Google Stadia’s early reviews suggest internet infrastructure not ready for it
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Google’s Stadia, the search giant’s cloud gaming platform designed to take on the likes of PlayStation and Xbox, launched yesterday, but early adopters have not been thrilled with its performance.
Stadia uses an entirely cloud-based setup, which frees the user from needing a physical gaming console altogether. Instead, the controller inputs are sent straight to a centralised server with the game visuals generated there and sent straight back to the user’s TV via a Chromecast.
As one would imagine, such a set-up requires a high-quality internet connection with a low ping and a high download rate for streaming higher-resolution game visuals. This will primarily limit the audience to those living in dense, urban environments where the infrastructure can cope with the demands of the system. If you live rurally in the UK, chances are you’re out of luck.
At launch, Stadia supports three ways to play: you can physically plug the controller into a PC or Mac and load the Stadia website; physically plug the controller into a Pixel phone and play on the app, or wirelessly connect to a Chromecast and play on a TV.
Needless to say, reviewers with early access to the platform have not been blown away thus far, although it is acknowledged that the technology holds promise for the future.
The Guardian offers up one of the more positive reviews saying that Stadia is “nothing short of revolutionary” and that “its core technology delivers on a promise decades in the making”.
“Once Stadia is up and running, the system is nearly indistinguishable from playing a game on a console sitting under your TV, except there’s no fan noise, no downloads or discs and, well, no console,” reviewer Alex Hern writes.
“The single most important challenge facing Google – getting video-game streaming on a par with local play – has been passed with flying colours,” it adds.
“But on everything else, the company’s approach is baffling. Some aspects suggest a rushed launch, with the company overly comfortable in its ability to push software updates down the line, failing to appreciate the importance of giving early adopters – the most engaged, eager fanbase – something for their loyalty.”
CNet’s Scott Stein was less positive saying: “I can't recommend anyone jump onboard at the moment. Google's experimental game-streaming service, Stadia, launches without many of its promised features and just a handful of games. It works, but there's not much incentive to buy in.”
Stein says that while the video quality is “excellent”, the service is very expensive - costing around £8.99 a month in the UK - and that’s before the cost of the individual games has been considered.
In comparison, the PS4 Pro, which launched in 2016, cost around £350 on day one, while the Xbox One came in at £450 in late 2017. Even the more expensive of these two represents about four years of the cost of a Stadia subscription (not considering optional extras, such as subscription services Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus).
Stein did praise Stadia’s controller, saying that playing with it “feel effortless”.
“It feels something like a blend of the Xbox One controller and Nintendo Switch Pro controller, with smooth analogue triggers, solid rumble haptics, crisp analogue sticks and d-pad.”
Wired’s Matt Kamen described Stadia as a “terrible but tantalising glimpse of the future”.
He said it does not “live up to its promise of being able to play anywhere, on any screen, just by connecting a controller and accessing your library”, adding, “it is utterly, expectedly, beholden to the stability and speed of your internet connection, which means for the great majority of players staying at home – just as they would with a console.”
He does hold high praise for the system’s user interface, comparing it to the Nintendo Switch and saying this is one of Stadia's best “selling points”.
“It's bold and clean, with large cover tiles for each game in your library. The lack of clutter is refreshing, especially when the home screens for PS4 and Xbox One become increasingly busy as more apps and services move to console,” he said.
However, the same old complaints about performance are repeated here. Kamen complains that a session of Destiny 2 proved to be “juddery” and while the momentary spikes of lag or jumps in the stream quality were “not too interruptive, those issues would render playing with a team unviable”.
He notes that the official Stadia controller is currently the only way you can take captures from your games, pictures or video. “The immediacy at which screencaps appear in your phone's Stadia app is impressive given it's all being done in the cloud”.
Finally, Forbes’ Paul Tassi said that Stadia “continues to amaze and perplex me” and he says he was forced to go and play it in a hotel, on their faster connection, to get a satisfactory experience.
“Playing Mortal Kombat and Destiny 2, the two games I played while testing the most at home, the difference is notable. While the stuttering is not gone completely, it still crops up on occasion, it appears less often and is less severe when it does arrive. Enough to be annoying and less than ideal, but not enough where it’s totally mangling play sessions like my home tests were.”
He concludes by saying the system “continues to be a massively confusing endeavour, which is the opposite of what Stadia was supposed to be”.
With high-quality, lag-free internet virtually an essential requirement for a satisfactory Stadia experience, it seems Google’s new gaming platform may have launched too early. Vast swathes of the rural US still suffer from extremely poor-quality internet service. Even in areas where the infrastructure is better, many only have a choice of one provider that inevitably charges above the odds for their service.
The UK isn’t faring much better, with a significant gap in the quality of broadband speeds between high-density urban areas and more rural locations.
Labour has promised to provide free full-fibre broadband to everyone if it wins the next election as part of a five-year plan. The Tories have pledged a similar rollout and timeline, although they have been criticised for not “grasping the extent” of the rural divide.
Regardless of who wins at the upcoming election, if either party manages to stick to their commitment then Stadia could become a more viable gaming platform. For now, though, it seems that the necessary infrastructure is simply not there to fully support Google’s ambitious new platform.
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