As we near the end of this eighth generation of consoles draws to a close, more and more information about what the so-called future of gaming is becoming available. Some of it, like Nintendo’s and Sony’s plans, is encouraging. The rest, not so much. It seems every major publisher wants to launch their own game streaming service now, and it all sounds highly suspect to me. At the forefront of this push is Google with its Stadia “console,” and they have me feeling very worried about the direction the business is going.
Now, I’ve been playing games for a very long time now; over 20 years in fact. That’s plenty of time to get used to things being a certain way, and I’m fully willing to admit that. However, that is not where my worry is coming from. When it comes to the likes of Google Stadia, my concern is fourfold: infrastructure, value, need and trustworthiness. Google has put out a great deal of information about Stadia in the past few weeks, and none of it does anything to address any of those points.
First of all, we don’t have the infrastructure necessary to reliably facilitate this kind of service. I’m not sure how much better or worse internet service is in the rest of the world, but it’s not exactly great here in the United States. Google’s minimum necessary speed for HD game streaming is about 10-12Mbps and at least 30Mbps for 4K. That kind of service is not something available to a very large portion of the country. Those living in the nicer portions of major cities may have no issue getting those speeds, same goes for the more developed suburban areas. Everyone else is not going to consistently see such speeds yet though, and even if they did, do we really believe that even 30 Mbps is enough to deliver the same kind of lag-free experience one can get from a local machine? I don’t think so. Yet, here’s Google asking people to fork over $10 a month for the privilege of trying.
Let’s talk about that cost too. There is a “free” version of Stadia for people to use, but we all know Google wants its users on the paid “premium” plan. All that $10 is going to get you is access; that’s it. There are currently no games being offered for free to subscribers beyond one mystery game per month which will almost certainly be an older title. For everything else, we’re going to have to pay full price. That’s right full price for the mere right to access a game on Google’s service. We won’t own it. We won’t be able to access it if there’s an internet outage in our area or if Google’s own service goes down (just like YouTube) and we’ll have no recourse should they decide to delist it a year later for some reason. Also consider that Stadia will end up costing more than a traditional console by the end of the next console cycle: $840 over 7 years (versus $300 – $400 for a normal console). That doesn’t sound like all that great of a deal to me.
There’s also no need for this. The whole appeal is “AAA gaming on the go,” but when exactly is anyone going to need it? How many people have a long-enough, non-driving, commute to warrant the need to play Assassin’s Creed through their phone? How much time do people really have for gaming while they’re out and about? If you’re the average working adult or teenager, not all that much. Finally, do we really trust Google (or EA or Ubisoft or Bethesda) to honor our purchases on their services. These are all companies that have shown they’re not above exploiting their customers for short-term financial gains, so what exactly will stop them from taking their customers for all they’re worth in this scenario? Nothing. Nothing at all. Trusting them to deliver a quality experience (and nothing else) would be a very big mistake.
Some say that this is inevitable. Some are even excited to see it happen. I say that it’s not. I say that we as consumers have no need to go along with this, and we in fact should not. Buying into this means being at the total mercy of stone cold business, and I for one am not willing to go along with it for an experience that is looking even less convenient than what I’ve enjoyed for my entire time as a gamer.
What’s your take on Google Stadia? Do you see any positives to it beyond it’s ability to stream games to smartphones?
Lede image from ars technica