On March 19th, at a GDC 2019 Keynote, Google revealed their long-rumored foray into the games industry with Google Stadia. The cloud-based game streaming service has since been met with mixed reactions and overall skepticism. If Stadia is to become a success and not another failure by Google to enter a new market, it needs to establish itself and for that to happen Stadia needs to overcome quite a few hurdles, some innate to the nature of streaming games, and some due to Google’s own public image issues.
Game streaming services have a long history filled with letdowns, the most infamous game streaming service failure would have to be OnLive. In an eerie coincidence, ten years ago, at GDC 2009 OnLive was revealed and had all of the same fanfare and praise that Stadia is seeing today. OnLive promised that the service would allow users to stream games, including console games, from any tablet or PC. Due to the streaming service being plagued with technical, and latency issues, as well as lack of original content, OnLive would ultimately go out of business in 2015 selling their assets and patents to Sony. Google has the advantage of having world-class technology at its disposal, and this technology must be used with the goal of providing a flawless launch and steady support to the platform to escape the long-time stigma associated with game streaming services.As of 2019 the most successful game streaming services are offered by hardware providers like Sony and Microsoft.
Google enters the market at a time where the major game hardware manufactures are rolling out their own game streaming subscription services. Another factor is Epic Games opening their own game store which is drawing a lot of developer support. As the new player in the market, Google has no history or good will with gamers. If it hopes to gain a foothold in this market Google must come out of the gate strong with a product that fulfills the lofty promises that the company is making, and it must attract the AAA third-party studios to have a solid breadth of the latest content.
Currently there are several concerns that people have about the Google Stadia, it is imperative that Google addresses these concerns ahead of launch. One such concern is the amount of input latency, when Google held a demo of the service last year, using the Game Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, it was under ideal settings and the input lag was minimal, though the graphical fidelity of the game took a small hit. There are also concerns about Chrome already being ram-intensive and if this service will ratchet up that ram consumption to levels that are unacceptable for most gameplay situations. If Google wishes to successfully enter this market Stadia needs to maintain little-to-no latency, and a high minimum for resolution and graphical fidelity as a standard across all hardware configurations. Price is another big concern, in the Keynote Google intentionally avoided mentioning any sort of price point for this service, this is raises alarms because the market Google is targeting are those that can’t afford high-end PCs or gaming consoles and would be turning to streaming games as a cheaper alternative, so having a price point that ends up being less expensive than buying the hardware to run the games is critical.
Bandwidth is another major concern that has been raised, streaming AAA games at 4K resolution and 60+ frames is going to require no small amount of bandwidth; this raises issues with a lot of users. There are still many areas that don’t have access to the high speed internet that it is expected will be required for Stadia, and with many ISP and cellular data plans having data caps on bandwidth if Stadia is a data hog many people won’t be able to use the service without incurring the ridiculous surcharges, or having their data throttled by the ISP for going over their data cap, this would effectively add a hidden cost to Google Stadia on top of the initial price for the service.
Another concern, and possible the biggest, is the continued loss of control for consumers. As a service Stadia offers no hardware, and no software. The games are complete stored in the cloud and the buyer has no ability to download them and can’t even access them outside of the specific channels offered by Google. This harkens back to the struggle the community has been dealing with since storefronts like Steam came long. Stadia takes this to the next level because there is no method to download games off the service making PC gaming community staples like modding impossible. This also crowds out the iDevice owners as Stadia likely won’t work on those products due to app store restrictions. Google also has a glaring record of censoring materials. On YouTube videos are demonetized and removed, websites are removed from Google indexes, and search results are manipulated. These events and more have built up a lot of distrust in Google and consumers expect that it would bring these same types of practices to Google Stadia censoring and or removing games, developers and users for various reasons.
These are a sampling of the questions that have arisen online since the keynote. Google is planning to release Stadia later in 2019, so that leaves the company with only a handful of months to make the case to customers. Google has been guilty of some very anti-community actions in the past, if they want to prove that the ‘community’ theme in Google Stadia is more than just PR buzzwords, they must address the questions and desires of the gaming community. Google has made some decent strides by hiring Jade Raymond to head Stadia Games and Entertainment, and if they can successfully tackle these concerns Google Stadia could become a player in the market, if not Google Allo will be short-lived as the latest addition in Google’s failed products bin.