Google Stadia - Is It Dead In The Water?
If you run a quick search for Google Stadia into Google, chances are you'll end up seeing an article from The Verge entitled How To Cancel Your Google Stadia Subscription. If anything, this is just one part of the story of the troubled tenure so far of Google's latest innovation. Last year, I wrote a column on this very platform exploring how cloud gaming could be the future and now, nearly a year on from that announcement, it looks like Google's answer could be dead in the water.
On the surface, the idea of Stadia seemed brilliant. The ability to play your favourite AAA or indie titles on your phone or laptop or even TV appealed instantly to both me and the wider world, and it's certainly fair to say that there was a lot of hype following Google's announcement last year. In addition, with the experience provided by the likes of Ubisoft's former executive Jade Raymond, as well as the support from Ubisoft and partnerships wth both Unity and CryEngine seemed to put them in good stead, but even with all that backing, it just hasn't lived up to expectations.
The main reason for the dismal failure of Stadia, in a similar vein to forgotten consoles of the past, is the commercial model on which they've chosen to operate. Stadia, at this current moment, has around forty playable titles, which is some sixty less than Xbox's Game Pass For PC. Sure, Google pledged to increase this three-fold to 120 titles earlier in the year, but at this present time, forty games, plus another couple to be released, just isn't enough. Steam, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, has over 30,000 titles and dominates the digital purchasing market. Even then, their own cloud platform died soon after launch, so that doesn't really put Google in good stead.
Moreover, the way that Stadia works is purely on a closed purchasing system, so that, when you buy the games digitally, it's only available for Stadia, and not PC for instance. The glaring problem with this is that it's limiting and forces you to use Stadia solitarily. With this, if Stadia dies, you'll be left with hundreds of Pounds wasted that you can't get back due to digital purchases. It's comparable to owning a load of old Laserdiscs or Betamax tapes. Sure, they're relics these days, but not much more I'm afraid. Furthermore, unlike Steam or console gaming, there's no option to trial games for Stadia through a limited-release demo or something similar, meaning that it forces you to spend however many Pounds or other currency on a particular game.
Whilst it may seem not seem like a massive issue on the surface, the pricing of Stadia can also been seen to cause it to be dead in the water less than a year after launch. With no particular physical console to purchase, on the surface, Stadia seems like a cost-effective alternative to typical consoles provided by Microsoft and Sony. However, once you add up the costs of purchasing the Stadia Premiere Edition, with both one Stadia controller and a Chromecast Ultra, that comes to £119, and another three Stadia controllers at £59 each because you'll want to play with friends, that comes to a total of £296, without having bought any games at all. For the same money these days, you can buy an Xbox One X on its own, or buy the slightly bulkier Xbox One S bundle with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order for around £205, and still have £90 or so left to go and spend on other games, an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, or anything else that tickles your fancy.
With all this being said, for the lack of AAA titles and rather expensive set-up, the actual gaming experience, as per a good few reviews, is actually pretty good. Whilst some launch features such as Crowd Play, which gave you the ability to jump straight into a multiplayer session with some of your favourite streamers and YouTubers aren't available at the moment, it's not really that big of a deal. Stadia still offers a seamless Wi-Fi based connection through the Chromecast Ultra and the Stadia Controller and the engineering behind the experience is second-to-none, as long as you've got a fairly decent network connection. In addition, the system UI is both simple and intuitive, with quick set-up times only making life easier.
I suppose that, whilst Stadia to some could be seen as pretty much dead less than a year after launch, there's still some hope left. It's very early days with cloud gaming as a construct in the industry anyway, and so it's only fair to give some props to Google for something that hasn't really been explored beforehand. In the future, we may well see Stadia take off and be the next big thing, but for now, Google have got to walk before they can run.