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Google Stadia opens up new options for disabled gamers

Stadia could become the best gaming service for accessibility

A Google Stadia set up with access to television, laptop, mobile phone, and smartpad. Credit: Google

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Stadia, Google’s cloud gaming service, allows players to play on phones, laptops, and TVs by leveraging technology that allows for gaming via the internet instead of a gaming console. And since the COVID-19 pandemic started, gaming has exploded in part due to cloud services like xCloud, GeForce Now, Amazon‘s Luna, and others.

But while Stadia offers convenience and portability to the average gamer, people with disabilities have found it opens new doors to accessible gaming, too, which may just breathe new life into the brand.

Disabled gamers might revive Stadia

Stadia has had a rough go of it since its inception in 2019. With the announcement that Stadia will not be creating its own games anymore, the loss of talented game developer Jade Raymond, and the exit of product head John Justice, you would not be alone in thinking things appear grim. Add to that the Google graveyard—the notion that Google has a tendency to start a project, give it enough time for a trial run, and if it doesn’t work, get rid of it expediently—and you have a recipe for consumer doubt and low subscriber numbers. But that might be changing, thanks to gamers with disabilities.

Now that Stadia has seemed to pivot its strategy to a game-provider instead of also trying to be a game-maker, we can focus on particular aspects of the service. And, after two years, Stadia is about to become the best gaming service for the disabled—if it’s not already. Stadia’s storefront, return policy, and potential new mode make it very disabled-friendly and worth consideration because, let’s face it, anyone can become disabled at any time. While some companies are claiming “Everyone can play,” Stadia’s technology is making it happen.

What we like

Three Google Stadia controllers in white, black and green shades.
Credit: Google

Stadia’s technology is making it possible for everyone to play.

Accessibility labels help gamers find the right games

There are currently over 200 games available in the Stadia store, and paid subscribers have easy access to all the accessibility features each game offers such as subtitles, button remapping, difficulty levels, etc. This is something Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft don’t offer at all in their digital stores, and it's information that disabled gamers could really use to prevent them from losing money when playing through games they purchase. Games have labels for ratings, how many players can play, the genre, the language—so why not accessibility? It’s nice to see that Stadia is leading the charge on this front.

A great return policy offers a chance to try

Another way Stadia ensures that disabled gamers don’t give away their money is through its generous return policy. Stadia allows a player to return a game within two weeks or up to two hours of play, whichever comes first. This can reduce stress for disabled gamers who have to hold out hope they can play the $60 game they just purchased. As a disabled gamer myself, a chance to try a game and get a feel for its gameplay before taking the buyer’s plunge would have saved me a lot of money and time researching to find out if a game was playable for me.

Bridge and tandem modes allow for use of many different controllers

A third boon for the disabled community is the addition of "bridge mode" in a recent APK update in the Stadia app for Android. This would allow players to use their phone’s touchscreen as a controller, or connect a controller they already own to their phone’s USB-C port and play that way. Except for the fact that “bridge mode” also lets you control the volume of your TV with your phone, this is not that different from Stadia’s existing “tandem mode,” which enables players to plug an array of controllers into the USB-C port on the Stadia controller to play.

While it might be better for some to use their phones and/or “bridge mode,” Stadia is natively compatible with the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which is already the most dynamic piece of mainstream hardware available to the disabled. Although "bridge mode" won’t be a solution for all disabled gamers, it is yet another option encouraging participation that its competitors don’t have.

What we don’t like

The Stadia controller can be hard to grip

A white Google Stadia controller against a white background.
Credit: Google

The Stadia controller's hyper-smoothness can be difficult to grip.

Of course, there are negatives to Stadia. Despite the minimalist, eye-catching look of the Stadia controller, from a disability perspective, the hyper-smoothness can be hard to grip for some gamers. You would think Google’s wizardry could provide button remapping and altering difficulty levels for all its games, but that’s the developers’ fault, not Stadia’s. Then there is the severe lack of classic retro games. Stadia should buy these older, cheaper games to gain credibility and add a solid foundation to their ever-growing library.

Game prices leave something to be desired

The price of games is somewhat of a flaw for Stadia. Even though Stadia offers fairly recent titles, they may have already been available for months or years on other platforms—and Stadia still charges a lot. However, there are sales in the Stadia store, and every month there are free games to claim if you are a Stadia Pro member.

The Pro membership costs $9.99/month, in addition to any game you purchase. It’s often seen as a steep price, but a new Playstation 5 or Series X|S, plus controller(s) and a game(s) comes to at least $650—you could get five to six years of Stadia Pro with dozens of free games at the same cost. Not to mention, with Stadia, you have the ability to use your favorite controller while playing on TV at home, or on the go in a Chrome browser on your laptop or app on your phone.

Stadia can be a data hog

Data caps are an issue. The visual fidelity of Stadia to stream in 4K/60fps/HDR produces a high-quality experience, but it can also eat up a lot of your data, which can result in an expensive upgrade with your internet provider or steering away from Stadia altogether. But with the growth of satellite internet, efforts to build more robust and expansive broadband internet, and society’s increased online life, the government or market may solve this issue on its own.

As with all cloud gaming services, you have to have a solid internet connection to enjoy Stadia, and unless you buy a new TV with the Stadia app natively installed, you’ll have to buy a Chromecast to play. If you are disabled, this could create another challenge for you unless you have assistance.

Should you buy it?

If you are disabled, have a good internet connection, and are looking for a gaming service, becoming a Stadia Pro member is a no-brainer. It is, however, best for the gamer who doesn’t need day-and-date releases. If you’re more of a hardcore gamer, Stadia might be an excellent way to take some of your games on the go. Otherwise, its lack of games that you could find in a retro emulator means that Stadia might not be for you. With nascent features like Stream Connect, a live feed of other players’ screens, and Crowd Play, whIch allows viewers to click a link and play with the streamer they’re watching, the future seems full of possibilities for Stadia—and for the disabled community.

Sign up for Stadia

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