Common misconceptions about Google Stadia (and cloud gaming in general)

22 October 2020

I'm sure you are no stranger to the internet and how it works: Negativity generates clicks.

Stadia is currently having a big problem, which has almost nothing to do with the service itself.

There are numerous misconceptions and, frankly, lies, that are floating around, getting shared and propelled throughout the gaming communities and even mainstream media.

With this post I want to try and clear up some of those misconceptions regarding Google Stadia. Some of this will also apply to Amazon's Luna, nVidia's GeForce Now and Microsoft's Project xCloud. (But not to you, PlayStation Now, you suck.)

Please note: It's okay to not like cloud gaming. It's not for everyone. If you have the best gaming PC money can buy and play competitive shooters for a living, than you will not be satisfied with cloud gaming replacing your PC. Or maybe you live in a place where internet is unstable and/or way too slow. Cloud gaming won't make sense to you, either. But there are plenty of people who like it. It has its place. And it works great.

Misconception #1: Stadia is a subscription service where you have to pay monthly and, on top of that, pay for each game.

This is wrong. But I understand where this comes from. When we hear "streaming service" we nowadays naturally assume that we have to pay a monthly fee which then grants us access to the entire library. So the fact that Stadia offers a subscription and lists a price for every title, can be confusing to newcomers. So let me clear things up for you:

Stadia, as a service, is completely free.

But you need games to play on it and for that you have several options:

  • You can buy any game once and then play it in 1080p, without paying for any subscription. This is comparable to buying a game digitally on Steam or other gaming storefronts.
  • You can subscribe to Stadia PRO, which enables 4K streaming and let's you claim several free games each month, which will then be added permanently to your library as a PRO game you can play for however long you keep your subscription running. You will lose access to these games when your subscription runs out and you will regain access when you resubscribe. Or you can just buy them.

Multiplayer components and YouTube/Twitch integrations do not require Stadia PRO.

Misconception #2: Stadia is unplayable due to high latency and input lag.

This is also wrong. Unlike other cloud gaming services, Stadia is built as a streaming service from the ground up by top engineers from Google and has incredibly low latency.

In fact: Stadias input lag is generally comparable to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and is even lower in some cases (for example RDR2, The Division 2), but it usually does not quite reach PC levels. So if you're okay with playing on console, you'll most likely be okay with playing on Stadia.

Heck, most people don't even know what a "game mode" is, let alone how to turn it on! If they are fine with 100ms input lag added by their TV alone, they won't notice a 50ms increase when compared to a proper gaming PC and they certainly won't notice a ~50ms decrease when compared to a game console.

I haven't tried any other cloud gaming services, but I'm sure they're in the same ballpark as Stadia when it comes to latency. Except, of course, PlayStation Now.

Misconception #3: Stadia has bad image quality due to compression.

Stadia's image quality is usually a bit worse than the same resolution on local hardware. That said, times, where games outputted a fixed and native resolution, are long gone anyways. Most modern games use dynamic resolution scaling (DRS) and make use of several upscaling techniques even on local hardware (nVidia's DLSS and checkerboard rendering for example). It's a balancing act of performance and image fidelity and Stadia's compression is not much different in the end.

If you sit right in front of a big, high resolution screen, you will notice the compression in some scenes, especially when opening menus or in dark and misty levels with low contrast, but it'll clean right up after a few milliseconds and in actual gameplay it's perfectly fine most of the time.

Again: If you're okay with playing on console (in this case more like the base consoles of the current gen, so Xbox One S and PS 4) then you will be okay with playing on Stadia.

Here is one example: DOOM Eternal runs at 1800p on Stadia PRO compared to 900p on Xbox One S. It's quadruple the amount of pixels. Do you prefer a somewhat cleaner image or more details? This may very well be a question of taste.

Here is my personal opinion on that matter: When playing on the TV or on mobile, I'm hard pressed to notice any compression artifacts in actual gameplay. The TV is far enough away and my phone is too small to notice any artifacts.

But I don't like how Stadia (non PRO) looks on my PC with a 1080p stream naively upscaled to fit my 4K monitor. The compression is not a problem, as it looks just fine on a 1080p screen, but Chrome just doesn't do a great job at upscaling the image.

So I treat Stadia just like I would a console in my living room and it looks and feels great.

I'm pretty sure that this also applies to other game streaming services. Just don't expect anything from PlayStation Now.

Misconception #4: Stadia requires killer internet to work properly

This is not the case, at all. You can enjoy Stadia on internet speeds as low as 10Mbps. You can even play it on mobile data.

What you do need, however, is a stable internet connection. That means: Ethernet or a good 5GHz WiFi connection is required. 2.4GHz WiFi, powerlines and other solutions, will hiccup in most households, as there is too much interference.

Oh, and make sure that you have no data caps. Stadia will chew right threw it in no time.

If you want to go the extra mile, you can even make use of the QoS (Quality of Service) feature in your router, to prioritize Stadia traffic. This is useful if you share your internet connection with other people.

I personally use a 5GHz connection with a 50Mbps connection and I have yet to experience any issues. Games run flawlessly, even with my wife streaming Netflix in another room.

And again: I'm pretty sure that even this also applies to other game streaming services.

Misconception #5: Google will kill Stadia in no time. Why bother?

Maybe you're right. I choose not to think so. Stadia has been in active development since 2013.

Google has invested a lot of time and money into Stadio and I hope they will support it for years to come. At least they keep saying they will, but, let's be honest, they always do. It's marketing.

However, cloud gaming is booming right now, with Microsoft, Amazon and nVidia actively working on their respective services. I'm sure Google won't let them have it all.