Google Stadia: Everything you need to know (Update: Free tier likely postponed)


Updated, February 14, 2020 (12:28 PM ET): According to interview with Protocol, Google executive Phil Harrison all but admits the Stadia free tier has been postponed past its initial February launch date, saying “over the next few months you will be able to experience Stadia for free.” This is particularly unfortunate news for gamers who were looking forward to trying Stadia out soon but couldn’t afford or didn’t want to spend the money on Google Stadia’s Founder’s or Premier Edition controller package.

On the bright side, in a statement provided to Android Police, a Google spokesperson clarified existing subscribers won’t have to wait for the full Stadia free tier launch to take advantage of it.

“If a gamer opts not to renew their Stadia Pro membership, they will lose access to the games and discounts offered exclusively to Pro subscribers, but they will be able keep playing the games they purchased, and they will have access to the Stadia store to purchase additional games,” said the Google spokesperson.

That means if you already have a Pro subscription, you will be able to take advantage of Stadia’s free tier as soon as your subscription lapses.

Last year, Google announced Project Stream, a limited streaming test built around Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. After a short test period in January, the project ended and Google kept pretty quiet about its future game streaming plans. At GDC 2019, Google finally broke the silence with the announcement of Stadia.

The idea of a streaming gaming service is nothing new (remember Onlive?), but Google’s service is one of the most ambitious attempts yet.

What is Google Stadia?

Simply put, Google Stadia is a game-streaming service that works on all the screens you own. Whether you’re playing on your television, your phone, your laptop, or your tablet, you can enjoy AAA game titles on all of them.

How is this possible? Google servers handle the actual rendering of the game and then it streams the gameplay to your device. In other words, you can play any Stadia title on any system you like because your system isn’t actually running the game: Google is. This opens up high-quality gaming to anyone, including people who can’t afford an expensive gaming PC or aren’t interested in buying the latest console.

The cloud-based service works seamlessly with Chromecast Ultra when connected to a TV. It also supports the Chrome Browser on desktops, laptops, and tablets (including Chrome OS). It also supports a limited number of smartphones, specifically Google’s Pixel 2, Pixel 3, Pixel 3a and the new Pixel 4 devices (more phones will become compatible soon).

With Stadia, you can also instantly switch devices any time you like — even if you’re in the middle of playing — making it possible to take your game experience anywhere. Unfortunately, as of right now, you’ll need a Wi-Fi connection in order to play, so full portability isn’t possible right now.

The service is based on Linux and uses Vulkan, so it supports many of the most popular game development engines, including Unreal and Unity.

Interested in learning more about Google Stadia? The app is now available to download by clicking the button below.

Hardware specs, system requirements, and features

As a cloud-based service, all the heavy lifting with Stadia is performed by a remote PC. That means it doesn’t really matter whether you’re using a phone, tablet, or computer — the experience will be pretty much the same. Google says that Stadia users will have access to the power of a custom AMD 2.7GHz x86 processor with 16GB RAM, up to 484GB/s transfer speed, and a GPU that has 10.7 teraflops of power.

Stadia gives you the same experience from any device, as long as you have the connection to handle it

That makes Google’s platform more powerful than any gaming console on the market right now. It also has the advantage of being easier to upgrade as hardware upgrades happen remotely at the server-side.

Of course, how good the game looks will depend both on your internet connection as well as the device you are using. If you are playing on a Chromecast Ultra, you can play in 4K with HDR support and 5.1 surround sound, assuming you have a television, sound system, and fast enough internet connection to support those features.

Speaking of internet connections, here’s what you’ll need:

Remember that Stadia only works on Wi-Fi or Ethernet connections, you can’t use mobile data to play at the moment. Also keep in mind that the only way to play in 4K is on a Chromecast Ultra.

In the future, Google will also offer 8K gaming support, though it doesn’t specify how far off that is or which systems it will work on. Don’t expect VR support for now either, with the firm simply saying it has “no news to share at this point.”

More features coming soon

Other future Stadia features worth highlighting include:

The Stadia Controller is the optimal way to play

This $69 proprietary controller connects via Wi-Fi directly to Google’s servers for a (mostly) lag-free experience. Some of its key features include built-in Google Assistant support and a Capture button for saving and capturing gaming experience to YouTube.

As of right now, Google Assistant only works on the Stadia home screen for those using the Chromecast Ultra. That means there’s no in-game Google Assistant functionality yet.

Another unfortunate limitation with the Stadia controller currently is that it will only connect wirelessly to a TV with a Chromecast Ultra plugged into it. In all other scenarios, you will need to connect the controller to your system with the provided USB cable.

Another limitation of the Stadia controller is that it has no Bluetooth capabilities at the moment. That means you cannot use the controller as a generic gamepad on other systems, such as your PC or your smartphone.

