You can still preorder a Premiere Edition to play shortly after launch
Google has revealed the key details that were conspicuously missing from its March announcement of the new Stadia game streaming service. Namely, what the heck we’re going to be able to play, how much we’ll pay, and when we can get started with the exciting new service — which beams high-end console and PC games to any Chrome web browser, Chromecast Ultra TV dongle or Pixel 3 smartphone from beefy new Google servers.
The short version: Google Stadia will launch on November 19th, in 14 different territories including the US, UK and Canada, with at least 31 games from 21 different publishers, for an initial price of $130 for a hardware starter kit with three months of premium service, and $10 a month afterwards. There’s a separate free tier coming in 2020.
Preorders for the “Founder’s Edition” have since sold out, and I’ll explain what it is in a tad. If you’re hoping to play Stadia before the end of the year, your best bet now is the Premiere Edition. (We’ll explain the difference between the two, as well). Google tells us both Founder’s Edition packs and Premiere Edition ones will likely ship before the end of November, but Google is sending out Stadia kits based on when you placed your order, so not all at once.
There’s something you should know before you put in a preorder. While you’ve probably heard predictions that Google’s Stadia will be the “Netflix of games,” it turns out the analogy only goes so far. While Google intends to eventually have a back catalog of free games included for your $10 monthly fee, Stadia is not primarily a subscription service. The subscription only includes a single game as of today — Destiny 2. Primarily, Google tells us you should expect to buy, not rent cloud games for the same retail prices you’d find on other platforms like PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, and Steam.
“We will sell these games like any other digital storefront,” Google’s director of games Jack Buser tells The Verge.
So you’re probably wondering: which games and game studios are on board? I won’t leave you in suspense any longer.
Stadia confirmed games list (updated October 2019)
- Bandai Namco – Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2
- Bethesda: Doom Eternal (delayed till March), Doom 2016, Rage 2, The Elder Scrolls Online, Wolfenstein: Youngblood
- Bungie: Destiny 2
- Capcom: TBD
- CD Projekt Red: Cyberpunk 2077
- Coatsink: Get Packed (Stadia exclusive)
- Codemasters: GRID
- Deep Silver: Metro Exodus
- DotEmu: Windjammers 2
- Drool: Thumper
- Electronic Arts: TBD
- Giants Software: Farming Simulator 19
- Gwen Frey: Kine
- Larian Studios: Baldur’s Gate 3
- nWay Games: Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
- Robot Entertainment: Orcs Must Die 3!
- Rockstar Games: Red Dead Redemption 2
- Sega: Football Manager 2020
- SNK: Samurai Shodown
- Square Enix: Final Fantasy XV, Marvel’s Avengers, Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider
- Superhot Team: Superhot Mind Control Delete
- 2K Games: NBA 2K20, Borderlands 3
- Tequila Works: Gylt (Stadia exclusive)
- Warner Bros.: Mortal Kombat 11
- THQ: Darksiders Genesis, Destroy All Humans
- Ubisoft: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Gods and Monsters, Just Dance, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, Trials Rising, The Crew 2, Watch Dogs Legion
Google is still announcing more games in the run-up to the November launch. Still, it already looks like a who’s who of video game publishers are on board; some enough to bring brand-new games from high-profile franchises like Borderlands, Wolfenstein, Doom, Darksiders and Ghost Recon to Stadia’s catalog.
Buser says that the just-announced Baldur’s Gate 3 will ship simultaneously on Stadia and PC, in fact — and that those two platforms will be the only ways to play it.
Nevertheless, that list of games doesn’t necessarily have a killer app, Google isn’t talking about its own internally developed Stadia-exclusive titles quite yet, and the quality and reliability of Google’s service is (mostly) unproven in the wild.
The company did, however, hire Ubisoft and EA industry vet Jade Raymond to build out its internal game development arm, called Stadia Games and Entertainment. Raymond told GamesIndustry.biz last month that her team plans to build out multiple first-party studios within Google to help round out the Stadia lineup with exclusive titles.
“We have a plan that includes building out a few different first-party studios,” Raymond said. The eventual goal is to release Stadia-exclusive games that can take advantage of the unique cloud computing infrastructure behind the platform. That includes improved physics simulations, integrations with Google Assistant, and potentially larger-scale environments that can’t be rendered today using just a single console or PC.
