For a few months after its launch, it didn’t look like Google’s Stadia project was going to be the success that the giant technology company hoped it was going to be. Everyone expected teething problems with the new game streaming platform, but nobody expected there to be quite so many of them. During those early days, functionality on mobile phones was limited only to those made by Google. 4K streaming appeared to be impossible to achieve. The range of games was limited, and users all over the world reported issues with lag.
As all of this was going on, Google’s rivals were moving against the company. Apple pushed ahead with Apple Arcade, aimed at the ‘family fun’ end of the market. Nvidia appeared from seemingly nowhere with a cloud-based gaming platform of its own. Sony and Microsoft confirmed the launch of the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles, and distracted the attention of the video gaming world away from Google’s fledgling product. After so much hype and so much expense, Google’s venture in video gaming appeared to be doomed to failure. What all of the critics had forgotten, however, is that this is Google we’re talking about. Money is nothing to them. So long as they still have the will to continue, they have the financial means to back the idea. Now it appears that they’re ready to push things on to the next level.
What Stadia promised when it was first announced was nothing short of a revolution. We were told that the days of needing a console to play video games were over, and that streaming was the future. Google even had a good example of this happening elsewhere thanks to the resounding success of online slots websites. Traditional casinos haven’t quite been put out of business by online slots websites, but they’ve changed the way that people engage with casino games. You no longer need to have a cabinet or a card table to play online slots or cards. Online slots websites and the games featured on them have made all of that available without leaving the house. Stadia, if it catches on and becomes popular with the masses, will make all the latest games available without the need to buy expensive hardware to play them on. Uptake and accessibility have always been the most likely barriers to success for Google and Stadia, so now the company is opening its net wider.
Until now, if you wanted to play games on Stadia through your mobile phone handset, you needed a WiFi connection to play them on. That meant either being at home or being in a place with a stable WiFi connection. That seemed to put the platform at odds with its original vision, which involved being able to play the latest and greatest video games anywhere in the world, whenever you liked. Now, the company has opened up trials to test the platform using nothing more elaborate than a standard 4G or 5G mobile data connection. This new piece of functionality has been introduced quietly but is available immediately. If Stadia users want to take part in the trial, all they need to do is open the Stadia app on any Android phone, open up your profile settings, then choose ‘Use Mobile Data’ under the interestingly-named ‘Experiments’ tab. Google is literally experimenting with its users, but in the process, it’s giving them freedoms they didn’t have a few days ago.
Although the appearance of the new feature caught people by surprise, it was generally expected that this day would eventually come. Several media outlets have speculated that cloud or stream gaming would be one of the first tangible benefits of the 5G erawhen it comes to mobile phones. For all the controversy that’s come with the erection of 5G masts and the development of 5G technology, those who support it have struggled to explain the benefits of 5G in terms that mean anything to the average end-user, beyond the idea that everything will be faster. With the ability to play high-performance video games using the (expected) 1GB per second connection speeds that 5G allows for, there’s finally a relatable example that can be used to demonstrate what 5G is capable of. Whether or not 4G speeds can support the same games – which appears to be unlikely based on the limited feedback that’s available at the time of writing – is another matter. Even at 90 megabytes per second – which is approaching the outer edge of 4G performance – there will be lag and stutter issues. That won’t – or shouldn’t – be the case when the availability of 5G is widespread.
While the temptation to switch the ‘use mobile data’ feature on might be tempting to many mobile-based Stadia users, there’s still something essential to remember before doing so. You’re likely to have a much higher cap on bandwidth for your WiFi connection than your mobile connection. Even the more generous mobile data packages tend to be capped at five gigabytes per month. Once you exceed that allowance, using cellular data can be a costly habit and one that you may not fully appreciate the cost of until your next bill arrives. If you want to play Red Dead Redemption 2 or Rise of the Tomb Raider over a mobile connection, you’ll find that it demands a lot of data. Having already paid for the games once, you could find yourself paying again several times over if you’re not mindful of the amount of data you’re using.
This expanded availability and flexibility is the latest in a number of strategies Google has employed to make Stadia easier to access in recent months. With more games available for the platform than ever before, the free tier finally open after months of promises, and now the ability to play wherever you are even if there’s no WiFi connection available, the company might now have done as much as it can possibly do to make Stadia appealing to the average gamer. If the idea is going to catch on and claim a worthwhile share of the marketplace, it’s likely that it will do so over the course of the next twelve months. We wouldn’t want to make a prediction either way about the viability of the model in the long term, but we can at least recognize that Google has done everything it can to give Stadia a fighting chance.