Google Stadia, the company’s ambitious move into the $43 billion video game market, will launch this November, backed by some of the top publishers in the industry.
While Google has not announced an exact date for Stadia’s launch, it did answer many of the lingering questions from its unveiling in March, including pricing, how the subscription model would work, and which game makers are on board with it.
Ultimately, Stadia will launch with two tiers—a subscription model and a free model. Initially, though, the only option will be the Stadia Founders Edition, a $129.99 package that includes a controller, a Chromecast Ultra, a three-month subscription to the paid service, and a three-month pass for a friend.
That paid service, Stadia Pro, will normally cost $9.99 per month and gives players access to the highest quality streaming (4K images at 60 frames per second), a selection of free games (Bungie’s Destiny 2, including all expansions and a new add-on, will be the first), and discounts on select game purchases.
Presale for the Founders Edition is underway now.
A free model, called Stadia Base, will launch next year. Those users will only see resolutions of up to 1080p. They’ll also need to buy a Stadia controller, which will retail for $69.
While there was some speculation that Google would adopt a Netflix-like model for Stadia, letting people stream unlimited games for a fixed amount per month, the service will initially operate in a more traditional manner, letting people purchase titles individually, then stream them to whichever device they’d like. The company did not discuss game pricing, but digital downloads of video games have traditionally carried the same price as a physical copy at retail.
That puts the service in a different position than Sony’s PlayStation Now or Microsoft’s upcoming xCloud, which offer a broad catalog of titles for a monthly fee. Generally, though, most brand new releases, especially those from third-party publishers, are not included in the catalog.
Google’s not saying exactly how many games will be available at launch, but it did announce 30 titles from creators including Ubisoft, Bethesda, Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive Software, and Warner Bros. More than 20 publishers are already on board with Stadia. And more game announcements will follow in the months leading up to launch, says John Justice, vice president and head of product at Google Stadia.
As for where you can play, the initial list is rather short. Chromecast will let people play on their televisions. PCs and Chromebooks are, of course, supported, with a minimum bandwidth requirement of 10 Mbps. (If you want 4K video, you’ll need about 35 Mbps.) However, while Google will have a storefront, allowing people to buy games, on iOS and Android devices, they’ll only be able to play those titles on two mobile devices initially: A Google Pixel 3 or Google Pixel 3A smartphone. Other devices, including additional smartphones and tablets, will be added next year.
Stadia will launch in 14 countries—the U.S., Canada, the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. That number, too, will expand beginning next year.
Stadia’s advantage is it lowers the barrier of entry for people who want to play more recent video game releases. There’s no need to buy a console (which can cost $400 or more) or the latest and greatest processor or graphics card (both of which can run several hundred dollars). Instead, players can instantly load games onto most devices with a screen.
Google is just one of many non-traditional companies that are looking to become a player in the video game industry. Verizon, earlier this year, reportedly began testing a gaming service on select nVidia Shield set-top boxes. And Apple and Amazon are whispered to be looking at the space as well.
With those potential competitors in the distant future, Google is currently focused on securing big publishers and games, optimizing the play experience, and figuring out how to deal with one of the biggest issues the industry faces—game discoverability.
There are thousands of titles on the market, with more coming all the time, and promoting them via a traditional storefront is ineffective. Stadia, though, will let followers of You Tube Creators (another term for streamers or influencers) instantly buy a game the Creator is talking about. Players will also be able to recommend titles to friends.
Justice says this could be one of Stadia’s secret weapons as competition increases.
“One of the good parts about Stadia is you find out about games in a lot of different ways,” he says. “We’ll make it very easy, once you’ve learned about something, to purchase.”
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