could apply for access and those who met an Internet speed minimum could run the game in their Chrome browsers. Those who participated received a free copy of the game when the beta expired. Stadia was formally announced during Google's keynote address at the 2019 Game Developers Conference in March 2019. To support Stadia, Google also announced the formation of Stadia Games and Entertainment, with Jade Raymond as its lead. Besides developing their own games, Stadia Games and Entertainment will help support the transition of third-party titles to the Stadia service.
Stadia Games and Entertainment
Alongside Stadia, Google established the Stadia Games and Entertainment division in March 2019, with industry veteran Jade Raymond as its head. This division will focus on internal development of games for Stadia in addition to those they have obtained from third parties. The first studio was established in Montreal on October 24, 2019.
Stadia launched in November 2019 in 14 countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. At that time, the service was limited to the subscription-only Pro tier. In December 2020, Stadia expanded to 8 new European markets: Austria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland.
In April 2020, while many people were quarantining at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Google launched a free version of Stadia, available to anyone in eligible countries with a valid Google account. Pro subscription was given at no cost for two months to all new and existing platform users.
Stadia requires users to purchase games to use over the service, though it offers a library of free games over time for Pro tier subscribers, as well as the first two years of Destiny 2 content for free for those who purchased the Founder's Pack. At the time of the platform's full reveal in June 2019, Google announced that Gylt by Tequila Works and Get Packed by Moonshine Studios would be exclusive to Stadia. The service launched with 22 games, and added 4 more in December 2019.
In January 2020, Google announced that it planned to release over 120 games for Stadia during that year, of which 10 were timed-exclusives set to release in the first half of the year. In December of 2020, Stadia and Ubisoft accounts could be linked together and users were given a selection 15 of games from the Ubisoft+ subscription service playable via Stadia.
During its beta, the service received generally positive initial impressions from reviewers, who felt it met and in some instances, exceeded expectations and could make game streaming appear as a potentially viable alternative to PC gaming; however, some minor discrepancies and technical issues were nonetheless noted.
Reviewers reported that the streaming service had low latency and felt as if the game was being played locally. Despite this, depending on Wi-Fi speeds, the game sometimes compressed its screen resolution or lagged. A test by The Verge found no lag issues over a wired ethernet connection, and occasional stuttering on a shared Wi-Fi connection. However, even on a wired connection, the stream did not output at 4K resolution and occasionally went fuzzy with compression artifacting. The reviewer reported the best experience on Google's Chromebook Pixel. Polygon found the service's audio compression noticeable. Ars Technica remarked that Project Stream's login sequence was far simpler than that of other services. Digital Foundry performed a hands-on with Assassin's Creed Odyssey on a Pixelbook on the service in Beta, and found that on the testing environment, latency seemed acceptable, but there was a noticeable visual hit. They also remarked that Assassin's Creed Odyssey was not the best example for testing, as it was already a natively laggy game.[a]
Stadia received mixed reviews upon its release: Metacritic lists 0 extremely positive reviews, 8 positive reviews, 29 mixed reviews and 14 negative reviews. Wired Magazine described the image quality as "drab", but admitted to preferring to play Destiny 2 on a Chromebook instead of a larger gaming laptop. VentureBeat criticized the service's pricing model, comparing it unfavorably to subscription services such as Xbox Game Pass and claiming that Stadia "doesn't matter". Digital Foundry found that the service was not playing all games at 4K resolutions: Red Dead Redemption 2 was found to only run at 1440p, and Destiny 2 ran at only 1080p (albeit at a frame rate higher than that of the console versions). Digital Foundry also discovered that games like Red Dead Redemption 2 also struggled to maintain a consistent 60 frames per second, claiming that their test of the game on Chromecast only outputted a solid 30 FPS, while a test on the Chrome browser was an unstable 60 FPS that dropped frequently. The Guardian gave Stadia three stars out of five, praising the service's technical performance, while criticising its game selection for being too old and only featuring one exclusive. Ars Technica concluded: "Early adopters feel like they're getting a beta product here. Wait until next year to see if Google can work out the kinks and prove the service's longevity." S&P Global Market Intelligence reported that: "Stadia met with tepid enthusiasm from analysts and early adopters who criticized the service's slate of launch titles and lack of promoted features". Dieter Bohn from The Verge has stated that "I have put in enough hours in enough conditions to say that this is a beta product, and Google should have labeled it as such and launched it differently. Because even in the best conditions, this ain’t the best."
Towards the end of January 2020, Stadia users expressed concern about Google's non-communicative stance on Stadia, outside of its monthly free game additions; these users were concerned about planned features that were to be available in the next few months from Google's initial timeline but yet have been discussed further, such as 4K streaming resolution support. A Google community manager had been following these discussions and expressed sympathy that users have been waiting for information, and stated that there is news that they could not yet discuss but will be able to soon. Google responded by pointing users to its Stadia community site where it was providing weekly updates on the progress on Stadia's features, and that in terms of future games, they mostly had left it to publishers to announce when these games would be available on Stadia.
Stadia received widespread praise in the days following the release of Cyberpunk 2077, as a tumultuous launch saw eighth generation consoles such as the PS4 and Xbox One struggle to run the game without major performance issues and in some cases a delayed ability to download the game. Players who ran the game through Stadia saw far lower instances of crashes and an overall smoother experience.
|Crowd Choice||Crowd Choice allows streamers to let viewers decide on in-game actions via a poll.||Released|
|Crowd Play||Crowd Play is a built-in feature for Stadia that allows players to jump into a multiplayer game with their favorite streamers and YouTubers.||Limited Testing|
|State Share||State Share allows players to share a link so that others can experience the game being played at a specific moment, exactly as the players are.||Beta (As part of Crayta)|
|Stream Connect||Allows multiplayer games to display the video feed of another player in Picture-in-Picture mode.||Released|
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Assassin's Creed Odyssey is perhaps not the best example for testing, as it's natively a fairly laggy game, so it will be interesting to test faster 60fps titles (...) Stadia is perfectly playable and presentable here, but it's clear that there is a noticeable visual hit when the encoder is presented with more a more detail-rich, fast-moving scene process.
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