In fall 2018, Google made its interest in gaming known with Project Stream, a beta that let users play the high-end Assassin's Creed Odyssey from a humble Chrome tab. The following spring, it announced Stadia, a full-fat gaming platform that would leverage the company's computing and networking prowess to provide users access to games with no dedicated gaming hardware required. That service is available now, and it's getting a lot of attention — both positive and negative. So what's the deal? Here's everything you need to know.

What is Google Stadia?

Stadia is Google's cloud gaming platform. If you're not familiar with the concept, cloud gaming offloads the heavy lifting normally performed by a game console or beefy PC to servers in data centers. Your button presses are sent to those servers, which then send back video of the game. It's kind of like YouTube, but you're directly controlling what you see in real time.

Does Google Stadia perform well enough to play?

In a word, yes. I've been spending time with Stadia nearly every day since launch, and it works remarkably well on my home Wi-Fi (although coffee shop internet is generally pretty dicey). In Digital Foundry's testing, it found that while the Stadia experience isn't as responsive (or graphically rich) as that of running games locally on a high-end PC — Stadia introduced about 30 extra milliseconds of latency in the test — there's actually about 50 milliseconds less input lag on Stadia than Xbox One X under ideal circumstances.

That hasn't been the universal experience, though; plenty of users report "unplayable" input lag. There are countless factors that can influence the experience: the speed and quality of your connection, your Wi-Fi router, local interference, proximity to a Stadia data center, et cetera, et cetera. If you're unsure whether your setup will work with Stadia, Google's official speed test is a good place to start, and you can now try the service for free.

What are Stadia's connection and hardware requirements? What devices are compatible?

For connection speed, the bar for entry is surprisingly low: Google recommends a minimum speed of 10 megabits per second to play in 720p at 60 frames per second. If you want to play in 4K with surround sound, though, you'll need a download speed that consistently stays above 35 megabits per second. That highest quality setting can chew through up to 20 gigabytes of bandwidth per hour, so anyone with a data cap should probably think hard before investing.

Stadia will run in the Chrome browser on practically any computer: Windows, Mac, Chromebook, whatever. Until recently, if you wanted to play handheld, you needed a recent Pixel phone, but official support for additional devices from Samsung, Razer, and Asus was added in February. Although you can use your phone's hotspot to power a Stadia session on another device, you can't play using mobile data on the phone itself, regardless of the strength of your connection — on mobile, it's Wi-Fi only.

Basically any modern controller works on mobile or desktop, and game UI will update to show the correct buttons when using certain gamepads like the DualShock 4 and Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. You can also use your mouse and keyboard to play on your computer. If you're playing on your TV using a Chromecast Ultra, though, you have to use the first-party Stadia controller.

How good is Stadia's graphics quality?

Games can run at up to 4K and 60 frames per second, but not all of them do; notably, Destiny 2 runs at 1080p with graphical fidelity roughly equal to medium PC settings. Red Dead Redemption 2 runs at 1440p and in 30 frames per second. Both are upscaled to 4K — meaning that although those games do looks marginally better than their resolutions suggest, they're not available in "true" 4K. In general, output isn't as high quality as it would be from a top-tier gaming PC — and considering Google's Phil Harrison claimed in a tweet in October that "all games at launch support 4K," that's not great. In a statement to Eurogamer, Google said the tools for 4K are there, but it's on developers to implement them. It also said performance should improve over time: "We expect that many developers can, and in most cases will, continue to improve their games on Stadia."

How much does Google Stadia cost?

Right now, it's completely free to play on your PC or phone, and includes access to a handful of games. Additional games are available for purchase. Once the current open trial period ends, there will be two subscription tiers: a model with no monthly fee where you pay full price for games that you can play on any supported device in 1080p, and Stadia Pro, which costs $10 a month and includes perks like 4K streaming, game discounts, 5.1 surround sound, and access to a rotating selection of free games.

If you want to play on a TV, you'll need both a controller and a Chromecast Ultra. Google sells a bundle that includes the Stadia controller, a Chromecast Ultra, and three months of access to Stadia Pro — both for you and for a friend. The kit costs $129. You can grab additional controllers for $69 apiece.

Free games included with Stadia Pro

Stadia offers a selection of games for free to Pro subscribers. These games change on a monthly basis, though once you've "claimed" a free game, it's yours for as long as you're a Stadia Pro subscriber. If your Pro subscription lapses, you'll lose access, but you'll get claimed titles back once you re-up. Google seems to remove the ability to claim titles on an irregular schedule; some games are available to be claimed for only a month at a time, while others like Destiny 2 and Farming Simulator have had multi-month stints.

  • Destiny 2: The Collection
    • Added November 2019
  • Farming Simulator 19: Platinum Edition
    • Added December 2019, removed March 2020
  • Grid
    • Added March 2020
  • Gylt
    • Added February 2020
  • Metro Exodus
    • Added February 2020, removed April 2020
  • PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (Pioneer Edition)
    • Added April 28, 2020
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration
    • Added January 2020, removed February 2020
  • Samurai Shodown
    • Added November 2019, removed February 2020
  • Serious Sam Collection
    • Added April 2020
  • Spitlings
    • Added April 2020
  • Stacks on Stacks (on Stacks)
    • Added April 2020
  • SteamWorld Dig 2
    • Added March 2020
  • SteamWorld Heist
    • Added May 2020
  • SteamWorld Quest
    • Added March 2020
  • Thumper
    • Added January 2020, to be removed May 2020
  • The Turing Test
    • Added May 2020
  • Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
    • Added December 2019, removed January 2020
  • Zombie Army 4: Dead War
    • Added May 2020

Where do I buy Google Stadia?

Assuming you have an internet-connected computer, you can go to stadia.com for a free trial — no buying required. If you like it, you can either keep your Pro membership that costs $10 a month after the trial or cancel and pay in full for games individually as you see fit.

To play on your TV, you'll need both a first-party Stadia controller and a Chromecast Ultra, and as of now, you can only snag Stadia hardware directly from Google. It seems likely that you'll eventually be able to pick up kits and controllers from Google's usual hardware retailer partners — Best Buy, Target, Walmart, and the like — but we don't know if or when that will be the case.

As Stadia news continues to develop, this post will be updated regularly. Be sure to check back often to stay up to date on Google's gaming platform.

As announced in a Stadia Connect, PUBG is now free on Stadia Pro. Zombie Army 4: Dead War, SteamWorld Heist, and The Turing Test will be free to play starting in May. Time's also running out to claim Thumper; it'll no longer be free starting May 1.