We’re quickly approaching the second anniversary of Google Stadia’s launch, and the service has grown a fair bit in the time since. Over 200 games are now supported, a lot of promised features have made a debut in one way or another, and against all odds, the service still exists. However, as time goes on, Stadia’s few advantages are quickly drying up, especially as competitors beat Google to the punch with hardware upgrades under the hood.

In just the past few weeks alone, both Microsoft and Nvidia have announced behind-the-scenes upgrades to the hardware running their cloud gaming services. Microsoft completed the rollout of new Xbox Series X hardware for xCloud just recently, giving the service improved graphics and a fair bit of future-proofing. Meanwhile, Nvidia just announced a massive upgrade for GeForce Now that, while a bit pricey, offers faster framerates than Stadia can deliver today and finally matches Google’s service on 4K streaming, albeit only on one device and, again, at a pretty hefty cost.

Then, there’s Stadia.

The service has not changed on a performance aspect at all since its launch, which isn’t exactly a terrible thing. Stadia still offers 4K streaming more widely than anyone else, and the quality of streaming is still the best in the business, with the most consistently solid gameplay out there. It just works! However, the hardware Stadia runs on is starting to show its age and is just begging for an upgrade.

Examples of this in recent memory include Far Cry 6, which is launching more in line with last-gen consoles such as the PS4 when it comes to graphics and framerates, the latter being locked to just 30fps. Then there are games like Ark, which arrived with shameful graphics compared to other platforms. At one point, a game developer even said that their game couldn’t run on Stadia due to memory issues, pulling plans to release it on the platform as a result. There’s a lot that can be done through optimization with Stadia as evidenced by games like FIFA 22, which delivers a feature on Stadia that’s only available on newer consoles such as PS5 and Xbox Series X, but there certainly seem to be more limitations to Stadia’s hardware than what was originally pitched.

When Stadia was first announced, Google positioned hardware upgrades as a benefit of the platform. With new hardware to work with, the platform was set to one day deliver 8K and 120fps gameplay, but we’ve not heard much about that in the time since. An interview with the since-departed John Justice talked about how Google was “working on upgrading every part” of Stadia, but that we wouldn’t hear about these upgrades in advance. True to his word, we haven’t, but it’s getting to the point where Google is no longer at the forefront as far as technology goes, because everyone else is catching up. While that’s all fine and good, it’s bad news for Google, as Stadia’s still-small library makes its technology a more crucial selling point.

There are certainly bigger fish to fry on Stadia’s priority list, though, like ensuring the next installments of games already on the service actually arrive – looking at you, NBA 2K22 – as well as just getting more games people care about. There are so many new titles we’ve seen released across platforms in the past few months alone that just have no sign of coming to Stadia, and players are noticing.

That said, a hardware upgrade to Stadia would have a pretty big impact not just on what developers can do with the platform, but in showing Google’s commitment. With the closure of its first-party studios still looming over the product even eight months later, investing new hardware in Stadia would certainly show that Google is in it for the long haul, or at least a longer haul.

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Ben Schoon

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