Google’s game-streaming service Stadia is now free for anyone with a Google account, the company announced today. Assuming you’ve got a compatible device and controller — and good internet in one of the 14 supported countries — you can sign up right now and get the “Pro” edition with a handful of built-in games for two months.
Until today, Stadia was mainly available via a $129 “Premiere Edition,” though a free version has been long promised. In a blog post, the company explained that the intense pressures of the pandemic led them to finally open up the service.
“We’re facing some of the most challenging times in recent memory. Video games can be a valuable way to socialize with friends and family when you’re stuck at home, so we’re giving gamers in 14 countries free access to Stadia for two months,” writes Stadia VP and GM Phil Harrison.
Although the post makes no mention of a permanent free tier, a Google representative confirmed that it exists and players signing up today will be able to switch to it if they decide not to pay for Pro after two months.
Existing subscribers, who have been vocally critical of the barebones offering they paid a premium to access, will not be charged for the next two months. Also, in order to cope with what will no doubt be a flood of demand, Stadia will be defaulting everyone’s streams to 1080p, though you’ll be able to change that in your preferences. That’s interesting considering YouTube just downgraded its quality worldwide to lower overall bandwidth usage.
For now, though, it won’t do to look a gift horse in the mouth. Stadia is a solid way to play games on a PC, or TV that would normally not be able to do so — an underpowered laptop, for instance. Streaming to your phone or tablet is also an option.
On supported iOS and Android devices, you’ll need to download the app; on computers, you’ll need Chrome; and for a TV you need a Chromecast Ultra — the regular one won’t cut it.
You have to provide your own controller; a list of compatible ones is available here, and while Google’s own Stadia controller is the only one that works with Chromecast, the controllers for the other major consoles generally work for Chrome and Android phones.
As for games, well, that’s a bit confusing. You’ll be getting access to the Stadia Pro tier of membership, which gets a free game every month to keep, like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus. Right now, though, that only amounts to 9 games, though some are pretty great — Destiny 2, SteamWorld Dig 2, Metro Exodus, GRID, and a few more.
If you want to play something like Borderlands 3 or Rise of the Tomb Raider, you’ll have to buy the games on the Stadia marketplace. But the games are then only available to stream through Stadia, and if you ever left the service you would lose access to them. There are 38 games available to buy total, and yes, that number is pretty low. Google is “tracking” 120 more to arrive this year, but the lack of games has been a serious issue for existing subscribers.
So far Stadia has yet to prove itself a worthwhile investment for gamers, though for some obviously it’s a dream come true. SensorTower put downloads of the app at about 750,000, which is nothing to sniff at — but it’s far from the number of installations of popular games services like Steam.
The fact is Stadia hasn’t yet proven itself to be worth the money for everyone, but a free trial will help potential subscribers decide if the service is for them. You can sign up for your free trial via the main Stadia site here.