Next year will see the launch of new consoles from both Microsoft and Sony, but they’ll be coming out a year after their latest and perhaps greatest new competitor enters the market: Google Stadia. This new streaming platform will see the search giant dipping into their Scrooge McDuck-esque vaults of gold to grow their server farms to handle video games, and targeting those who might not be able to spring for a shiny new next gen games console. But as more and more details come out, the question is will it offer you good value for money?
Before we begin, let me just state that we’ve had to make a few assumptions here and there, especially about next-gen pricing. Details may change and prices may vary, but we’ve made some educated guesses based off current pricing and the statements that have been made in recent months.
The Price – Upfront Costs & Subscription Fees
On day one Google Stadia has a huge advantage with its up front cost, as it will set you back £119 for a Stadia controller and Chromecast Ultra, with three months of Stadia Pro bundled in before costing you £8.99 a month. Alternatively, you can wait for the roll out of Stadia Base in 2020, which has no subscription fee, lets you play with hardware you already have, and where you just pay for the games.
But over the expected lifetime of a next-gen device – around seven years – things will even out. For this we are estimating that PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett will cost £450, which is at the higher end of expectations, while a subscription to the console’s online services, Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus, has been added at £50 per year.
Here’s how it compares:
|Initial Cost||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5||Year 6||Year 7||Total|
|Stadia Pro (Founder’s Edition)||£119||£81||£108||£108||£108||£108||£108||£108||£848|
|PlayStation 5 / Scarlett (offline)||£450 (est)||£0||£0||£0||£0||£0||£0||£0||£450|
|PlayStation 5 / Scarlett (online)||£450 (est)||£50||£50||£50||£50||£50||£50||£50||£800|
There are other factors to consider here, though. Over the course of the generation we can probably expect the price of online services to rise at some point – though you can also pick up PS+ and Xbox Live when it’s discounted every few months. What you get from the services will also likely change.
Over the length of the generation we can probably expect the price of online services to rise at some point, but they should all rise at around the same rate as the companies adjust for the cost of inflation and any significant economic shifts. However, keen gamers and deal hunters will already have months, even years of a PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live subscription saved up which would save you money if you stick to the same brand. Both are also regularly discounted, allowing to get free extra months or top up at a discounted price, both during sales and from third party sellers. Google haven’t announced where you can buy Stadia subscriptions from, but expect them to discount or offer free trials to get people to try out their service.
The Tech Specs – 4K, 8K, 120Hz, Surround Sound
Project Scarlett and PlayStation 5 will both be set in stone as hardware platforms – let’s not put it past both to have mid-generation Pro version again – and they’ll be as, if not more powerful than Stadia at launch, but Google can happily upgrade Stadia in the background and have already promised that, while it can handle 4K at launch, they’ll be offering 8K at some point in the future. In theory, that upgrade will be practically invisible to users. Just buy a new 8K TV with Stadia support and you’ll be good to go.
Let’s look at some of the high level technical specs.
|Max Resolution||Max Framerate||Sound|
|Stadia Pro||4K (8K planned)||60fps||5.1 Surround|
|PlayStation 5||8K||120Hz||7.1 Surround|
|Project Scarlett||8K||120Hz||7.1 Surround, Dolby Atmos*, Windows Sonic*|
* Suspected feature, as current part of Xbox One system software.
Here is where the old adage “you get what you pay for” comes in to play, and if you’re not paying for anything, then the basic specs of the free Stadia Base look like they’ll be practically prehistoric by next year. But resolution isn’t everything, because you’ll still have a full Stadia instance running your game, it’s just that what’s being streamed to you is downscaled to 1080p. That’s a little like plugging a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X into a 1080p display, but with a high-end PC capable of “Ultra” graphics settings, where current consoles tend to lean more to “Medium”. So Stadia Base will be 1080p, but a really good looking 1080p.
At the other end, everyone’s talking about 8K, while both Sony and Microsoft have mentioned 4K 120Hz support compared to Stadia’s 60fps cap – head here for our next-gen spec comparison. For the console manufacturers, it’s all theoretical based off the capabilities of the HDMI 2.1 ports. We’ve seen them play up 1080p output with the last generation and then face up to the vast majority of developers plumbing for 720p, while this generation had high expectations of 60fps gaming, but 30fps was still the norm on the base PS4 and Xbox One.
With the kinds of optimisations that developers are able to make on consoles, the hardware specs we know of the PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett suggest that 4K at 60fps could be achievable (and there’s always the upscaling wizardry of checkerboarding and newer image sharpening techniques to fall back on). While 8K outputs are theoretically possible, the Navi GPUs in next gen consoles are a few steps behind the most expensive and powerful PC graphics cards, and even a £1,000 beast like the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti can only run something like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in 4K at around 70fps. Again, consoles can get more performance out of the same hardware, but don’t expect 8K or 120Hz in anything but edge cases.
