When I wrote a heartbroken piece mourning how much I disliked Cyberpunk 2077, a lot of feedback that I got centered on one detail: That I had played a game of this magnitude on a Google Stadia.
Since its debut, the Stadia hasn’t exactly gotten glowing reviews. But I didn’t really have a choice. The only other console I own is a Nintendo Switch. For days, I scrambled trying to find another console to play it on, but everyone I knew who had a console capable of playing Cyberpunk understandably wanted to keep it for themselves. To play, I had to pick up a dusty Stadia review unit and Chromecast Ultra from my colleague, Jess Grey.
Once I had it, I just kept playing on it. After I gave up on Cyberpunk (it’s OK to give up!), I started playing AC Valhalla. Then a friend messaged me to start playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Then Red Dead Redemption 2. For four months, I’ve played almost every night on a Stadia. You know what? The Stadia is fine. It’s fine even if you don’t play it for work! It’s the perfect console for a player like me, who loves games but … isn’t very good. Admit it. I bet there are more of us than you’d think.
Mercenary for Hire
When it launched, Stadia was pitched as a way to make high-resolution gaming a much more accessible hobby. While other companies offer cloud gaming—or online streaming gaming to a variety of devices—as a mere add-on, Stadia is entirely on the cloud. You can play games on a device you already own, or with a relatively affordable $69 controller.
Still, it’s not precisely true that you don’t have to have money to play on a Stadia. If you’re streaming games, paying for incredibly fast internet and a lot of bandwidth undoubtedly helps. Not only do I live in an area where fiber-optic internet is available—not very many people do!—I already pay for it.
I also have a TCL Series 5, which is a pretty great-looking smart TV. It has a built-in Roku with a dedicated gaming mode to reduce input lag. I’ve been playing first-person shooters (or lasso-ers, technically, in Red Dead) and multiplayer games for a few months. It doesn’t look bad! As far as I can tell, I’ve had very few issues with lag.
What person has high-speed internet and a decent TV, wants to play video games, and doesn’t already own an Xbox, PlayStation, or gaming PC? Surprise! It’s me!
As Nintendo discovered with the booming success of the Switch, there’s a lot of us hobbyists, for lack of a better term, who still want to play big games but don’t have the time or space to invest in a really nice gaming setup. I wouldn’t buy a carbon-fiber racing bike for going to the grocery store, and I don’t really need a super-fast PC for falling off cliffs.
A colleague—who shall remain nameless, mainly because this discussion was in the context of “Why won’t you play with me on Stadia?”—asked me why, if the Stadia is an entry-level console, all the games are so … gamer-y.
Stadia has been adding titles slowly, but it’s a weird assortment, with very few of the “starter” games that I often see recommended for the Switch, like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing. That makes sense to me, because as I see it, the purpose of a Stadia is to play games that you would otherwise need expensive hardware to play.
Look, I know that big, fast, immersive games would look better on almost any other console, even older ones. It just … doesn’t matter that much to me. My internal CPU—i.e. my brain—has enough trouble compiling all these looking-aiming-shooting sequences. I don’t currently have the ability to appreciate all the richness and detail of what I know I’m missing.