Google has long said that they want to offer a free tier of Google Stadia, to complement their paid subscription Staria Pro tier. This isn’t quite that, They’re still not ready to offer Stadia to players, not on the $9.99 paid tier, but as of today they are taking the next step along the road towards broader availability of the service.
Starting now, with no additional hardware purchase required, you can start playing on Stadia at zero upfront cost.
They are letting players sign up for a free trial for Stadia Pro. So for two months players can get access to the up to 4k streaming versions of games including GRID, Destiny 2: The Collection and Thumper. Once the two months trial is up, you can either terminate the trial or if you do nothing it will become a recurring payment.
Strangely enough, whilst the free tier is not ready for a widespread launch, players that sign up for this free trial will have the option to purchase outright any games available on Stadia, and whether you continue to pay for Stadia Pro or not, Google says you will still retain access to any games you have purchased. This is pretty much a de facto free tier in all but name, but I suspect the issue is that Google wants to gradually ramp up users, rather than have a large number of people sign up in one go. By creating this fairly arbitrary barrier, they are letting themselves set the pace of new users signing up, whilst avoiding lengthy waitlists. The service does not require any specific local hardware, but there is a physical back end in Google server farms around the globe, and each instance of a game being streamed to a player via streaming uses up an amount of system resources on their backend, which is a finite resource.
Supported devices are most devices that can run Google’s Chrome browser, so a Windows or Mac desktop or Laptop, Chromebooks and other ChromeOS devices. There is a list of officially supported Android phones here, and a few hacky workarounds to get it to work on other Android phones or iOS devices, but it’s not the smoothest experience.
Different games have different control requirements, you’ll probably want to get some kind of game controller, and any HID-compliant controller will suffice, which includes Xbox or Playstation controllers, or most PC gamepads.
There’s plenty of questions still hanging over Stadia. For one, the pitch is kind of muddled. They’re promising access to Google’s hugely powerful cloud-based infrastructure, with effectively limitless power, then they’re using that power to play the same games that are available on bog-standard consoles and existing PCs, except with reduced image quality and additional latency. To get really excited about Stadia, I’d want to see some kind of game experience that would not be possible on existing traditional hardware, and Google hasn’t released anything like that so far. Similarly, I think cloud gaming is a nice option, but I think it’s more compelling as an option in addition to a cloud streaming rather than as the only option. Services like Geforce Now and Microsoft’s upcoming xCloud offer support for sharing progress and access to games across a local version and with a streaming option. Stadia is streaming only, with no kind of permanent offline support whatsoever.
Certainly though, I think for many people curious about Stadia, not being able to test it on their own home internet infrastructure was a big stumbling block, since how well the service performs is going to be extremely dependent on your own internet connection. That barrier has now been lifted though, so anyone wanting to dip their toe in can do so now without having to pay upfront. Is this free trial going to be enough to pique your interest?