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Google’s Stadia Launches in November, More Store Than Netflix

Google’s Stadia is a free online-only platform agnostic cloud gaming service built around the notion of purchasing games ala cart, though it will include a paid “Pro” service that offers some free titles and higher visual fidelity when you play the games you own, the company announced Thursday

Stadia launches in November with more than 30 games from more than 20 publishers — including several previously unannounced titles such as “Baldur’s Gate 3” and “Destiny 2” expansion Shadowkeep — available for sale.

Access to the service will be initially reserved for those who purchase the $130 Founder’s Edition. The Founder’s Edition comes with a limited-edition controller, Chromecast Ultra, three months of Stadia Pro subscription, and a three-month buddy pass. Pre-orders for the Founder’s Edition starts Thursday on the Google Store.

Importantly, only the Stadia Pro service — which will cost $9.99 a month — gives gamers access to 4K, 60 FPS, HDR, surround-sound game streaming. The free base service, which is set to launch sometime in 2020, only supports 1080p, 60 fps, stereo sound game streaming.

Stadia Pro membership also includes free games accessible as long as members maintain their membership, and discounts on game purchases. At launch, Pro will include access to “Destiny 2,” including the base game, all previous add-ons, the new Shadowkeep expansion, and the annual pass.

At launch, Stadia will allow people to play supported games on a television through a Chromecast Ultra, on any computer via a Chrome browser, or on a Pixel 3 or 3a phone. Support for more phones are coming down the line, the company said.

Stadia will initially only be available in 14 countries through the Founder’s Edition: the United States, Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. More regions will be added starting in 2020.

Stadia’s launch line-up represents some of the best game developers and publishers in the world, Jack Buser, director for games, business development at Stadia at Google, told Variety.

“We have a very large number of titles and we’re just getting started,” he said. “This doesn’t represent all of the games we’re talking about this summer. We have more games to announce at E3 and even more during the summer.”

Buser said the company has been meticulously building a catalog that represents the full diversity of gaming including big franchises, fan favorites, games as a service, indie titles, and every genre. Buser added that the focus on the service will be getting “all of the newest games on our platform. We’re not a catalog service per se.”

Stadia will also have exclusives in its launch window and beyond, Buser said.

“As we look to the future of games in our platform you’ll see three types: big new games coming to Stadia, indie games that are doing something that consoles just can’t do, and then you’ll see exclusive games that could only be made on Stadia.”

Andrey Doronichev, director of product management at Stadia at Google, said the launch focus for Stadia is on the living room experience, but that the company has been testing a lot of computers and tablets to ensure that the platform will also work through a web browser sign-in on those devices.

“As long as your computer can run HTML 5, it will most likely support Stadia,” he said.

While Thursday’s pre-E3 news blast clears up a number of pressing questions about Stadia — specifically, customer pricing and launch timing — there’s still quite more to discover.

A Stadia spokesperson said they’re not publically talking about how sales of games will work for publishers and developers. Specifically, how much of a cut Stadia will take from each game. Nor are they showing off what the user interface will look like for the platform.

Valve takes a 30% cut through its Steam store and Epic takes just 18%.

We also didn’t learn more about how Stadia will make use of its deep connections with YouTube for selling games, sharing games, and embracing influencers. That conversation is likely to come later this summer in the second promised, but not yet dated event for Stadia.

darksiders-genesis-gameplay

Speaking with Variety this month, Doronichev did address the question of ownership and accessibility though. He was clear that the service will require a user to have an internet connection to play the games they own.

He noted that many if not most modern games today require entitlement checks, and often check in with servers for different reasons.

“It’s not very different from Stadia,” he said. “You own the game as long as you have a valid account. For now, we are focusing on cloud-streaming for all games, which enables cross-stream gameplay.”

In terms of online connection requirements, Doronichev said that Stadia uses streaming technology to adjust requirements on the fly, depending on your network connection. But there are minimal guidelines for optimal service. A user needs to have at least a 10 Megabit upload speed to play games at 720 with 60 frames per second, and to run a game at a stable 4K, 60 frames per second they’ll need 35 Megabit speeds.

In March, Phil Harrison, head of Stadia, talked about the promise of Google’s tech and its philosophical approach to gaming.

“Throughout the last 40 years every game built has been device-centric, and package-centric,” Harrison said. “What I mean by that is that game developers have built for a box, they have built the game to specifically take advantage of that box until they’ve come up against the glass ceiling of the capabilities of that box. The content has reached that box in a package for it, initially as a cartridge or a cassette or a disc and then more recently as a download. But the mentality has been: I’m building for the thing and I’m going to deliver a thing for the thing.

“We just broke through that glass ceiling and we said the games are no longer device-centric. Games are data center driven and what that means for developers is a fundamental shift in the way that games are designed, made and played.”

But even then, Harrison was clear that it would take time for the game industry to fully embrace Stadia and its approach to gaming. It seems Stadia is matching that pace as it slowly reveals how its service will work and rolls out the platform in stages.

Here’s a look at Stadia’s current list of launch publishers and titles. Those publishers listed without game names will be announcing what games are coming to Stadia on their own.

  • Bandai Namco – Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2
  • Bethesda – DOOM Eternal, DOOM 2016, Rage 2, The Elder Scrolls Online, Wolfenstein: Youngblood
  • Bungie – Destiny 2
  • Capcom
  • Coatsink – Get Packed
  • Codemasters – GRID
  • Deep Silver – Metro Exodus
  • Drool – Thumper
  • Electronic Arts
  • Giants Software -Farming Simulator 19
  • Larian Studios – Baldur’s Gate 3
  • nWay Games – Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
  • Rockstar
  • Sega – Football Manager
  • SNK – Samurai Shodown
  • Square Enix – Final Fantasy XV – Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  • 2K – NBA 2K, Borderlands 3
  • Tequila Works – Gylt
  • THQ – Darksiders Genesis
  • Warner Bros – Mortal Kombat 11
  • Ubisoft – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Just Dance , Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint , Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 , Trials Rising, The Crew 2

The company also more fully detailed its controller — which will be available to purchase as a standalone for $69 in Clearly White, Just Black, and Wasabi.

The controller supports both dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth Low Energy 4.2. It features a headset jack, interchangeable Li-ion batteries, and a USB-C port for charging, wired gameplay, and accessory support. The controller also has a capture button and a Google Assistant button.

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