Initial Stadia Reviews
The Verge's Sean Hollister, which gave Stadia a rating of 5 out of 10, calls the service "effectively a beta that Google is charging real money for." Hollister notes the service delivers on its promise to deliver cloud gaming (with no local installs needed) across TVs, PCs and Pixel phones (other phones are promised to be supported in time). But he also criticizes Stadia's image quality, stating that 4K streams on a TV "looked closer to 1080p" and that 1080p streams on a Chrome browser "looked more like 720p."
Hollister also took issue with missing features for games such as Activision's (ATVI) Destiny 2, observed that gameplay suffered on more congested wireless networks, pointed out Stadia's voice chat and gameplay capture features don't yet work and found several problems with the Stadia Controller that's needed (along with a Chromecast Ultra dongle) to play games on a TV.
Engadget's Jessica Conditt was a little more positive about Stadia, calling the service "fine enough for a relaxing evening." But Conditt also witnessed game lag issues, and said she wouldn't use Stadia to competitively play any of the games that she tried out.
Polygon's Chris Plante remains intrigued by Stadia's long-term potential to attract casual gamers who don't want to pay for expensive hardware. But he also said that Stadia's game slowdown and stuttering issues "can be brutal," and joined others in noting that key social and multiplayer features remain absent for now.
Aside from various gameplay issues, many reviewers also understandably took issue with Stadia's pricing. For now, one can only get Stadia by paying $129 for a "Premiere Edition" bundle that features a Chromecast Ultra, Stadia Controller and three-month subscription to the Stadia Pro service, which supports 4K gaming and costs $10 per month after those three months are up. Users also have to separately pay for the 22 games currently supported by Stadia; they cost between $20 and $60. Also, for now, 4K gaming is only supported on TVs.
As Hollister mentions, at some point next year Google will expand Stadia's game lineup to up to 44 titles, as well as support 4K PC gaming and launch a Stadia Basic service that (outside of the cost of game purchases) will provide free 1080p gaming. But even then, between the cost of Stadia Pro, possible gameplay issues and the potential for Stadia gameplay to quickly eat into a monthly broadband cap, those wanting to do 4K gaming could be better-served by a traditional digital game download.And even those looking to play at 1080p might end up weighing the pros and cons of using Stadia as opposed to downloading and installing a title -- specifically, Stadia's superior convenience versus a locally-played game's reliability and lack of data consumption.
Microsoft's Cloud Gaming Strategy
In contrast to Google, Microsoft, which controls a major game console platform and also offers its subscription-based Xbox Game Pass services for downloading and playing dozens of games on Xboxes and PCs, seems to get that cloud gaming might work better as a complement to traditional console and PC gaming rather than a full-blown replacement.
Microsoft's cloud gaming service, codenamed Project xCloud, is currently in preview ahead of a commercial 2020 launch. For now, the service is only available on Android phones and tablets, with users having to rely on a paired Xbox game controller for now. However, Microsoft promises to support Windows 10 PCs and additional game controllers next year, and says that it's working with Apple (AAPL) on iOS support (no word yet on Xbox support).
And though it's still in preview, xCloud already supports 64 titles, or nearly three times what Stadia currently does. Microsoft's relationships with third-party game developers help here, as does the fact that it's a major game studio owner in its own right.
In addition to xCloud, Microsoft, which already lets users stream Xbox games to Windows PCs on the same network, is working on Xbox Game Streaming, a free solution that lets users stream games installed on their Xboxes to phones and tablets (only Android devices are supported for now). And it's also of course prepping a powerful next-gen Xbox (codenamed Project Scarlett) that's expected by the 2020 holiday season.
In a nutshell, whereas Google is betting on cloud gaming and cloud gaming alone, Microsoft, which has about two decades of console gaming experience under its belt, is taking a hard look at where -- its infrastructure costs and potential latency and reliability issues aside -- cloud gaming can deliver new and/or better gaming experiences, and where it won't.
As a result, Microsoft is showing a strong interest in supporting cloud gaming on phones and tablets, which typically lack the local processing power to otherwise play console-class games. And it's also interested in letting users avoid having to pay for a cloud gaming service by letting them stream games to phones and tablets from their Xboxes, though the effectiveness of such a service depends on having a home internet connection with strong uplink speeds.
And all the while, Microsoft, aware that traditional game downloads and installs might still work best for many users both in terms of cost and the quality of the user experience, continues investing in new consoles and download-based game subscription services.
Satya Nadella's company is taking a much more nuanced and multifaceted strategy than Google when it comes to delivering new gaming experiences. And when combined with the competitive advantages provided by having long-standing game developer relationships and a giant Xbox installed base to promote new gaming experiences to, this strategy is likely to be more successful.