There’s a lot we still don’t know about Google’s forthcoming streaming game service Stadia, and we won’t know some of it until it’s available in the wild. But in a controlled demo of Stadia at E3, I was treated to a solid experience, as well as some fresh information about how the company plans to deliver Stadia to people with bad internet. And even better, I played the latest and greatest Doom right on a Pixelbook. No weird hacks. No fussy apps. Just me and a whole bunch of monsters on Mars.
So first, how does Google plan to get Stadia to people with crummy internet? By continuing to reduce the bandwidth requirements. Right now, according to a Google rep, you’ll need between 10 Mbps and 35 Mbps for a stable 1080p experience. Though it probably depends on the game. Doom will require a lot higher bandwidth than, say, a strategy game like Baldur’s Gate 3.
So it was a good game to try out for seeing what Stadia can do in ideal conditions. The Stadia demonstration set up was a little more complex than the Microsoft xCloud demo I tried earlier this week. Instead of a new Samsung phone attached to an ethernet cable and an Xbox controller, I was using the Stadia controller connected to a Pixelbook which was connected to ethernet and to a 4K set via HDMI. Unplugging the HDMI cable immediately kicked Stadia back over to the Chromebook, but I played primarily on the TV, where the additional lag of a Chromebook powering a 4K display could have made playing Doom unpleasant.
And while I suck at playing Doom, the stream itself didn’t suck. It was as smooth as playing on a traditional console. Google told me the demo had had issues due to an internet outage earlier in the day, but it was running six separate instances of Stadia quite smoothly when I stopped by. Levels even seemed to load faster than in my typical experience with Doom.
When we accidentally pulled the ethernet cord and severed the connection, it returned quickly, the game stuck in the same place I’d been before we disconnected it. Google tells me that Stadia will save an instance for approximately 10 to 15 minutes if you’re disconnected. It won’t auto-pause, so you may log back into a dead guy, but if you’re in cover or playing a less violent game, you won’t lose any progress and should log back in as if nothing happened.
Handling the Stadia controller was a familiar experience if you’ve used an Xbox controller. It did feel a little different – sort of like when you’re doing multiplayer, and your friend hands you her one third party controller. The buttons had a pleasant feel, and I never found myself having to look down to remember which button was which.
But the best part was that this all happened on a Chromebook! Yes, the Pixelbook is one of the priciest Chrome OS devices available, but Google assures me Stadia will work on most Chrome browsers – including on chromebooks with less powerful processors.
Am I sold on Stadia? Not by a long shot. The demonstration today only illustrated what was possible in the best of conditions. The product I played did not appear to be the final launch product, given the ugly UI that present when we disconnected the Ethernet and HDMI cables. But if the final product works as smoothly as this controlled demo, then Stadia could be mighty appealing.