Game-streaming services are becoming ever more common, and with the sheer number of them being offered by a variety of companies, it can be difficult to determine which of them are worth getting. Perhaps the largest upcoming game-streaming service is Google Stadia, which promises to revolutionize how we choose and experience games. It will face competition, however, and Blade’s Shadow is one underdog service that has plenty to offer subscribers. When it comes to choosing between Google Stadia and Shadow, here is what you need to know before you make your decision.
Google Stadia and Shadow are targeting two completely different groups of customers, but they both support most of the platforms used for game streaming. Google Stadia promises you will be able to stream games to any device that supports the Chrome browser. This includes televisions, desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and mobile phones — and progress carries over between them via your Google account. Google has said it’s possible to quickly switch from one platform to another using Stadia, so you can stop playing a game on a device at home and take a game with you on the road, provided you have a strong network connection. At launch in November 2019, you will need a Chromecast Ultra to play on a television through Chrome, and the only phones supported will be the Pixel 3 and 3A.
Blade’s Shadow isn’t designed for instant gaming in the same way as Stadia, as you’ll still need to download and update games on the remote PC you’re accessing. However, once this is done, you can play games on PC, Mac, televisions, phones, and tablets. For televisions, you’ll make use of a streaming box called the Shadow Ghost, and Blade says you can have the same game running on more than one screen at once with zero downtime. Apps are available on Windows, Mac, Android, Android TV, iOS, and Linux, with tvOS on the way.
Similar to GeForce Now, Shadow essentially allows you to turn your device of choice into a PC. The remote system currently in use has 12GB of DDR4 RAM and a GTX 1080 GPU, and it will be continuously upgraded so you will never have issues with system requirements again.
Shadow is not yet available everywhere, however. Currently, the service is available in 38 states, with certain parts of the Southeast and West unsupported.
Google Stadia has several different controller options, depending on your setup and preference. If you want to use a DualShock 4 or Xbox One controller, you can. It is also compatible with the Xbox One Adaptive Controller and mouse-and-keyboard. Controllers are connected via Wi-Fi, rather than by Bluetooth, directly to your device.
Google Stadia will also support its own controller. This controller has a button and stick layout similar to other consoles’ controllers and includes a “share” button. What separates it is the Google Assistant button located in the center, which allows you to instantly get assistance with a tricky part of a game. Ironically, no longer will you need to pull out your phone and Google search for a walkthrough. The controllers will cost $69 and are available in the Founder’s Edition.
Shadow also supports the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One controllers, which you can also use on your television with the help of the Shadow Ghost accessory, as well as mouse-and-keyboard setups for more traditional PC gaming. Depending on the device you’re using, other Bluetooth-connected controllers could work as well, but we suggest searching the forum and support posts beforehand to see other users’ experiences before trying them.
Streaming resolution quality will vary across the two services. Depending on your internet speed and the resolution of the screens you own, you can potentially get a high-end experience on either service without having to own fancy hardware.
At launch, Google Stadia will support 4K resolution with HDR and 60 frames-per-second gameplay, putting it roughly in line with what the Xbox One X is capable of doing. To hit these numbers, you’ll need a download speed of 35Mbps or higher, with the resolution dropping to 720p for lower speeds. In the future, Google is planning to add support for 8K resolution, as well, which isn’t possible on any current consoles but will be on the next-generation PlayStation system. Using a feature called the “Playability Toolkit,” users’ experiences can be adjusted by developers on the fly to best fit their speeds and setups.
The quality of your resolution and game performance when using Shadow is determined by the hardware installed on your remote system. Shadow assigns one computer to each user and claims the quality is designed to not be affected if you are using a download speed of at least 15Mbps. Shadow offers support for a maximum 4K resolution and 60 frames per second. Shadow says this is possible through its “low connections mode,” which uses H.265 video stream encoding. Blade recommends either a 5GHz Wi-Fi connection or an Ethernet connection when using Shadow. You can also adjust the bandwidth allocation manually using the Shadow app.
Google Stadia and Shadow will likely not work in the same way when it comes to playing the games you want, but Google has not fully outlined how users will pay for games. We know that players will be able to nearly instantly gain access to the games they want to play after clicking on YouTube advertisements from publishers’ official channels, and a small number of AAA titles like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Doom Eternal will be supported. If the service can function as well as it did during the Project Stream test, the experience will be similar to playing them locally on a traditional gaming device.
Other games planned for Stadia around the service’s launch include Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Thumper, Mortal Kombat 11, The Division 2, Metro Exodus, and Trials Rising. A full list of games can be found on the official fact sheet. Baldur’s Gate III will also be releasing for Stadia, but it isn’t exclusive.
Google is also investing in original games that will be exclusive to Stadia. The process just began with the founding of Stadia Games and Entertainment, headed by former Electronic Arts and Ubisoft executive Jade Raymond. However, because the studio is in its infancy, this will likely play more of a factor in your purchase decision in a few years rather than right now.
Blade’s Shadow works similarly to Nvidia GeForce Now in that it gives you the ability to play PC games you already own at higher settings. Multiple digital storefronts are supported, including Steam, Epic Games Store, Battle.net, and Origin, and you just need to import your collections into Shadow. But because it’s simply running a remote PC for you, you should be able to play all of the PC games you own on your accounts, rather than a small selection of them.
Google Stadia’s standout features show how the company is trying to tie together game development, game playing, and game content creation. While streaming a game, a YouTube creator can enable a feature called “Crowd Play,” which lets viewers jump into the game directly from their video. There will also be support for save state sharing, allowing you to jump into a game with the exact same save data as the creator you were watching.
Shadow doesn’t feature any marketable exclusive features like this, but it does allow for you to stream simultaneously on more than one device, and its low connection speed requirements make it easier to play games at high settings. For the subscription price, you also don’t have to ever upgrade your system, but will still be able to experience high-end gaming. Because it’s designed for PC games but supports a variety of other devices, it also means you don’t have to own a PC at all but can still grab games on sale when they’re available. Only have a Mac but see a limited-time free game offer at an online store? Now you can snag it and still make the most of it.
Pricing and availability
Google will offer several different pricing models, depending on what you need to do in Stadia. The Founder’s Pack will be the only way to play Stadia during its initial launch period in November 2019.
Stadia Founder’s Edition, $129: Comes with three months of Stadia Pro, as well as limited-edition Night Blue controller, Chromecast Ultra, first dibs on a name, and three-month buddy pass. Available in November.
Stadia Pro, $10 per month: 4K resolution with 60 frames per second and HDR, discounts on game purchases. Full Destiny 2 access. Free games available with subscription. Launches in 2019.
Stadia Base, free: 1080p resolution with 60 frames per second. Buy games you want, play in Chrome browser. It will launch in 2020.
Shadow is a little more expensive because you’re essentially renting access to a powerful PC. It’s available in most of the United States at the moment, and you can try it for $10 for 10 days before switching to a recurring plan. If you purchase a whole year, you will be charged $25 per month. If running on a monthly basis, Shadow will set you back $35 per month.