In case you don’t follow me on Twitch, I’m currently streaming live reactions to E3 2019, the big gaming conference. One of the first conferences was for Google’s new Stadia game streaming service which in general, seems like the gaming community hates with a burning passion. With all the negativity towards it, I wanted to throw my hat in with a more positive but still critical commentary.
I think the biggest selling point for Stadia so far is the price. This is one of the few things I’ve seen die hard haters agree on and that’s the fact that it’s inexpensive. Stadia comes in two plans, a free Base plan and a $10/month Pro option. No matter which plan you get, you buy the games outright. Pro isn’t like Netflix where you get access to the entire library for one price but instead more like PlayStation Plus or Xbox’s Games For Gold programs where you get 1-5 games a month for free as a bonus.
The fact there’s even a free plan at all is insane and I think it’s gonna be what most average consumers use. Base is capped at 1080p60 which is good enough for most people since not everyone owns 4K TVs yet. Base basically becomes the cheapest way you can get into gaming in 2019.
Let’s set up a price example to explain what I mean, for this we are gonna compare all the consoles to see what’s the cheapest entry price to simply play one game assuming you don’t own a PC or console capable of running it. We are also gonna assuming you already own a PC, Phone, or Tablet since who doesn’t, everyone has a device they can load websites on, just maybe not one powerful enough to run said game. Lastly, we are gonna assume the game can be beaten in one month and requires online so any subscription costs are their lowest amount.
First, for a full 4K experience:
- Xbox One X: $570 total, $500 for the console, $10 for 1 month of Live Gold, and $60 for the game
- PS4 Pro: $470 total, $400 for the console, $10 for 1 month of Plus, and $60 for the game
- Stadia Pro: $70 total, $10 for one month and $60 for the game
So already if you want 4K, Stadia is vastly cheaper. Sure it might not end up being as good looking potentially (cause compression artifacts most likely will happen) but if you can deal with it being just slightly less quality, you would save $400-500 and have basically the same experience.
However, the bigger difference is for non-4K play:
- Xbox One S: $370 total, $300 for the console, $10 for 1 month of Live Gold, and $60 for the game
- Xbox One S All Digital: $320 total, $250 for the console, $10 for 1 month of Live Gold, and $60 for the game
- PS4: $370 total, $300 for the console, $10 for 1 month of Plus, and $60 for the game
- Nintendo Switch: $364 total, $300 for the console, $4 for 1 month of Switch Online, and $60 for the game
- Stadia Base: $60 total, $60 for the game
Since with Base, all you ever pay for is the game itself, it will always be the cheapest entry point into gaming. Plus unlike the other consoles, you don’t have to pay separately for online multiplayer which is a big plus. While you can play games with a mouse/keyboard, you might still want a controller if you don’t own one so even if we bundle in the price of a controller, it will still be cheaper since Google’s own Stadia controller isn’t required. Any Bluetooth or USB Wired controller will work and you can easily get those from Amazon for $10 or less.
This can very easily make Stadia a big hit with the same people who would’ve bought a Wii back in the day, casual gamers would definitely be less willing to spend a lot on a console just to play a few specific games they want. Speaking of which, that brings me to my second point…
Most of the very common complaints I hear towards Stadia can be easily replied to with one sentence: “You aren’t the target market for this.” This is a big thing people keep forgetting, just because you might not be the person who wants to use this service doesn’t mean nobody will.
Honestly, this is kinda a general issue with “gamers” as a whole. Everyone considers it some exclusive elite club and pushes “normies” out. Said “normies” are the exact audience this kind of product is for. Die-hard gamers will always want the best of the best with no compromises even if it means spending a lot of money or sacrificing convince but most people aren’t like that, they just want to experience the game for as cheap as possible.
Think back to the Wii again, most “gamers” wrote that off as basically a kids toy while “real men” played Xbox and PlayStation, but you know what was the best selling console that generation? It was the Wii because a massive untapped “normie” audience was able to play games in a cheap way, they don’t care about super high res graphics as long as the game is fun.
