Streaming high-quality video to your laptop or television has been a given for more than a decade now. Streaming high-quality games the same way? Not so much. Yet, after numerous stalled efforts throughout the '00s, cloud gaming is poised for its highest-profile deployment yet, with Microsoft, Tencent, Electronic Arts, and others all working on their own platforms.
Out of that increasingly crowded field, it seems all but certain that Google's forthcoming Stadia service will be the first to emerge. In a digital keynote this morning, Google's Phil Harrison and John Justice announced a slew of new details, from launch titles to pricing to (not-quite-exact) timing. The short version: Stadia will officially arrive in November. The slightly longer version: … if you're willing to buy in now.
Here's how it'll work. A $130 bundle called the Stadia Founder's Edition, which is now available for preorder, will be the only way to access Stadia until the service goes wider sometime next year. (Asked for clarification, a Google spokesperson would only say "expect to see it in 2020.") The core of that bundle comprises a Wi-Fi-enabled Stadia controller, which delivers the game data from Google's servers, and a Chromecast Ultra to stream the game to your television; while Stadia will ultimately work with Chrome browsers on computers or Pixel 3/3a phones, and in fact announced those capabilities at being available "at launch," the Chromecast-TV version will be the only option until the service expands.
As for the games, Google plans to have 31 titles from 21 different publishers available in the service's launch window, a period that Stadia director of games Jack Buser says includes a period of "a few months" thereafter. Those titles consist largely of already-released games, though a few new ones appear as well, among them Larian Studio's Baldur's Gate 3. (The full list appears below.) Two of them, Tequila Works' surreal adventure game Gylt and Coatsink's co-op top-down action-puzzler Get Packed, will be exclusive to Stadia, though there's nothing confirmed yet coming from Stadia Games and Entertainment, the first-party studio headed up by games veteran Jade Raymond.
The Founder's Edition will also include three other elements. The first is three months of Stadia Pro, the service's premium tier. Pro, which will cost $9.99 per month, grants subscribers the highest-quality stream Stadia offers: 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, as well as HDR and surround-sound capability. (Google recommends a 35 megabits-per-second download connection to deliver that 4K, though the company also says that 10 mbps will ensure "at least" 720p resolution.)
Like traditional console service subscriptions Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus, Stadia Pro will also include discounts on selected titles and some free games; the first of those, as part of the Founder's Edition, is Destiny 2—the core game and all of its add-ons, including forthcoming expansion Shadowkeep, first announced in today's keynote. Buser says that Stadia is working with Bungie to ensure Destiny players will be able to transfer their Guardian character from other platforms, currently PC and Xbox.
If you want to pay for the games but not the service, a free lower tier, Stadia Base, will be available next year; Base users' streams will be capped at 1080p resolution with stereo sound (still 60 frames per second). And while the free games of a Stadia Pro membership will remain free only as long as your subscription is active, any games purchased through Stadia are permanently yours. According to Stadia head of product Andrey Doronichev, the sharing quality—the resolution of the clips you can stream or upload to YouTube—will not differ between Pro and Base tiers. That quality "will not be limited by your own network conditions," he says. "Even if it becomes congested where you are and we have to adapt streaming to you, your stream to YouTube will not suffer because of that."
Since Stadia access will be restricted to Founder's Edition purchasers for the immediate future, each Founder's Edition will include a companion three-month Stadia Pro subscription you can give to a friend. You'll need to pick up an additional controller for that friend, of course; those will be available in three colors (white, black, and a pale green called "wasabi") for $70 a pop, though the included controller will be a limited-edition "midnight blue."
Finally, the Founder's Edition grants what Google calls "first dibs" on your username on the service. This, more than anything, seems to be the haziest part of the process. What if 50 opportunistic people try to nab the name "Ninja," or that of any other established streamer? Asked about a verification process for "known" usernames, Doronichev demurred, saying, "We don't have anything to announce on that." (Yes, this is a placeholder answer. In a conversation earlier this week, Doronichev and Buser seemed surprised by the question, so hopefully, the Stadia team will have a solution by the time the scenario inevitably rears its head.)
The Founder's Edition will only be available in 14 countries—US, Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland—though Stadia will roll out to more regions and nations starting next year.
Full list of games from today's announcement, sorted by publisher
-Bandai Namco: Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2
-Bethesda: DOOM 2016, DOOM Eternal, The Elder Scrolls Online, Rage 2, Wolfenstein: Youngblood
-Bungie: Destiny 2-Capcom: TBA
-Coatsink: Get Packed
-Deep Silver: Metro Exodus
-Drool: Thumper-Electronic Arts: TBA
-Giants Software: Farming Simulator 19
-Larian Studios: Baldur's Gate 3
-nWay Games: Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid-Rockstar: TBA
-Sega: Football Manager
-SNK: Samurai Shodown
-Square Enix: Final Fantasy XV, Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider
-2K: NBA 2K, Borderlands 3
-Tequila Works: Gylt
-Warner Bros.: Mortal Kombat 11
-THQ: Darksiders Genesis
-Ubisoft: Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Just Dance, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Tom Clancy's The Division 2, Trials Rising, The Crew 2