How Does Google Stadia Work?

The future of gaming certainly seems to be headed in the direction of game streaming in place of dedicated gaming hardware, whether it be consoles, or PC gaming everyone is offering a cloud gaming solution. From Xbox, Nvidia, and Intel, to Google there’s plenty of game streaming options to choose from. And now that Stadia is almost a year old, I found myself taking a new look at it, trying it out for the first time, and asking myself how exactly it works, especially given that of all the mentioned game streaming options Google seems like the largest wildcard having no game hardware experience.

First off let’s discuss Stadia’s pricing model, as out of all the services I mentioned it has the most peculiar pricing system so to speak. You have two options if you want to play on Stadia, option one is a free account where you purchase the game you want to play and start playing it right away, no downloads, no updates, no need to patch anything ever. Except maybe your stadia app on mobile. This is the most straightforward option and requires the least commitment though it also seems the pricier option with little tangible benefit. The other option is clearly the one that Google wants to steer you towards, and honestly seems to make more sense if gaming on Stadia is something you’re serious about. It’s their Stadia Pro subscription, it comes in at $10 a month, includes a collection of free games to play, as long as you’re subscribed that is, with them promising to add at least one new game a month to the free offerings. In addition they provide various discounts and incentives to buy games not included for free.

Seeing as you’re coming in to Stadia with a blank slate in terms of game collection, and no way to simply borrow a friend’s game, this is the most affordable way to get a good idea of what stadia has to offer, and if it’s right for you. The collection of games isn’t huge by any means, but with it including Destiny 2 there’s certainly enough there to keep you occupied for a while, and the $10 a month price is certainly compelling, as is the ease of use in playing between mobile, and PC. The biggest drawback is say you want to play on your TV unless you shell out for the Chromecast Ultra with their stadia controller or connect a PC directly to your TV there’s no easy way to cast your games to the TV from mobile.

Now that we’ve discussed games, let’s talk performance, I had stellar performance testing stadia at home, both on mobile and on chrome both with my macbook pro and my razer pro. I was expecting to not have any issues given that your client hardware should in theory be irrelevant to your performance as all the heavy lifting is being done remotely, and even if that wasn’t the case the hardware I tested it on was certainly more than capable. Additionally the most important factor is your internet connection. Google states you need a minimum 25 Mbps to effectively use Stadia. Again I wasn’t concerned in this department as I have Fios’ 1 Gbps speeds at home, and even on older devices with bad wifi don’t struggle to hit 300+ Mbps. Given all these factors I was not surprised to see how smoothly Stadia played in my testing.

The final piece to this puzzle, is the most important, and that is, where these games are actually being rendered and streamed from. See the way all these services work for the most part is fairly similar to each other, they have data centers with extremely powerful hardware that actually run the games, and use enterprise grade data connections to receive your input from the client device, and send the output including the actual rendered game back to the client. For this to be a smooth enjoyable experience everything must be firing on all cylinders correctly, as any hiccup introduces lag and latency which is especially felt and disliked during gaming. Google again unsurprisingly excelled here as they make use of their vast network of data centers for stadia, and went the extra step in working with AMD for custom gaming silicon to ensure top level performance from their servers.

All in all Stadia almost a year after it’s launch is a much more compelling product and offering than it was at launch. Most of their technical hiccups and issues have been resolved resulting in truly enjoyable and useable gameplay, and with more games being added stadia pro finally begins to make an argument that it’s not a waste of money. Unfortunately it still struggles to outdo its competitors especially Microsoft with Gamepass now including cloud streaming and offering a much larger collection of games. It makes it hard to recommend Stadia over its competitors but given more time to grow and add features I could see Stadia really making an argument for being the best game streaming service in another year or so.

Software Engineering student who loves all things soccer, tech, pop culture, and travel related.

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