To say the launch of Google Stadia has had a rocky launch would be an understatement, but the cloud-gaming platform seems poised to finally deliver on an essential feature in the coming months.
Even though the technology behind the cloud-gaming platform is impressive, Stadia has lacked many promised features since its release in November 2019 and has struggled with a disappointingly small library of games. Though Google did kick off the year with some communication problems, it is starting to improve upon the platform, and Stadia VP and General Manager Phil Harrison teased when one of the most critical features for its success will arrive.
During an interview published in early February with Protocol, Harrison confirmed that Stadia Base, the free version of Google's platform, is poised to launch sometime over the "next few months" and highlighted that this feature would help the platform stand out from its competitors.
"The big strategic difference is that over the next few months you will be able to experience Stadia for free," Harrison said. "No money down, without having to put a box in your home, you can just click and play amazing games straight from our data center."
Google had previously stated that the free version of Google Stadia would arrive in 2020, but this narrows that window significantly to sometime this spring.
Stadia Base will let users stream games at 1080p and 60fps, so that would actually put it on par with current-generation hardware. Those using Stadia Base would still have to buy games and won't get access to surround sound or the monthly Stadia Pro games and discounts, but it's still a good deal that would increase the accessibility of the platform. It might even help lay the groundwork for a stronger userbase if the barrier for entry is so low.
Following Stadia's poor launch in 2019, this new framework could give the platform the renewed vigor it needs to succeed. Over 120 games (including 10 exclusives) are scheduled for release on the platform in 2020, so being able to play those games via a free version of Stadia for Chromecast, mobile, or browser would be useful. If the free variant of Stadia proves to be a success, it could help Google's platform reach its full potential. If it doesn't work, then it just might be a death sentence for Stadia, which already has a lot of naysayers.
Stadia's success relies on Google adding features that were promised but missing upon launch. In addition to the free model, here's a quick rundown of what we have gotten and are still expecting from Google Stadia:
What has been added since launch?
One of the coolest Stadia features is Stream Connect, which allows players to see their partners' screens in real-time. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint from Ubisoft is the only game to really take advantage of the feature thus far, but it's an aspect of Stadia brimming with potential that should be utilized in future exclusives.
In December, all Chromecast Ultras received Stadia functionality, which should help when the free variant releases and the controller's Google Assistant opens could be used to open games. In January, achievements were finally added, giving completionists a bit more to do with games on the platform.
What is still missing?
Sadly, a lot of promised features still aren't there almost three months out from launch. The first of these is Stadia Base, which should finally be coming over the next few months. Looking at features that Google directly promised in its January update "support for wireless gaming on the web, more Assistant functionality and additional Android phones are right around the corner." Quite a few features still don't have release windows at all.
State Share, which would allow users to provide their exact game state to others, is another cool feature that is MIA. This feature was shown during Stadia's reveal, so it's surprising that State Share is still not available. A Crowd Play feature that would allow streamers to interact with their audiences in a more intimate fashion is also still in the pipeline, and its inclusion could create more positive word-of-mouth for the platform.
Stadia is rife with potential, and finally delivering on the free version of Stadia is a necessary next step to making the platform more legitimate. Google just has to deliver the features they promised and put out more games for the system. Once the free version of Google Stadia is in everyone's hands and more of the aforementioned features are implemented, we will truly be able to see whether or not Stadia will take off or flop. Only time will tell.