Google’s presence at the video game industry’s largest annual convention can be felt everywhere. The company doesn’t have a physical presence at E3 here in Los Angeles, not in the way large game publishers like Microsoft, EA, and Nintendo do. But its all-new cloud gaming platform Stadia is top of mind for attendees and companies alike, and it’s even finding its way into big news announcements. Yesterday, Ubisoft announced its new UPlay Plus subscription service would come to Stadia and, later on in the day, Square Enix announced its new Avengers game would come to the cloud gaming platform, too.
Most prominently, however, Stadia is the tech industry’s counter to Microsoft’s xCloud, which at the moment remains far behind Google’s offering when it comes to launching a consumer product. While xCloud is starting public tests in October, Stadia is slated to launch just a month later. We know the pricing (it’s a bit complex) and we know the game lineup (it’s pretty solid), but we don’t know how well it works beyond the brief Project Stream test featuring Assassin’s Creed Odyssey last year.
The Verge got to try the latest version of Stadia at E3 at the YouTube Gaming space in downtown Los Angeles, and my experience was a telling one. It only lasted roughly 40 minutes, but I was able to play Id Software’s upcoming Doom Eternal shooter through a Chrome browser window on a Pixelbook hardwired into Ethernet and plugged into a Samsung television. At 1080p and 60 fps, Doom Eternal worked pretty much flawlessly, and I played it using Google’s custom Stadia controller that comes bundled with its Founder’s Edition for $130 (with a Chromecast Ultra and three months of service) or sold separately for $69.
For me, the experience was quite impressive. I could not detect any noticeable input lag, and there was no discernible on-screen effects indicating the visuals were being streamed from a cloud server to the Pixelbook, and then from the Pixelbook to the Samsung TV. Granted, I wasn’t playing an online game, so there’s no telling what types of latency issues you might run into there. But had you not told me I was playing a Doom Eternal streamed over the internet, I wouldn’t have been able to tell.
Now, there were a couple issues I encountered. At one point, my Stadia stream stopped receiving inputs from the Stadia controller, leaving my unfortunate Doom Eternal character squashed up against a wall while I got pounded on by angry demons. Instead of rebooting the stream, we just waited for my character to die, unplugged the controller, and re-synced it. I was good to go again in about two to three minutes.
At another point about 25 minutes into the demo, the stream did crash. There was no telling what the culprit was; Google says the platform is about six months out from launch, so it’s reasonable to expect some issues while it irons out these kinks. That said, we were up and running again in less a minute after simply reloading the Chrome browser window and resuming full-screen mode. I only lost progress after my most recent checkpoint, but a crash like that could be much more annoying for online games like Bungie’s Destiny 2, which right now is the only title confirmed to come bundled with Stadia’s $10 per month Pro subscription.
Those speed bumps aside, my Stadia experience felt no different than using an at-home console, and that’s the point. Google wants this to feel flawless and — thanks to the raw horsepower of its cloud servers — even faster than local console or PC gaming. For Doom Eternal, the loading times were speedy, and being able to reboot the game from a crash as quickly as we did is strong evidence of the sizable jump in processing power you can access with a cloud service like this.
I can see a point at which Stadia really is delivering a next-gen experience through devices as varied as Chromebooks and Mac laptops to Pixel phones and Chromecast-equipped TVs. We’re not there yet, of course. Stadia has its bugs as I experienced firsthand, and there’s no telling whether Google’s proposed business model of a free platform with subscriptions built on top of it will take off. Most gamers may still want to buy full titles outright, and Stadia will likely be one of the last places most existing Xbox, PS4, or PC fans will want to do that, so long as the selection remains limited and the player populations of big online games remain tiny.
But from a technical perspective, Stadia feels like its approaching prime time. That’s good news for anyone excited about the future cloud gaming holds.