A different kind of console launch.

Google Stadia w/ Chromecast Ultra
Google's Chromecast Ultra streaming device, left, with the Stadia controller.
Google

Google Stadia is not a game console, nor is it a game platform, really — it's a digital storefront run by Google where you can buy individual games.

Right now, to access that storefront, you have to pay $130 for the Stadia "premiere edition." That comes with a Stadia gamepad, a Chromecast Ultra streaming device, and three months of access to Stadia Pro, a monthly subscription service that provides free games each month, enables users to stream games at ultra-HD 4K resolution, and offers a few other bells and whistles.

In so many words: The only way to play Stadia games when it launched in November was to spend $130 up front. That remains the case in mid-January, though Google has promised that a free version of the service will launch this year.

With most console launches, you need the game console to play the games. That's what you're buying.

With Stadia, you don't need a box, or a Chromecast Ultra, or a Stadia controller. You can play Stadia games on any laptop with the Chrome browser, and you can connect whatever gamepad you want. Heck, you could just play with a keyboard and mouse if you prefer.

So what are you paying $130 for, other than a few devices you don't need? You're paying for access — access to the Stadia ecosystem, where you then buy each game.

Early adopters.

Google Stadia game controller
The Google Stadia gamepad can't pair with Google's Pixel phones, so you have to connect via USB cable to play games.
Crystal Cox/Photographer

Over $100 for access to a game store — largely filled with games that are already available on other platforms, sometimes for less money — is a hard sell.

It's an especially hard sell with the kind of folks who buy game consoles at launch: gamers who own the latest consoles, who own many of the games on the launch list, who are distrustful of new entrants in the video-game industry.

But tens of thousands of folks jumped in regardless, and the most dedicated of those early adopters can be found on places like Reddit's Stadia subreddit and the official Stadia Discord channel.

They write glowing threads about their first experiences with the service ("I am satisfied with my purchase ... My experience has been excellent and I'm excited to see what the future has in store for Stadia.") and about bizarre use cases that demonstrate the promise of game-streaming services.

Some are even gaming-PC owners who talk about how surprised they are that games they're streaming look as good as games that run locally. "I was actually shocked and was sure my games looked better on my PC," one said.

But these folks — who not only were willing to take a chance on a new game service from Google but participate actively in that service's community — are also starting to get frustrated.

And there's one reason for that: a lack of updates.

Two months after launch, Stadia still has a small game library and is missing many key features.

Google Stadia
Google

Google Stadia has no way to voice-chat, a standard part of the PC, Xbox, and PlayStation online gaming ecosystems, and something that even Nintendo has started to come around to with its Switch console.

"What's going on there?" one user wrote in the Stadia subreddit. "How can it be that there is still no chat in Stadia?"

Moreover, there's no word on when a voice-chat function is coming.

Both Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3, which launched over 10 years ago, had voice-chat functionality built in from the start.

There is no operating system or dashboard on the service, and there's no way to use the Google Stadia controller wirelessly on a computer or with a smartphone — it has to be connected with a wire. If you have an iPhone, Stadia doesn't work there yet, and the same thing goes for most Android phones; the only smartphones supported are Google's Pixels.

Even if you pay for the pro version of Stadia, which is supposed to stream games in the highest 4K resolution, games played through Chrome don't stream in 4K.

That's before we start talking about the promised features of Stadia that differentiate it from the competition, much of which aren't implemented.

Google said you could watch a YouTube video of a game and jump right into it on Stadia simply by clicking a button in the video. That has yet to materialize, nor is it clear when that's coming.

Thus far, Stadia is a digital storefront that sells you games. Many of the platform features that people expect with a game platform are still missing, with no official word on when they'll actually drop.

Since launching Stadia in November, Google has said and done very little about updating the experience — and it's still missing major features that were announced last March.

Google GDC 2019 keynote, Phil Harrison, Stadia
Among the features touted at Stadia's big reveal in March was "cross-platform play," the ability for games on Stadia to be played with people using other platforms, like Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One. Though there are several Stadia games with communities on other platforms, none of those games support cross-platform play from Stadia.
Google/YouTube

"When Stadia launched in November, we delivered a great gaming experience for players, and we continue to work toward our long-term vision for the future of gaming," a Google representative, Patrick Seybold, told Business Insider in a statement. "Stadia is an evolving platform, and we've been busy in the two months since launch adding great content, features and ways to play."

Seybold identified six key ways that Google had improved the service since launch:

  1. Added more games to the library (which has 26 titles, one of which is exclusive to Stadia).
  2. Updated existing Chromecast Ultra devices so that they were able to run Stadia.
  3. Purchased a game studio.
  4. Added Google Assistant support and game achievements.
  5. Added stream connect in "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint."
  6. Added a second "buddy pass" for Stadia users.

He also highlighted four updates coming to Stadia in the first quarter of this year, including additional Android phone support.

It remains unclear when Stadia will support Apple devices, or when a voice-chat feature is coming, or when the free "base" version of the service will launch.

Of note: Google published a Stadia update on its community blog on Thursday morning, after Business Insider reached out for comment on this story. We had asked for any message from Google for the early adopters who picked up Stadia last November — folks who are increasingly asking when Google is going to say something on the Stadia subreddit.

In 2020, Google is promising "more than 120 games," including more than 10 exclusive games in the first half of the year. But will early adopters stick with it?

Google Stadia GDC Keynote, Phil Harrison
Google/YouTube

Google is promising a much bigger 2020, with "more than 120 games" scheduled to launch this year, over 10 of which are said to be exclusive to Stadia and launching in the first half.

Whether that will be enough to keep early adopters interested — let alone attract new buyers — remains to be seen.

The sentiment from early adopters isn't looking great for Google. For people who bought Stadia in November, which came with three months of Stadia Pro, there's a question to answer in the near future: Will I keep Stadia Pro, which costs $10 a month, after the three months runs out?

A discussion of who is and isn't keeping their Stadia Pro membership paints a grim picture: Many users have decided to cancel their membership, or are considering canceling it.

Another thread from a few days ago, titled "Let me be real," says it all:

"For anyone that's been around for a new gaming console coming out, its crazy for the first year of it coming out, huge lineup of games constantly being thrown out, this feature, that feature all being announced...so much fun! Here I am trying to enjoy and justify the 130 I spent on this and I just can't at this point. We got tricked into being beta testers and it pisses me off."