Raymond said Google has “quite a few exclusive games in the works” that use the cloud, and “[i]t won’t be four years before gamers get to see the new exclusive, exciting content. There will be some coming out every year, and more and more each year.”
But the lack of Stadia exclusives on day one is probably why Google’s catering to early adopters willing to drop $130+ on a “Stadia Founder’s Edition” before it goes any further. For less than the price of a new PS4 or Xbox One, the company’s cobbled together its own console of sorts — a Chromecast Ultra to plug into your TV and a limited-edition dark blue version of Stadia’s surprisingly cool controller.
Since each of those devices will retail for $70 on their own, you’re arguably getting your money’s worth in gadgets right away, plus the chance to choose a special founder username before anyone else. You’ll also get three months of the Stadia Pro tier of service for you and a friend — who, like you, will also be able to play on a Pixel 3, Pixel 3A or Pixel 4 phone (Google says it hopes to expand to other phones and platforms “over time”) or in the Chrome web browser with the standard HID controller of your choice.
Stadia Pro gives you 4K, 60fps streaming with HDR and 5.1 surround sound assuming you’ve got the required 35Mbps of bandwidth, plus access to Stadia’s eventual free catalog, and exclusive discounts on games. The free tier launching in 2020 is limited to 1080p60 with stereo sound, and requires 10Mbps of bandwidth to stream at 720p.
Then there’s Destiny 2. As rumored, Bungie’s Destiny 2 is coming to Stadia, and it’s the streaming service’s flagship title in many ways. It’s the only game guaranteed to let you pick up where you left off on PS4, Xbox, or PC thanks to new cross-save functionality and the only one that’s confirmed to include DLC, with the Stadia version bundling every single add-on including the brand-new Shadowkeep expansion.
Maybe as importantly, Destiny 2 is the only game that comes free with the Stadia Founder’s Edition (technically Destiny 2 is part of the included Stadia Pro subscription) and the only game Google’s confirmed you won’t need to buy separately. Though like any other free-with-Stadia Pro title, it’s only available so long as you keep paying that $10 monthly subscription fee.
Founder’s Edition vs. Premiere Edition: what’s the difference?
If you missed your chance to get in on Stadia’s ground floor with the Founder’s Edition, you don’t have to worry. As we said, Google expects to ship out many, if not all, of the pre-orders for both the Founder’s Edition and the Premiere Edition by the the end of November. So if you’re interested in getting your hands on Stadia as soon as possible, you can put down $130 for the Premiere Edition right now.
As for what you missed out on by not pre-ordering early for the Founder’s Edition, the answer is: not too much. Yes, Founder’s owners will likely get access to Stadia before Premiere owners. But Google isn’t even promising that all Founder’s Edition players will be gaining access to Stadia on launch day.
You have to wait for the package, which contains a Chromecast Ultra required to run Stadia on a TV and the Stadia controller, to physically arrive before you can start playing. Google does say it expects to ship all pre-orders within two weeks of launch.
Other Founder’s perks that you don’t get with Premiere: the ability to secure an early Stadia handle, a buddy pass so you can gift three months of access to a friend, and a Founder’s badge next to your account name. There was also an exclusive dark blue version of the Stadia controller that isn’t sold separately.
Note: Google says Stadia won’t be available in Hawaii or Guam at launch.
Of course, you won’t need to drop the initial $130 or $10 a month on either Stadia “edition” if you’re willing to wait until 2020, and you don’t necessarily need to buy into Google-branded hardware at all if you’re willing to wait. It’s coming to more Android phones, and when I ask if we can expect the service to eventually hit Apple TVs, Rokus, maybe even iOS devices, Doronichev says the goal is to go as broad as possible.
“We want to be everywhere.” He says there’s no particular spec another Android phone would need to support Stadia, merely certification to ensure it’s a good experience. (You won’t need to re-pair the Stadia controller over and over to each supported device, by the way — it’s a Wi-Fi device that communicates directly with Stadia’s servers so you can swap platforms easily.)
Note that “everywhere” doesn’t necessarily include playing games on the go over a cellular connection quite yet though, merely Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet to start. “You should not expect your existing cellular connection to work,” says Doronichev, adding that the company’s bullish on 5G’s potential to change that.
