From its paltry launch game lineup to its strange set of day-one limitations, the news around Google Stadia just ahead of its Nov. 19 debut has given gamers plenty of reasons to be skeptical. And now that Google's cloud gaming service is officially out, things are as messy as you might have expected.
A quick sweep of the Stadia subreddit reveals a host of launch problems, the most common of which being the fact that many folks who pre-ordered the $129 Founder's Edition still don't have access to the platform -- or the unique Stadia usernames they were promised for being a Founder.
"There have been plenty of posts from Founders showing their unique Founder-edition gamertags - Founders who were most definitely NOT the first to pre-order the kit," wrote user u/JoshyX. "Meanwhile, many day 1 founders don't have their codes yet."
But the issues don't stop there. Many founders simply haven't received their $129 kit yet (which consists of a Chromecast Ultra, a Stadia Controller and three months of Stadia Pro) despite pre-ordering months ago.
Other reported issues include the Stadia version of Destiny 2 being relatively devoid of players. Even more troubling, one user reports a Google support agent not knowing what Stadia is when asked for help with the platform.
The good, bad and ugly
In fairness, not all Stadia customers are unhappy. Several players that have been able to get access report enjoying smooth performance, both on web browser and on Pixel phones. Among a sea of Spongebob-inspired memes from folks getting impatient with Google, you'll find a few excited fans happy to have received their package.
These pros and cons largely line up with what we experienced in our own Google Stadia review. While our editor Marshall Honorof praised Stadia's overall performance, he noted that the library is currently too thin -- and that the service is missing too many key features -- to give Stadia a solid recommendation.
"Sitting in my bedroom, controller in hand, streaming Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 4K resolution, HDR color and 5.1 surround sound without a console anywhere in sight, I couldn't help but feel a little astounded," wrote Honorof in his review.
Even if Google is able to get Stadia in the hands of everyone who pre-ordered, it's hard not to feel like the service is incomplete. For starters, you can currently only play Stadia on web browsers, Pixel phones and the specific Chromecast Ultras that come with the Founder's Kit. The 22-game launch library includes genuine hits such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and Mortal Kombat 11, but aside from its lone exclusive Gylt, consists mostly of games that people have played before.
But what's possibly most damning is the fact that, despite being billed as a "gaming platform for everyone," Stadia can currently only be accessed as part of the aforementioned $129 Founder's Kit. Once you combine that with the cost of buying a few $60 games and several months of the $10 Stadia Pro plan, you're in the same price range of a PS4 or Xbox One -- both of which will be bundled with popular games for as little as $199 come Black Friday.
"It’s basically a paid beta," said Lewis Ward, research director for gaming and VR/AR at IDC, when asked why Google rolled out Stadia in such a limited capacity. "[Google] can limit uptake to get a much better handle on usage and how to improve the service over time, and bring in some revenue to offset the significant costs Google has already incurred getting the service off the ground."
Has Google already lost the cloud wars?
Stadia players currently have to pay for a $10-per-month Stadia Pro subscription, which grants access to 4K game streaming and includes a small library of add-on games in the form of Destiny 2 and Samurai Shodown. For the same price, you can sign up for Xbox Game Pass, which offers 100-plus downloadable Xbox One titles, or Sony's PlayStation Now, which lets you stream hundreds of PS4, PS3 and PS2 games to a PS4 or PC. In that context, Stadia doesn't sound like much of a value.
"No question that the full paid game model will turn off many prospective gamers who’ve already paid for those games on other platforms," said Ward. "Google needs to get to a subscription model but I suspect that’s at least a year away, perhaps two."
Perhaps things will improve when Stadia's free Stadia Base tier arrives in 2020, but even then, gamers will still have to purchase games a la carte.
"When the free Base tier arrives next year, Google will have the opportunity to fundamentally reframe Stadia, and position it as a relatively affordable way to access AAA games," added Ward.
Considering Stadia's current state, folks interested in Google's gaming platform should probably wait until its many launch issues get ironed out, and until the service becomes more widely available beyond the Founder's level. Stadia could eventually be the revolution that democratizes gaming for everyone, regardless of the hardware they own. But it has a long way to go to get there.