Google adds instant cloud-streaming button to web searches for games

A good Stadia idea eventually comes to Google.
Enlarge / A good Stadia idea eventually comes to Google.

Google / Sam Machkovech

The earliest selling point for Stadia, Google’s streaming service that streams high-end video games to web browsers over the cloud, involved the idea that it could work as easily as Googling your favorite game. You could search for a popular game to learn more about it, only to immediately see an option to play it in your web browser with no additional hardware required – and maybe no payment.

Almost three years after Stadia officially launched — and 18 months after the service’s massive internal downgrade — that scenario has finally come true. Additionally, the feature appears to be streamer-agnostic, with multiple Stadia-like streaming services appearing in search results.

Oh look, Stadia Trials is getting a slightly fancier font

This week, Google made a limited rollout of a Play Now tab that appears when searching for select video games in desktop browsers. (At the time of writing, out of three Google accounts tested, the search results shown in this article only appear on one of them.) This tab is in the right-hand “Knowledge” pane, which is otherwise auto-populated with user reviews, game details, and purchase links for digital downloads.

When a Google Games search returns a Playing Now tab, it includes as many compatible streaming services as possible, including Google Stadia, Microsoft Xbox Cloud Gaming, Amazon Luna, and Nvidia GeForce Now. (My search for many PlayStation-exclusive games on this console’s Plus Premium cloud streaming selection has come up short so far.) Each entry shows what type of fee might be required to play the game. Conveniently, many Google Stadia games are now free to play for the first 30 minutes or up to 120 minutes, and supported Stadia games with a free trial get a light green lightning bolt with italicized text: “Trial available.” Other games and services that have appeared so far have included tags like “premium subscription” or “free-to-play.”

Some search results elevate this tab to a valuable “above the fold” placement that’s viewable without a single mouse wheel scroll, while others require scrolling through about an entire desktop-sized page to find the streaming links . Once you click a service’s “Play” button, Google will redirect you to the streaming service’s web portal to start playing immediately. The promotion requires signing up to the relevant service, which means it doesn’t quite the search-and-play-instant scenario you might be imagining – although thanks to Stadia’s use of Google Accounts, it’s arguably the fastest option yet of the four built-in services.

And in good news, Google has been careful to double-check every Play Now game marked as “free-to-play.” No payment method is required to play games with the label included so far Fourteen days, PUBG battlegroundsand destiny 2.