Google Stadia announced new details about its game streaming service Thursday, and the message was clear from the start: “We want to make gaming more accessible for everyone.”
Video games typically come with a complicated start-up cost: In addition to the games themselves, you need the hardware to run the games, accessories like controllers to play them with, and then a screen to play them on. For new consoles, that start-up cost can easily reach $500 or more with just a couple of games. For gaming PCs and laptops, the costs often start around $1,000.
Google Stadia wants to make things a lot simpler: Take the PC or laptop you already own or stick a Chromecast Ultra on your TV, then add a controller, and you can be a gamer. For $10 a month, you’ll get Stadia Pro: 4K resolution, 5.1 surround sound, a rotating selection of free games, and discounts on others. A monthly subscription to Stadia Pro saves you hundreds of dollars in upfront costs compared to console or PC gaming.
Stadia subscribers can skip the expensive PC builds and console upgrade cycles. The same way iTunes and music streaming services took physical discs out of the equation for music listening, and TV streaming services did for filmed entertainment, Google plans to do for video games. Convenience is at the core of Stadia’s pitch. As Google put it during the presentation: “No downloads, no patches, no installs.” When you’re ready to play the game, the game is ready for you.
To be clear, Google isn’t the first company wading into video game streaming — Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is a recent step in the same direction. But that service requires access to a game console. What sets Stadia apart is the fact that the games are running on Google’s infrastructure.
Here’s one way of thinking about it: Xbox Game Pass is similar to Netflix … if you needed to own and hook up a Netflix Box to be able to access its service. Google Stadia, on the other hand, is similar to Netflix as we know it now: Accessible through a variety of devices, and ultimately more convenient than being tied to a specific piece of hardware.
At the start of its presentation, Google said games are what Stadia is all about, and the details seem to be in line with that mission. The service removes some of the barriers between gamers and gaming by stripping away most of the hardware from the equation. It’s unlikely to be an appealing option for dedicated gamers who get excited about hardware specs, or for aspiring esports pros who need to maximize frames per second so they can perform at a high level. But for more casual players who just want to be able to load up a game when they feel like it, or for people who’ve been curious about gaming but have been intimidated or priced out by the hardware, it’s an opening of the gates.
Stadia is expected to launch in the fall, but you can pre-order the Founder’s Edition now, which comes with three months of Stadia Pro — plus a bonus subscription you can gift to a friend — a limited-edition controller, and the Chromecast Ultra you’ll need to play Stadia on TVs. It also grants early access to claim your Stadia username so you can be NoobMaster instead of NoobMaster3582. Google has 30 games listed as titles that will become available on the service, although we’ll have to wait for more details about accessibility.
If Google’s able to execute on these promises, Stadia will mark a significant evolution in gaming, and one that may send the rest of the video game industry scrambling to catch up.
Editor note: The original version of this story mistakenly stated that PlayStation Now subscribers needed a PlayStation 4 console to stream games. PlayStation Now allows subscribers to stream on PC, and the story has been updated accordingly.
Image: Google vice president and general manager Phil Harrison shows the new Stadia controller as he speaks during the GDC Game Developers Conference on March 19, 2019, in San Francisco. Google released new details on the streaming game service on Thursday, June 6, 2019, including a package that will cost $10 per month. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)