If you’re using the official controller on your smartphone, Google has a fun accessory you can buy to help out: the Power Support Claw. The Claw snaps onto your controller and then you can clip your phone in to enjoy an all-in-one gaming experience.

Of course, you don’t need to use the official controller to enjoy Stadia. While it’s arguably the best way to play because it goes straight to Google’s servers and reduces as much input lag as possible, any existing input scheme should work including third-party controllers, mice, and keyboards. That includes controllers from Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and more. Check the full list below as well as the limitations of each:

Peripheral typeTVVia Google Chrome (version 75 or greater)Pixel 2, 3, 3a, or 4 with Android 9.0 or greater
Stadia ControllerWiFi connectivityUSB connectivityUSB connectivity
Keyboard and mouseCurrently unavailableUSB & Bluetooth connectivityCurrently unavailable
DualShock 4 ControllerCurrently unavailableUSB & Bluetooth connectivityUSB & Bluetooth connectivity
Xbox One ControllerCurrently unavailableUSB & Bluetooth connectivityUSB & Bluetooth connectivity
Xbox One Elite ControllerCurrently unavailableUSB connectivityUSB connectivity
Xbox Adaptive ControllerCurrently unavailableUSB & Bluetooth connectivityUSB & Bluetooth connectivity
Xbox 360 ControllerCurrently unavailableUSB connectivityUSB connectivity
Switch Pro ControllerCurrently unavailableUSB & Bluetooth connectivityCurrently unavailable

Game support on Stadia

A gaming platform is nothing without a great selection of launch titles, and Google Stadia will have a number of major games — even a few exclusive titles. Some of the games that will be available include highly anticipated upcoming games like Doom Eternal, Baldur’s Gate III, Watch Dogs: Legion, and Borderlands 3, along with recent game hits like Destiny 2, Mortal Kombat 11, The Division 2, Rage 2, and more. You can check out the current list of Stadia games at the link below.

You can also view the Google Stadia store from anywhere on the web. Users can view screenshots and trailers, as well as purchase Stadia titles. Some settings still require you to use the Stadia app, such as data usage and quality, display, and Google Assistant.

There is some confusion about how Stadia works when it comes to the games it offers. Stadia is not “the Netflix of games,” in that you don’t pay one flat monthly fee and then get access to every title. The games on the list above all must be purchased individually, just as you would on Steam, Origin, etc. The only exception to this is Destiny 2, which can be played without purchase if you sign up for the Stadia Pro subscription.

To learn more about the costs of Stadia games, check our full list here.

Interestingly, Google has also announced its own first-party game studio dubbed Stadia Games and Entertainment. Not only will this studio work on its own experiences, but it will also help developers — both big and small — implement Stadia technology into their titles. Google recently opened its first in-house game development studio in Montreal in order to make titles exclusively for Stadia.

Ubisoft has also confirmed that its Uplay Plus subscription service is coming to Stadia in 2020. More details weren’t forthcoming, but the PC version of the service delivers access to over 100 games for $14.99 a month.

How much does Google Stadia cost and where can you play?

Google Stadia launched on November 19 in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and 11 countries in Europe. However, the state of the service at launch is not at all the full concept of what Stadia will eventually be.

As of right now, in order to play Destiny 2 or buy any of the available titles, you will need a Google Stadia Pro membership — which is $9.99 per month in the United States — as well as an official Stadia controller (not a third-party controller, see above for more details). You cannot download the Stadia client for free and then buy games, as you can do with other online game stores. Instead, for now, only subscribers can buy games.

At some point in 2020, this will change and you will be able to download and use Stadia for free.

To incentivize players to pay a monthly fee, Pro subscribers will gain access to a new free game each month, although Google hasn’t disclosed what those games will be, other than Destiny 2, of course. Pro subscriptions also earn you discounts on game purchases and a few other perks that free tier users won’t get.

If you want a controller to give Stadia a shot right now, Google was selling a limited “Founder’s Edition” version for $129 in the US. It included a Night Blue color controller and a Chromecast Ultra dongle. It also included three months of Stadia Pro, a buddy pass for three months of Stadia Pro to give to a friend, and first access to claim your username. However, Google announced that the Founder’s Edition had sold out in the US and the other launch countries on October 22.

Google is now selling a Premiere Edition of the controller in all launch countries. It bundles a Clearly White controller, a Chromecast Ultra, three months of Stadia Pro, and the full Destiny 2 collection. The price remains the same at $129. If you buy a Premiere Edition, you can tack on an extra controller for $69.

After purchasing a controller, once it ships out you’ll receive an email and a code to activate your Stadia account. This, as of right now, is the only way to get a Stadia code.