Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Google Plans to Offer a Free Tier for Its Stadia Game Streaming Service Within "the Next Few Months"

By Stephen Lovely – Feb 16, 2020 at 12:35PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

"Stadia Base" is on its way.

Alphabet's (GOOG 0.02%) (GOOGL -0.01%) Google Stadia has weathered some rough headlines lately, including one or two here at the Fool. In recent weeks, many Stadia users have expressed anger and disappointment with what they perceive as a lack of communication from Google and a failure to fulfill the promise of the streaming video game platform. Google has been answering. Responding to fan frustration last month, the tech giant revealed new games that Pro subscribers can download in February. And now, at least one Google executive is talking about Stadia's long-awaited free tier.

That's not to say that there has been a sudden deluge of information from Google. We still don't know exactly when the free tier -- called "Stadia Base" -- will appear. In fact, all we really have is a vague reference to "the next few months."

A man plays video games

Image source: Getty Images

We'll get there when we get there!

When will Stadia's free tier arrive? Speaking with Protocol, Google executive Phil Harrison said that "over the next few months you will be able to experience Stadia for free."

That's not very specific. Though to be fair, it's more than we knew a month ago: The most that Google had said about its free service previously was that it would debut sometime in 2020. Harrison's statement suggests that we'll see Stadia's free tier before summer begins.

But "over the next few months" isn't going to be music to the ears of disgruntled Stadia customers. Those who purchased Stadia's "Founder's Edition" hardware kit for $129.99 ahead of the platform's big launch were given three free months of Stadia's premium subscription service, Stadia Pro, as part of the deal. Stadia came out on Nov. 19, 2019, so it doesn't take a math whiz to see the problem brewing here in mid-February of 2020.

Right now, there is no free tier of Stadia. So what happens to users who let their Stadia Pro membership lapse? It certainly seems as if they will lose access to the cloud gaming service until the free tier arrives -- and that's not great for them, and certainly not great for Google.

Back to basics: Stadia Base

Customers (and, for that matter, observers and tech investors) are clamoring for Stadia's free tier. But when it arrives, what will it look like?

According to Google, the differences between the two tiers are pretty straightforward:

  Stadia Base Stadia Pro
Price Free $9.99 per month
Resolution Up to 1080p Up to 4K (on select devices)
Frame rate 60 fps 60 fps
Sound Stereo 5.1 surround sound (TVs only) or stereo
Purchase games via Stadia yes yes
Free games to download no yes
Exclusive discounts no yes

Source: Google. Chart by author.

It should be noted that "free" does not necessarily mean that newcomers can just grab a Bluetooth video game controller, fire up a PC, and start streaming. Google will presumably still require that customers on the free tier buy Stadia hardware. Harrison's statements to Protocol have caused some minor confusion on this front, though. "[With] no money down," Harrison said, "[and] without having to put a box in your home, (emphasis mine) you can just click and play amazing games straight from our data center."

Some blogs have taken this to mean that there's no hardware requirement for Stadia's free tier. But Stadia's hardware is already what you might call "sans box": Everything is housed in the Stadia controller, with no console-style box required. There's nothing on Google's website that suggests users will be able to play Stadia without a Stadia controller anytime soon.

Of course, it's possible that Google could focus on profiting from its platform (to play a game on Stadia, users have to buy it via Stadia's platform) and might someday allow gamers to skip the hardware purchase. That doesn't seem imminent, but these are the sorts of rumors that swirl when the company itself keeps customers largely in the dark.

Hurry up and wait

Google has an incentive to accelerate its plans for a free tier. Nvidia's (NVDA -0.60%) GeForce Now streaming games platform debuted (or, perhaps more accurately, redebuted -- the service has existed in some form or another for years) earlier this month. That cloud gaming option includes a free tier and ready-to-stream support for a slew of PC games on Steam and other marketplaces. By rolling out a free option and allowing customers to stream games they already own through other platforms and marketplaces, GeForce Now has arrived with more games and much more available for free than Stadia can boast. GeForce Now doesn't even require users to purchase specific hardware.

With new competition on the scene and zero hour for its promotional subscriptions fast approaching, Google needs to act fast and reveal its free tier. A window of "the next few months" isn't going to cut it.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Stephen Lovely has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and NVIDIA. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$101.42 (-0.01%) $0.01
Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$102.24 (0.02%) $0.02
NVIDIA Corporation Stock Quote
NVIDIA Corporation
$131.30 (-0.60%) $0.79

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 10/07/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.