Google’s game-streaming service Stadia is now free for anyone with a Gmail 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 only available via a $129 “Premiere Edition” that came with a controller, though a free “Base” 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 Base 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. It’s limited to 1080p, 60 frames per second, and stereo (versus surround) sound.
Existing subscribers, who have been vocally critical of the bare-bones nature of the service 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 or device 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 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 can’t play games on iOS yet, unfortunately.
You have to provide your own controller if you’re not using a keyboard and mouse; a list of compatible ones (and phones) 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 part’s a bit confusing. You’ll be getting access to the Stadia Pro tier of membership, which gets at least free game every month to keep, like Xbox Games with Gold and PlayStation Plus. Right now, though, that only amounts to nine titles, though some are pretty great — Destiny 2, SteamWorld Dig 2, GRID and a few more.
On either a Pro or free account, if you want to play other games like Borderlands 3 or Rise of the Tomb Raider, you’ll have to buy them on the Stadia marketplace. The games are then only available to stream through Stadia, not to run natively on your PC, so if you ever left the service you would lose access to them (a “license not buy” situation common on digital platforms, but especially pronounced on streaming ones). 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.
That said, free trial will help potential subscribers decide if the service is for them, with zero risk. You can sign up for your free trial via the main Stadia site here; the company has said it is in the middle of rolling out the feature, so check back if it isn’t there yet.
And here are the countries in which it is currently available:
- United States
- United Kingdom