Google Stadia Will Let Casual Gamers Use Their Phone as a Controller

Google Stadia Will Let Casual Gamers Use Their Phone as a Controller
Stadia on the TV with your controller of choice — that's the dream! (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

No one can deny that Google Stadia has had an incredibly rocky start, and Google’s cloud gaming service is still struggling to find its footing. But a new feature will give users more options when it comes to how they can play, which might make casual gamers give Stadia a chance. Maybe.

Previously, Stadia required that you have a dedicated controller to play games using the service. But Google is now rolling out a feature that lets anyone use an Android phone or iPhone to play Stadia on Google TV, Android TV, or the Chromecast Ultra. You can also use the phone link to connect a third-party gamepad meant for the Xbox and PlayStation through Bluetooth, wifi, or USB via the Phone Link accessory.

I was excited to test it out using my phone, but Google said the new controller option is rolling out this week and I haven’t yet received the update.

9to5Google has a thorough walkthrough of what the feature looks like if it’s live on your smartphone. At the usual controller pairing screen, you’ll see an option for Phone touch gamepad. Once you select that, you’ll see a new screen pop up with instructions on how to pair your phone with the TV you’re using to play. When it’s successfully paired, the full-screen controls will appear as an overlay.

The video in the link above also shows a physical controller tethering ability via USB. You might consider that for more involved game titles — it’s not easy playing Assassin’s Creed with virtual controls. It’s not entirely clear which controller brands work with the USB control option. I’d personally love to see accessories like the Razer Kishi supported, because my Nintendo Switch Pro Controller — for the only console I own — doesn’t work with Stadia on TV. Stadia registered it as a compatible controller in the phone app, so fingers crossed.

You can already play Stadia with myriad first- and third-party controllers on an Android device and through the Chrome browser. But this update brings the ability to play Stadia to the vast ecosystem of plugged-in Google TV and Android TV devices. Even the cheap WalMart version of the Chromecast can run Stadia. Whether that will convert curious gamers into subscribers is another thing entirely. At least Stadia is available to all on the TV, which is right where it belongs.