That’s another big thing people miss nowadays, games nowadays are all about more and more realism and pixels but usually the story and gameplay lacks because of it. We’ve lost what made games good, an actual fun experience, for an “oooo shiny” mentality. This is part of the reason I personally love Nintendo as a company and Indie developers, they are some of the few game makers left to still be focusing on the gameplay.
Some of the best games I’ve ever played in the past few years have been games that put the gameplay and story before the visual presentation. A Hat In Time, Super Mario Odyssey, Celeste, Undertale, Sonic Mania, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Dead Cells, and many, many more. Most of those even have the same “pixel art” look which some people view as a cheap nostalgia thing and while yes, they do have a bit of nostalgia, pixel art is also way cheaper which means for these small studios, they can put more time and money into what really matters.
Lastly, another big argument I heard is the same one people also use for Digital games on normal consoles also, ownership… What happens if the service goes down? To that I have to say, keep in mind not everyone plays the same game more than once, so what if the service dies? I will have already got my full money’s worth of the game and wasn’t ever gonna touch it again to begin with so the fact I lost access to it doesn’t affect me in the slightest.
Sure, you might still have some games you want to come back to. For example, puzzle games like Tetris are timeless and multiplayer games you can play with a buddy but for the most part, most games would be single player stuff most people would never touch again after they completed it so they wouldn’t care if they lose access to it. This (again) would probably be the case for those “normies”, they aren’t the type to replay games year after year and possibly even speedrun games.
So in summary, the target market is the same as Nintendo’s Wii was back in the day. Average consumers who are willing to sacrifice the best of the best in quality and latency for a fun experience at a cheap price which they are done with once they beat the game.
Speaking of latency, that’s the last big point people bring up. I do agree this one is the wildcard that could easily break or make the service but I don’t think it will be as bad as others think. People think the internet in the US is shit but it’s honestly not THAT bad. A few years ago would be a different story, the average speed for people in the US was about 3-5 Mbps but nowadays most people average 10-15 Mbps which Google says is enough for stable 720p60 which should be “good enough” for most average consumers.
Latency itself also shouldn’t be too terrible, people playing this service wouldn’t be super competitive gamers who need frame perfect, down to the millisecond latency. As long as the latency isn’t like 1 whole second between presses, most people will probably be able to deal with it.
I think the bigger issue will be data caps, most people in the US have a 1TB max data cap on their home internet and streaming games could eat that away fast but honestly the same could be said for watching YouTube videos as this would also be similar (it’s basically playing a video stream) or even downloading digital games on other storefronts. But assuming you could work around the cap (like stream at a low quality even if your internet speed could handle 4K) or are fine paying your ISP extra to extend/remove the cap, it shouldn’t be a big deal and this is basically no different from doing the same thing for downloading big games or watching TV/Movies/YouTube.
This is the last arguement I’ve heard and it’s honestly a valid concern. Google has been known in the past for shutting down products left and right, having 2 of the same thing at the same time, and then abandoning them all later. Why should I trust Google with their history of shutting stuff down?
Well first off, as mentioned above, if they shut down it’s not a big deal for the target consumer as they most likely will have already got their enjoyment out of the game before the shut down. However, even if you don’t want to lose your games, I don’t think Google will shut this one down. Google has only ever shut down a few paid services and never without providing some alternative. One example, Play Music is shutting down soon but they are migrating everyone to YouTube Music a service that will have more features once the migration is complete and costs about the same. Google may close a lot of products but it’s basically always free ones like Inbox, Reader, Allo, etc. and they usually also have replacements like Gmail for Inbox users.
In summary, I think Stadia is a great idea and as long as Google doesn’t drastically screw it up somehow, it seems like it will be here to stay. More casual consumers like your parents will use Stadia to experience games for super cheap while the hardcore gamers will continue to stick with their consoles, maybe only using Stadia to play a rare exclusive title. Both can co-exist and people seem to think they can’t.
Google clearly has the money to devote to the service, the massive amount of servers all over the world and networking know-how to reduce latency as much as possible, a great price point for the service, and the talent to run this (the lead guy, Phil Harrison has worked at both Xbox and PlayStation as just one example). They have all the cards to make a great service, all they need to do is play them right.