Google will launch its long-awaited “Netflix for games” service, Stadia, in November, the company has announced. It will be available in 14 countries including the UK, US and Ireland, but not Australia or New Zealand.
The video game streaming platform will defy expectations by offering the bulk of its catalogue for sale in a pay-once-play-forever model, rather than wrapping all its titles up in one monthly fee. It will launch with a £119 “founders’ edition” offer.
The box set, which will be the only way to play the Stadia service at launch, includes a limited-edition blue controller, a Chromecast Ultra streaming stick, a full copy of the complete Destiny 2 (including the just-announced Shadowkeep expansion, due this autumn), and three months of the “Stadia Pro” service.
“That’s a shade under $300 [£236] worth of value,” said Phil Harrison, the head of Google’s Stadia team. “We wanted to really celebrate our initial gamers who are coming to join us on Stadia with something special, something that they can’t get anywhere else, and also gives them the bragging rights of being one of the first gamers on the platform. They will forever have a badge on their platform that says that they were a founder.”
Stadia Pro, which will launch at £8.99 a month, is Google’s equivalent of Playstation Plus and Xbox. Rather than allowing access to online gaming, however, it ups the quality of streamed games (from 1080p and stereo sound to 4KHDR and surround sound), as well as allowing access to a selection of games – but not the entire library. Founders’ edition purchasers will also receive a voucher to give a friend three free months of the service.
The basic level of Stadia, known as Base, will by contrast be subscription-free, but will not be available until 2020. “We really want to cater for both ways of playing, and both ways of getting access to content,” Harrison added.
On launch, Stadia will have a line-up of games from more than 20 publishers, including Bethesda with its Doom sequel Doom Eternal, Square Enix with Final Fantasy XV and Deep Silver with Metro Exodus, as well as EA, Rockstar and Capcom with games yet to be confirmed. Also debuting on the console will be RPG sequel Baldurs’ Gate III, the existence of which was revealed for the first time at the Stadia launch.
Stadia is the latest attempt to make video game streaming take off, after attempts from smaller companies including OnLive and Shadow, as well as limited forays into the sector from Sony and Nintendo. Google hopes to succeed where those attempts have failed, both by applying its technical expertise to solve problems that have plagued previous attempts, and by using its sheer size to offer content and features not available elsewhere.
The underlying technology sees games running in Google’s datacentres, and then streamed directly to users’ houses through the same basic infrastructure as YouTube. Harrison says that the highest-quality content, running at full 4K resolution, will require a connection of 35mbps or higher, but that 1080p streams will be accessible to users with a 10mbps broadband connection.
The YouTube link is also crucial to Stadia’s unique features, such as the ability to dive straight into a multiplayer game from a live YouTube video, joining the same session that you were just watching being streamed. Owners will also be able to experience local multiplayer play for games that have previously required two consoles or two PCs.