When it arrives this November, Google Stadia will let you stream blockbuster games like Destiny 2, Ghost Recon Breakpoint and The Division 2 directly from the cloud on just about any device with a Chrome browser. But while Stadia will open up mainstream gaming to a whole new audience by freeing games from the console or PC, will it be worth Google's somewhat confusing pricing structure?
To access Stadia at launch, you'll need to get Stadia Pro: a $10 per month subscription that gives you access to a select library of games, Stadia's highest streaming quality (up to 4K at 60fps), and discounts on games that exist outside of the monthly plan. However, while $10 per month doesn't sound too bad for the ability to stream AAA games on any device, much of what you get (and don't get) for that regular fee is still a mystery.
Google already confirmed that Destiny 2: The Collection will be part of the Pro subscription, but what about other confirmed Stadia games like Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Doom Eternal and Mortal Kombat 11? If Google is expecting gamers to regularly plunk down $60 per game on top of a $10 monthly fee, the convenience of Stadia suddenly doesn't seem all that convenient.
"The subscription is dirt cheap compared to what I thought they’d want to change for 4K cloud-streamed games, but then again, as far as I can tell, the game catalog in the subscription plan is going to be quite thin at launch this November," siad Lewis Ward, research director for gaming and VR/AR at IDC.
More frustratingly, the "Stadia Base" version of the service, which allows you to buy games a la carte without a membership and play them in 1080p, doesn't roll out until 2020. So if you want to get in on Stadia right away, you'll have to pay the early adopter fee.
A good value - from a certain point of view
If you're really keen on Stadia, you can splurge for a $129 Founder's Pack, which gets you a Stadia Controller, a Chromecast Ultra (for playing on a TV), 3 months of Pro and a buddy pass for giving a friend a 3-month subscription of their own. That's about $200 worth of stuff at a $70 discount.
And to be fair, Stadia will work on any desktop or laptop you already have (though smartphone support will be exclusive to the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a at launch), as long as it has a Chrome browser installed. So while I would argue that Xbox Game Pass and its 100+ games is a better $10-per-month value than Stadia Pro, those Xbox games require a $250 Xbox One to be played.
This structure isn't unique to Stadia, either. Blade's Shadow service grants you access to your own high-powered PC in the cloud, though you'll have to pay a hefty $35 per month for access and need to provide your own games (on the flipside, you are getting a fully functioning Windows 10 machine to use anywhere, for any purpose).
If rolled out correctly, Stadia could bring video games to a whole new audience, including folks who wouldn't bother to buy their own console or gaming PC -- or can't afford to. But if Google locks too many games behind a separate paywall in addition to charging a monthly fee, its potentially revolutionary cloud platform might seem too expensive -- or too complicated -- to those most interested in it.
"Right now I don’t think very many gamers will jump enthusiastically on the Stadia bandwagon – still too many questions to get answered," said Ward.