A Google Stadia Hot Take

Tim’s immediate thoughts on Google’s streaming platform.

google-stadia-logo

If you like video games and don’t live under a rock, then you most likely know that Google recently announced a new video game streaming service. No, I’m not talking about a platform that allows you to stream your games for other viewers. I’m talking about a service that allows you to stream games that you can play to any device you choose (at least as long as said device allows it or if your connection permits it but more on that later). Although rumors essentially outed Google’s plans before the announcement, it was still interesting to see it officially revealed. Google’s service, otherwise known as Stadia, certainly has the potential to change the gaming landscape forever should it prove popular. Below, I have compiled a list of three strengths that I believe Google’s Stadia has and three potential weaknesses that may hinder it. I hope you enjoy.

The Strengths

Versatility

Google unveiled Stadia at the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) at San Francisco this year and I believe the company successfully demonstrated the platform’s versatility. A guy onstage went from playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey on a laptop to a phone to a desktop and finally to a TV with a controller all within a few seconds. Not only can you play one game on several different platforms in a quick-like fashion but you can import your saved game and game state from the cloud instantaneously. There’s no box you have to buy so there’s theoretically no large upfront paywall. I know this was a controlled environment where the best possible internet was available but this demonstration showed how easy it is to start and continue a game on another device with game streaming. If it works as well as Google claims (and that’s a big question mark at the moment) then the implications will be huge.

Another point I wanted to note here that doesn’t necessarily fit into the versatility category (I guess it kinda does) is that players will no longer have to wait for a game to update. There’s nothing worse than starting up a game and discovering that a multi-gigabyte update needs to be downloaded in order to play. Stadia will avoid the wait times because all of the updating will happen on the server side and thus, once updated, games can be streamed straight to consumers. If I’m being honest, this is streaming’s biggest selling point for me personally. I hate waiting for things to download.

Again, keep in mind that this strength takes it for granted that everything will work as well as Google claims it will. Google’s whole plan could sink if there are major problems at launch. I will discuss internet connections and speeds down below.

Leveraging YouTube

One big feature of Stadia was the ‘Play Now’ button Google plans on putting at the end of each YouTube video of a game that is on the streaming platform. This has the potential to draw in huge numbers of people into the gaming world. Just think about it: you’re watching your favorite YouTuber playing a game that looks pretty cool and then that button appears at the end of the video. Within seconds, you could be playing that game by just pressing ‘Play Now’ (again, as long as the service works well). Not only that but Google promises a feature where players can purchase the save data of the YouTuber in order to gain access to the game at that particular moment they’re watching. I cannot stress enough how big of a feature this could turn out to be.

One potential downside for Google is what if watchers aren’t really players? What I mean by that is what if people who like to watch other people play video games don’t necessarily like to play them themselves? It seems Google is hoping its service will turn people who passively interact with games into active players and, consequently, purchasers. This group of people numbers in the tens and perhaps even hundreds of millions. This would be a huge win for any company if it could successfully get this group engaged. Time will tell if Google’s strategy is successful.

The Golden Child

You ever notice how some companies can be doing cool and innovative things but no one really pays attention to them? Then another more popular company comes along, essentially announces the same thing, and then it becomes popular? Well, this is what I think is happening with Google’s Stadia. It may come as a surprise to some but game streaming is nothing new. There was a company (now bankrupt) called OnLive which was essentially the pioneer in game streaming technology. In addition, Nvidia (which manufactures graphics cards) offers streaming services and let’s not forget about Sony’s PS Now which you can use right now on TVs, phones, and computers. That’s not even mentioning the fact that Microsoft has been heavily hinting that it will enter the streaming space very soon (service is codenamed xCloud). Most of these services haven’t made much of a splash but Google didn’t really have to try that hard to get people’s attention.

If you look up Google Stadia right now you will find plenty of articles, videos, Tweets, etc. of people furiously debating the streaming service or losing their minds over it. Even though this technology is nothing new and many companies are already offering it to consumers, Google fans couldn’t wait to sling their panties up onstage when their favorite company announced it was entering the fray. This simple demonstration has generated way more buzz than any of its competitors thus far. This is what I mean by “The Golden Child” and Google is a perfect example of it.

The Weaknesses

Content

I have long maintained that a gaming platform (or service) is nothing without those games it has and those it doesn’t have. Games were noticeably absent from Google’s presentation. Other than Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and DOOM: Eternal, there were no big games announced for Stadia. To be fair, there were slides with symbols on them that hinted there would be a few big games on Stadia presumably at launch. The two most exciting hints seemed to be Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption 2.

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One of the “teaser” images.

As for exclusive content, Google has created an internal development studio called Stadia Games and Entertainment. There were no announcements from the studio although it will be headed up by Jade Raymond of Beyond Good & Evil fame. The most puzzling thing about it is that she was literally just hired to the post which leads me to believe that Google will have no exclusives ready to go at launch. That is unless Jade has been working at Google for some time in secret. The executives at Google claim they will reveal games later (possibly at E3) but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I hope they have learned from Microsoft’s mistake during this generation of consoles and actually work on getting some good exclusives.

Pricing

Perhaps the biggest question on everyone’s lips after the conference was how would pricing work? Will players be purchasing the games and then playing them? Or would Stadia feature a monthly fee for unlimited game streaming? Or perhaps both? This could be a deal-breaker for many people as a lot of gamers prefer owning their games to renting them. I would say this is the biggest unknown when it comes to Stadia. Google says they have the pricing locked down (and I would find it inconceivable if they didn’t) and that they will provide more details at a later date.

Internet Connection Speeds

In my mind, this will be the biggest stumbling block that Google must overcome. Will Stadia only work with ridiculously fast internet speeds or can it function on medium to low-end networks? I know for a fact that many people out in the boonies have terrible connections and likely won’t be able to use it. Heck, the internet connection I frequently use doesn’t even allow me to view YouTube videos clearly. This is especially true when multiple people are using the internet at the same time. Not to mention that many ISPs have data caps for their users (*cough* Comcast *cough*).

Although Stadia doesn’t have huge upfront costs (like buying a console does), it will have huge costs over time because people will need to have fast internet at home and probably unlimited data for their phones if they want to game on the go. I feel that Stadia will only reach the people living in cities and will leave people in the countryside behind. The question then becomes does Google care if they’re left behind? If it doesn’t, then the executives at Google won’t feel bad running console manufacturers out of business and leaving some people without access to games. Again, this is only if the service proves popular and people and companies move to that model. Connection speeds are going to be a bigger stumbling block than most people think.

 

 

These are just my initial thoughts about Google’s new service. What do you all think? Does Stadia have what it takes to break into the video game market in a big way? Or will it fail like OnLive did before it? As always, thanks for reading!

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