Google set out to revolutionize the games industry big time with Google Stadia. The streaming service that removes the need for a physical gaming device (console or PC) is an interesting product. But as many users will tell you, it’s not working very well at all right now. With that being said, what would the platform need in order for it to become the impactful service it set out to be?
Let’s get something out of the way: the idea of cutting out the middle man and saving people the trouble of buying a gaming machine is brilliant. You are not limited by your hardware, there’s no need to upgrade, you don’t have to jealously look at Sony’s exclusives while you’re playing Halo. The list goes on.
Still, no one is talking about Stadia anymore. After it’s launch the service was shown to be not quite what Google had promised. Performance was off, the resolutions didn’t seem to check out, and the selection of games was condensed at best. Two months later and nothing seems to have changed. That’s not a big surprise though, because the service is fundamentally flawed.
The Internet issue
The first and foremost infrastructure problem that Google has to face in order to make Stadia work is internet speed. Sure, streaming Netflix in 4K might be possible for plenty of people, but if the internet connection isn’t optimal, 1080p or 720p will do. The same can’t be said for Stadia. Even more so, when there is even just a slight dip in internet upload speed, it could cause terrible input lag. This brief Washington Post review of Google Stadia about says is all:
But fixing internet infrastructure isn’t something that can be done overnight. In fact, Google barely has influence over the internet speed of a user. So maybe this is where Stadia runs ashore; the fact that the world (especially second and third world countries) don’t have the internet speeds required to comfortably play.
Exclusivity is key, just look at Epic Games
And even with a solid internet connection, Google Stadia isn’t the most sought after platform for a simple reason: its games. Right now, there’s about 40 games available for the platform. So yeah, you don’t have to purchase a console or gaming PC. But you can also barely purchase any game at all through the service.
If Google wants to draw more people in (especially once they move past the $129 Founder’s Edition entry fee) the library of games has to be more than just a handful of titles. In fact, the more exclusive the better. Sure, from a gamer’s standpoint it is infuriating to be forced to go to the Epic Games Store for Red Dead Redemption 2 on launch. But from a business standpoint, Epic Games made sure all the cowboys that couldn’t wait to draw their six-shooters went to their platform.
Google has to do the same to get ahead. At the very least introduce games on the platform when the games launch; usually most copies are sold before and during the launch. RDR 2 got a timed exclusivity deal on Epic Games, with Rockstar’s cowboy epic launching for Stadia two weeks later. They effectively missed out on a large chunk of potential customers.
So where does that leave Stadia in the eyes of the consumer? Not at the top of their wish list, we assume. The fact that you might not be sure if your internet will be up to the standards of Stadia won’t make you sell your console right away. A 40 game library isn’t going to make you delete your Steam account all of a sudden. Not being certain if a game like RDR2 will even run at decent framerate won’t have you toss out your PC.
Stadia isn’t riding a wave of consumer confidence right now. What is also concerning is that Google is notorious for abandoning projects that aren’t working out. Not that they’re not willing to see stuff through, but just take a look at the KilledByGoogle graveyard and you’ll find that they come up with a lot of awesome stuff, but if it’s not working, they’ll cancel it. The same goes for Stadia too.
And as GamesIndustry’s Rob Fahey puts it ever so eloquently:
The reality of Stadia is merely trades one set of limitations (the need to download or physically acquire a game before playing, and to have a console or PC with you when you want to do so) for another (the need to have a very high speed, uncapped broadband connection at any location where you wish to play).
All in all, there’s some structural problems that Google has to face in order to make Stadia succeed. They do have one ace up their sleeve though. Stadia is – when it actually works – an amazing technological accomplishment that could potentially save gamers the trouble of painstakingly building a good gaming PC or choosing consoles based on exclusive games, features, and prices.
But Google may have launched Stadia too soon, and in 5 years, when the PS5 and Xbox Series X are becoming dated technology, we may one day be able to write just how revolutionary Google Stadia is for the games industry.