Playing Anywhere (and dealing with data caps)
There’s a lot of other potential tradeoffs between physical and streamed games as well.
You can play Stadia games anywhere there is an internet connection, as it will run through TVs, PCs, tablets and smartphones, so if you are on the move a lot, it could be ideal. However, if you are going to playing on a smartphone you may want to check your contracts. In the UK, Three is the only provider offering completely unlimited data, while the other main service providers cap out at 100GB, but do make exceptions for certain streaming partners like Spotify, Apple Music and Netflix. Either way, Stadia will run through a lot of data very quickly.
With the games running at 60fps, data usage is higher than Netflix or YouTube, and Google have provided some guidance on how much bandwidth is required. At 720p60, you want 10Mbps, which works out at 4.5GB per hour, while 1080p60, they recommend 20Mbps, which equates to 9GB per hour. Phones with 4K screens are exceptionally rare, which is a good thing, because 4K streaming takes 15.75GB per hour.
Of course, while Microsoft and Sony would dearly love for you to subscribe to their own streaming services, PS Now and the upcoming Project xCloud, they also both support remotely playing games on their consoles. Though they depend on your home internet connections, have a history of NAT type and other errors, and their current iterations aren’t as optimised as Stadia’s server farms will be, they are already an alternative for gamers on the go.
|Play Anywhere||Controller||Instant Play||Offline Play||Re-sale/Trade-in|
|Stadia Pro||Yes||In Founder’s Edition||Yes||No||No|
|PlayStation 5||Remote Play||Included||Yes||Yes||Physical only|
|Project Scarlett||Console Streaming||Included||Yes||Yes||Physical only|
Always Online and Physical Copies
One of Stadia’s big claims is that you can jump in to a game in less than five seconds, but with both Sony and Microsoft hyping up the fact that their next-gen consoles will feature ultra-fast SSDs, they likely won’t be far behind. Stadia’s Achilles heel is that without the internet you can’t play, whereas the consoles should let you play offline. There’s no reason to expect them to have an always online requirement, considering just how harshly that idea was received when Microsoft first pitched it with the Xbox One (and then hastily back-tracked).
One other consideration, and this is a big issue for many people, is the ability to resell or trade in both games and hardware. Stadia is totally digital and the terms and conditions state “You may not transfer or assign any or all of your rights or obligations”, so you can’t resell your account or the games within to anyone else, the only thing you could resell is the controller. While digital purchases are a bigger and bigger slice of the gaming market, and with similar terms, console owners are used to trading in physical games and hardware, and passing on a console or lending a game to a sibling is as simple as unplugging it and handing it over.
Google have now explained that Stadia Pro is following the same kind of added value model of PS+ and Xbox Live, instead of Netflix, Spotify or PS Now’s all-you-can-eat libraries. We now know Stadia is going to give you “roughly one free game per month give or take,” and these will be “older” games just as in the other services. Stadia Pro starts quite strongly with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep at launch, but with only one game a month, 96 over eight years, there’s a higher chance that it’ll be a game that don’t suit your tastes.
For the consoles it’s a little more difficult to estimate, but we can speculate at changes. When the PlayStation 4 launched, PS+ immediately received two PS4 games each month in addition to the PS3 and PS Vita games that were then offered. As the PS5 is backwards compatible, we would expect Sony to continue offering PS4 games, but also hope that they augment it with free PS5 games and possibly PSVR as well. As it stands they offer 24 games per year, but this could easily rise to 48 gamers per year.
Microsoft are already offering 48 games per year, with each month seeing two Xbox One and two Xbox 360 games, with Project Scarlett aiming to include backward compatibility to all current BC titles and the full Xbox One library. While we would expect Microsoft to phase out the free Xbox 360 games, they could just as easily keep bundling them in to give away six games a month, or 72 per year.
|Free Multiplayer||Free Games||Free Games p.m.||Cost per year|
|Stadia Pro||Yes||Yes||1 per month||£108.00|
|PlayStation 5||No||with PlayStation Plus||2x PS4||£50.00|
|Project Scarlett||No||with Xbox Live Gold||2x Xbox 360,
2x Xbox One
In the end, it depends what you want from your gaming experience, with Stadia and the upcoming generation of console trying to appeal to different types of gamers. Stadia’s big advantage is not having the same initial cost of buying a new console, and being able to just buy a AAA game and play it right away on your phone, TV or laptop is about as convenient as it gets. Still, it requires an unlimited and fast internet connection and could be more expensive in the long run, especially when factoring in the ability to trading in physical games and get freebies from PS+ and Xbox Live.
It’s going to be an interesting twelve months that will include the launch of Stadia and the full reveal of the new consoles. Which will you be buying?