I’ve seen so much clickbait on Stadia, I had to write up my thoughts. Keep in mind, I’m not a Stadia fan, far from it. I’m actually quite certain it will be a pixelated mess once it releases and take a great while to work well, but I don’t want the current hate and vitriol on YouTube to brainwash you because too many of those guys are being facetious.
For those that don’t know, Stadia is an online streaming game service where you can watch a game on YouTube and be instantly playing it within five seconds on any device that can use Chrome. It’s good and bad, with the good being convenience and the bad being a questionable experience for the more regular gamer consumer base.
What I want to emphasize here is that Stadia is more than a new platform, it’s a new convenience service. It is trying to invent a market where little to no market exists. Sony’s PS Now has had their own streaming service for quite some time, but it is underutilized for the sole reason that the user experience varies significantly from one location to the next, as your bandwidth has little to do with the signal. It all boils down to how well a connection your ISP has to the Sony servers and how far away you are from it. Have a bad ping to the Sony server and you’ll be playing through a laggy, blurry mess even if you have gigabit internet. The vast majority of users are currently using PS Now as a game library service rather than a streaming service. For the lucky few, it’s quite nice to be able to play a game without an install. However, the resolution is 720p/30 FPS and it seems a shame that it looks that way. The last time I used PS Now, the controller lag was significantly improved to the point where I could barely discern the difference between playing online or off the PS4 hard drive, but again that varied from day to day with the internet traffic on my cable provider at that given time. In a nutshell, the best experience gaming via stream pretty much didn’t work consistently well if at all. Microsoft and Nvidia have their own streaming versions of PS Now going, and Microsoft’s XCloud does look promising, but I really think those same issues are going to come up. It’s not that easy to stream games across networks in the least.
So, Google takes a shot at it. I’m only intrigued because Google has the backbone and money to dive right in and make a whole new something out of it because YouTube is already the biggest fish in the pond of video content in the world. If it is going to work, Google is the one to do it.
That said, gamers feelings about no longer owning their own copies of games tend to be on the….let’s just say the emotional side of things. That’s understood. I bet it didn’t stop those same gamers from amassing giant digital libraries, though. My guess is that many of them have hundreds if not thousands of digital games on PSN, Steam, Nintendo eshop, Xbox, etc. C’mon, let’s face it. Physical media is nice, but the reality is that it will eventually become a niche item much like vinyl records. Though, maybe not entirely. Games tend to fall in that sort of odd category of being more valuable than a movie and sometimes surpassing the value of a good book. People still enjoy hard copy books, despite ebooks being more convenient. It’s just the tangible feel of it. Can’t deny that.
That said, I personally don’t think the Playstation or Nintendo fans will go anywhere. Xbox might be in a tighter squeeze with Stadia, because they came in last place in this current generation of console wars despite having a more powerful upgrade to the Xbox One X. Nintendo has shown that gaming on the go is the preferred method for an absolutely enormous number of gamers, evident by how fast and how many Switch consoles have been bought, even outselling PS4 in Japan. It’s a bit mind-boggling actually, but not being tied down to a box on a TV is a major factor for many gamers across the world.
As for PC gamers, they are a breed apart. These are generally people with pumped up rigs and to ask if they want to switch to a stream is sort of like asking a kid if they want ice cream cold in a cone or melted on the floor. Unless you don’t have a rig already, PC gamers won’t be interested in the least for Stadia.
So, what’s the point? It’s not really aimed at gamers is the point. Yeah, that makes no sense, but it actually does. In my opinion, while it looks like Google is blanket bombing all gamers, I feel their true sights are aiming at casual gamers.
They know they are fighting an uphill battle against the current console platforms and that the youngest generation of gamers is already rolling their eyes at their frankly out of touch commercials. If you show ads to 30-somethings with disposable income and who maybe have just a few hours of free time a week, they will look at those ads and think “Oh, hey, that looks cool. Man, I wish I could game again, it’s been so long. I don’t even have anything to play games on anymore. What, I can play on my phone or my laptop?!!”, and then end scene. Those game cutscene-riddled Stadia ads make it look like you are the in “the club” so to speak if you have Stadia. At least to me anyway, because the commercials seem like some crazy mishmash of typical “gamer moments” that most actual gamers will just wince at.
Aim at selling a streaming service to someone who probably has a few other services already being auto-billed and there you go, or have them buy the newest game on Stadia and play on their own phone at the hotel until they fall asleep and have to go back to work the next morning, likely never playing the game again. You’ll get some kids who can’t afford a console and stream instead too, but more than likely the target is the casual gamer with disposable income. The kind of folks who don’t need to save up for a game or a console, but they ( or their significant other ) may not want to have a box because of the clutter or whatnot. This is why I think lots of the ads emphasize the “box”lessness of Stadia. Any talk of converting the current platform junkies is simply smoke blowing in the wind, so cue your eye rolls for that. Is it the future of gaming? Yes, in part. Is it the only future? No, seriously no. Stadia is not ready for that in the least.
What does that mean for current gamers? ( and I’m talking gamers who play daily and think about games or game deals waaaay too much ).
Just play games on the platform that feels right to you.
Google may or may not make this whole thing to work. They have to wow people and provide a service that becomes second nature for it to really catch on. If they don’t, it will tank so fast we’ll be looking at 2019 highlight Stadia fails in late 2020. If they do, then what will happen? Likely Sony or Microsoft will rent out the Google network to provide their own version because otherwise, it’s PS Now 720p streaming for years on end.
Ah, then comes Microsoft XCloud. After looking at E3 demos and reading about 10 ms lag with only 5 mbps connections needed, I’m almost afraid to look this in the eye and see if it blinks back at me. The beta starts in October of 2019, so we will see. This would be a wonderful complement to the Xbox ecosystem, which frankly kills with the backward compatibility. Also, the new update to the Game Pass will be on PC as well, making a lot of PC gamers slightly more interested than before.
One more tidbit from E3 is the Orion, Bethesda’s streaming technology. This can actually bring seemingly zero lag on mobile and 4K/60 FPS for reals and guess what, they showed someone on their phone actually slaying it on Doom. Yeah, a PHONE. With this performance enhancing tech, we could be looking at a huge new wave of streaming capable games in the near future, perhaps ready even ahead of the actual streaming services themselves.
Now, I don’t see either PSN or Xbox investing the billions of dollars into the same type of network Google probably already has going. Xcloud could very well have the same issues as PS Now and frankly, the huge controller attached to a phone thing looks super weird and bulky. Although, the big two could maybe find other tech companies willing to provide and maintain a streaming network for them, like from Amazon perhaps or maybe even ISP providers if they provide a cut of the sales to them. It is going to be the battle of the cloud platforms, so this could amp to be an interesting, or disappointing, development in gaming this year. I don’t mention Nintendo because they live on a different planet or something, they’ll just invent a new device that is absolutely different and do what they do.
Anyway, I hope you take away from this some idea that Stadia is a serious step forward for a new convenience service and not going to replace your library of games any time soon, if at all. If Stadia works and somehow grows beyond casual gamers to gaining actual true blue gaming addicts, then we’ll see what really happens. There is also Xcloud to throw a wrench in it all with their GamePass involved that has some damned good games in it. I wasn’t totally thrilled with my Google Project Stream trial to be frank. I’ll wait until there is something tangible from both to spin around the block before saying more and keep an open mind about how it performs when it releases. I do have to remark, Google is not presenting it as they should. It’s not a new tech algorithm they are selling, it’s a gaming experience. They should hire a better ad firm, theirs is not doing it right. A bullet-point presentation with cheesy vids is not the way to convince gamers to try Stadia.