Google Stadia free tier, newest games and everything else you need to know
Check out the cloud-streaming service at no cost.
Lori GruninSenior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
ExpertisePhotography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
As with those services, Stadia games run on powerful data center servers, which makes it possible to render and stream demanding games to lightweight hardware like
. Sometimes using a custom Stadia controller, sometimes not. Google also provides a platform and tools for developers to create Stadia-optimized versions of their games; your subscription fees go for extra features, such as 4K and freebies.
If you think Stadia sounds confusing, you're not alone. Fortunately, we can help cut through the hype and explain its promised, but still missing, features.
Watch this: Google Stadia: Everything you need to know about the streaming game revolution
When Google initially announced Stadia at GDC 2019, it hyped a lot of its grand ambitions, such as Crowd Play and State Share. But while those all may eventually come to fruition, at the moment it's quite a pared-down version of the company's vision. That's common with the incremental rollouts of these services.
For instance, Stadia only works over Wi-Fi now; network connection speed and quality are so important for a decent cloud gaming experience that all the companies that offer the option to play non-native mobile games over cellular networks are being very cautious. Hence the excitement around 5G. And Google is a latecomer to cloud gaming, so it's still at the working-out-the-basic-kinks stage while others have leveled up on to refining the experience. That partially offsets the advantage of its extensive network of data centers.
How much does it cost?
Stadia is now free for anyone with a Gmail account. Google opened up the service to everyone on April 8, and those who sign up will receive two free months of Stadia Pro, which comes with nine free games in April including GRID, Destiny 2: The Collection, and Thumper.
At launch the company offered -- and has since discontinued -- a Founder's Edition, which included a limited-edition blue controller, a
streaming device, three months of Stadia Pro, Bungie's full Destiny 2 experience, first dibs on a username and a buddy pass that gave a friend three months to try Stadia Pro.
That has since evolved into the $129 (£119) Premiere Edition, which comes with a white Stadia controller, Chromecast Ultra and three months of the Pro subscription. In mid-January 2020, Verizon announced it would be bundling Stadia Premiere Edition with new subscriptions to its top-end Fios Gigabit broadband plan beginning Jan. 29.
Stadia subscription tiers
$9.99 (£8.99) a month
Started April 8
Now (only with Premiere Edition bundle)
Up to 1080/60fps, stereo sound
Hardware permitting, up to 4K/60p HDR and 5.1 surround
Periodic limited-window offers
Limited time discount offers, percent varies
Stadia is available in North America (plus Puerto Rico and Alaska, but not Hawaii or Guam) and selected countries in Western Europe and Scandinavia, including the UK.
How do I buy games?
The Stadia game store lists the current titles available for the service. Game prices are typically the publisher prices and sold only through Google. Pro subscribers get access to occasional deals for games that happen periodically.
If you return the entire Premiere hardware bundle for a refund within the 15-day window, you lose the Stadia Pro three-month trial and the aforementioned freebies. Game purchases can be refunded within two weeks and less than two hours of gameplay.
The flip side of this, though, is what happens if a game publisher "cancels." We've all seen content disappear from IP-heavy subscription plans like Netflix and Amazon Prime (I still haven't gotten over Doctor Who disappearing at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve), and some games have been known to drift in and out of subscription services. Google intends to keep games available to play if you've spent money on them, but that's a little too fuzzy to consider as a policy.
Since launch, Google has expanded its controller support beyond its own Stadia Controller ($69 or £59) to any HID-compliant one, which includes many Xbox Controllers and the DualShock 4. It supports TVs via the Stadia Controller (over Wi-Fi) and Chromecast Ultra; the service requires at least Android 6.0/iOS 11 or
running Chrome OS 77. You can connect controllers via USB or selectively via
, and Stadia does support keyboard and mouse play using Chrome.
Watch this: Playing Google Stadia for the first time
Stadia itself still only runs wirelessly over Wi-Fi -- no cellular connections yet, though you can always try running that way using your phone as a hotspot -- but a wired Ethernet connection is still the preferred method for all these services. Google specifies minimum bandwidth requirements for each quality level of 10 megabits per second (720p), 20Mbps (1080p) and 35Mbps (4K). As for data usage, the company says it sucks up to 4.5GB, 12.6GB or 20GB per hour for either of those resolutions, respectively. If your connection is a little erratic or drops, Google buffers the game state for a few minutes to give you an opportunity to fix it.
On Jan. 16, the Google Stadia team laid out plans for the first three months of 2020. Along with more features rolling out, the team expects 120 games to be released this year. Among the features promised to arrive next: Expanded capabilities for gaming via stadia.com, including 4K support, Google Assistant improvements and wireless gameplay with the Stadia Controller
On Thursday, April 17, Google updated the service to provide 5.1 surround sound on the web via the Chrome browser. There's also an on-screen keyboard now accessible when a gamepad is connected. Stadia app users will also see notifications about their connections when playing.
Google held its first Stadia Connect of 2020 on Tuesday showing off some of the new games coming to the service including several
franchises set for release later this year.