What’s the deal with the Stadia controller?
Google is leaning heavily on its own custom Stadia controller when the service launches later this month — and for good reason. While you can plug other HID controllers into laptops, tablets and phones, the Stadia Controller will be the only way to play wirelessly on a TV as if you were using a game console. Over time, Google says Stadia should support other gamepads for wireless play. At launch you should also be able to use a third-party gamepad — like a Sony DualShock 4 or Xbox One controller — on a Mac, Chromebook, or PC so long as you plug in the controller directly.
But there are a few caveats with the Stadia Controller that are worth mentioning. For one, Google says only the Chromecast version of Stadia will support wireless play. While the company has advertised a seamless experience switching between big screen play and playing on a phone, tablet, or laptop thanks to the Stadia controller syncing to your account over Wi-Fi, it won’t work like that at launch. Google says it’s focusing on wireless play for the console-style TV experience, and all other screens will require you plug the controller in via USB-C. We don’t know when that seamless wireless sync feature will work in full.
Additionally, the Stadia controller won’t support Bluetooth audio at launch, either. That means you can’t use wireless headsets if you’re gaming on a TV with the Chromecast Ultra. You’ll meed to plug headphones or a headset into the controller’s 3.5mm jack. If you’re playing on a phone, tablet, or laptop, you should be able to use those respective devices’ Bluetooth chips to circumvent the wireless audio issue.
Other features not making it on launch
Google also says not all of Stadia’s lofty vision from its March announcement at GDC — see our video below — will necessarily make it by launch. While that nifty feature that lets you click through a YouTube video ad for a game and instantly start playing should be available, and Ghost Recon will offer split-screen multiplayer with friends, it’s not clear that YouTubers will be able to simultaneously play and livestream a game to YouTube quite yet, nor invite their fans to join in (perhaps for good reason, considering YouTube’s challenges right now).
Over time, Buser says we should not only see additional exclusive games on Stadia, but also cross-platform games doing things on Stadia “that would be impossible to do on a console or PC.” Instead of dividing up virtual worlds into tiny “shards” where only 100 or 150 players can occupy the same space at a time because of the limitations of individual servers, he says Google’s internal network can support living, breathing virtual worlds filled with thousands of simultaneous players.
It’s not clear how the economics support throwing additional cloud compute power at a game, though, if people are paying the same $60 to buy a game that they do today. Since Stadia’s servers are powerful enough to actually let you play games, they likely cost more to maintain than the ones digital distribution platforms like Steam, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo use to let you merely download files over the internet. (Buser wouldn’t say.)
But Google may feel a need to aggressively compete to be a leader in cloud gaming, since the competition looks like it may be fierce.
Who else is getting into cloud gaming?
Google may have fired a shot across the bow at the game industry when it announced Stadia back on March without pricing or a release date, but the competition appears to have taken the earnest display from the search giant as a reason to start accelerating their cloud gaming efforts.
Microsoft’s Xbox chief Phil Spencer, in an internal note to employees, promised the company would “go big” at E3. Although it didn’t exactly make huge waves with its xCloud demo, Spencer did take time out of the company’s E3 press conference to talk about cloud gaming and what it could mean in the future. Microsoft has since launched a limited version of xCloud on mobile as a beta program in the US, UK, and Korea. It works pretty well.
And since Stadia’s announcement, Sony has said that it will take its own PlayStation Now service “to the next level later this year.” There’s evidence that Amazon may have its own cloud gaming service, and we exclusively revealed in January that Verizon was testing one too. Valve is hinting that it may get into the game in some way with a cloud gaming service built atop Steam. And EA’s Project Atlas cloud gaming service has finally exited the prototype stage and is now being publicly tested. Nvidia has been operating its GeForce Now cloud gaming service in private beta for years, and now its finally bringing the product to Android devices, too.
We don’t know if Stadia is any good yet, or whether Google’s early entrance to the market means it will win what’s shaping up to be a full-fledged cloud gaming war. We hope to find out more in the coming weeks when we get full Stadia access ourselves.
Update, October 15th: Added Stadia’s official November 19th release date and updated the list of confirmed games.
Update, November 8th: Added additional information about Stadia.