I am still in the process of working with Google to try and figure out how to make Stadia function normally in my house, despite otherwise great internet speeds. I’ve gotten a taste of what Stadia feels like when it’s actually functioning mostly as intended, in a hotel of all places, but all this discussion of latency and lag and tech issues is only half the equation.
If we assume that Google manages to get Stadia in perfect working order for all players, the issue then becomes that the model they have come up with for Stadia simply does not make any sense.
While Google’s main pitch is that you are saving on hardware costs because Stadia is entirely in the cloud, it’s still not a cheap prospect for other reasons. Nor does it make much sense for either avid gamers, or non-gamers.
Stadia has some measure of initial investment required right now, a Founder’s kit that costs over $100 and includes a Chromecast Ultra and Stadia controller, but even if you choose to play Stadia without any of that, as in just on your PC, for instance, there’s a subscription tier for $10 a month to get the best quality of streaming (which, as recent issues indicate, you will want, lest your games look pretty bad indeed). And while that comes with a few free games, the vast majority of the Stadia library will have to be purchased just like you were buying a new game on PlayStation, Xbox or PC.
This creates problems for pretty much every kind of potential player.
I can speak for the “avid gamer” population directly, at least, and I am unclear when I would want to use Stadia outside of a very select instances, so few that I don’t think it would be worth having at all, were I not testing it for work.
The problem is the fact that there are three barriers to entry for almost all games. I have to:
– Pay a monthly subscription to have access to the tier of streaming that is at least close to on par with consoles (though testing shows, a bit below in many instances)
– I then have to re-buy games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or Borderlands 3 that I already own that I want to play in multiple locations, free of my console or PC.
– But even once I do that, these games do not have cross save, meaning I am buying a brand new copy of a game that does not have access to my 200 hour save files for each title, rendering the entire experience pointless.
– To avoid this situation, I would have to be choosing to play a new game from the very start on Stadia over my other options. Say Stadia gets Cyberpunk 2077 at launch, I then have to chose to make Stadia my main place to play through that game, which at this point, seems like a bad decision given the quality and latency issues. I am trading visual fidelity and reliability for the ability to hop screens and avoid download times. For a game like Cyberpunk, I think you are not going to find core gamers that are going to pick Stadia over a traditional console or PC, as you are then committing to that platform for the duration of the entire game.
– Going one step past this, there’s an idea that a gamer would have to commit to Stadia completely over say, buying the next gen PlayStation and Xbox consoles, which at this point, seems like an insanely risky prospect that no big-time gamer is going to feel comfortable with. With Google’s track record, we also don’t know how long they’ll continue to support Stadia or the library of cloud games you build up that could theoretically just evaporate into the ether.
At the present moment there is one exception to this, Destiny 2.
Destiny 2 eliminates two of the barriers to entry. Destiny 2 is free when you have a Stadia Pro subscription, and while yes, Destiny 2 has put parts of itself free to play, the Stadia version has all content free, including both expansions, Forsaken and Shadowkeep, so you get all of that as part of your base subscription. That’s good.
Destiny 2 also has cross save, meaning you can link your Stadia account to your Xbox, PS4 or Steam accounts, and whatever you do on Stadia will make progress on your character across all of those. Few games have this, but this is exactly the dream scenario for how titles on Stadia should work.
And yet as a huge Destiny 2 player, I am racking my brain to try and pin down…when I would actually want to play Destiny 2 on Stadia. If I’m at home, I will absolutely be playing on PC or PS4, because the downgrades D2 on Stadia has makes for a lesser experience, which is not going to be preferred when other options are freely available.
So then Stadia turns into just being used for “travel,” except since you need solid Wifi, you’re not going to be playing this thing on long car rides and it would be a true miracle if you could get it to work on a plane. So that leaves me just playing Stadia in hotels or visiting friends or family. And that’s assuming I don’t have a laptop that can play Destiny 2 in those situations (I do, and no surprise, my Razer Blade runs Destiny 2 better than Stadia).
The problem is that even for a best-case scenario, Stadia still has extremely limited appeal as to when a big game would actually want to use it.
And non-gamers? That idea has never really made sense from the start. Again, yes, you are eliminating the need to buy expensive consoles. But when 95% of the games offered on the service are still full priced titles that range from $30-60? I have no idea how you’re suddenly going to convince non-gamers, or at best, F2P mobile gamers, to pay for that.
Stadia could work if it was what people originally assumed it was going to be, Netflix for games. You pay $10 a month, and Google has worked out some deal to get you dozens of free, big-name games that you can access through the streaming service anywhere, somewhat similar to how Xbox Game Pass works. Combine that with cross-save with other platforms and yes, I would 100% subscribe to Stadia Pro to be able to hop around with my save files and alternate copies of games so I could play them in a variety of locations from hotel TVs to my phone.
But we are very, very far from. Again, it’s literally only Destiny 2 that works like that, and it’s clear that is going to be the very rare exception, not the rule. Stadia does not make sense for most veteran gamers or new players under the current model, and outside of all the tech issues, which could end up being insurmountable on their own, this is something Google needs to rethink if they want the service to have any kind of lifespan in this industry.