Who Is Google Stadia For?

Issues are almost always moot if there's a big enough crowd - but does Google even have one for the Stadia?
Google Stadia is getting ready to take the gaming industry by storm.
Google Stadia is getting ready to take the gaming industry by storm. Google

We’ve seen, heard, and read a lot about the Google Stadia these past few months. We’ve been privy to the first ever Stadia Connect presentation, and there have been a lot of interviews with key people over the past several weeks pertaining to Google’s gaming service which will launch later this November. Very recently, the Director of Product for Stadia even did a Reddit AMA to talk about the Stadia, and also clarified some of the misconceptions one tends to have when thinking of the service as like a ‘Netflix for Games.’

However, what I have not seen asked very frequently is one that will ultimately decide whether or not Stadia will be big enough to live on and grab a piece of the huge gaming industry. Sure, we know it’s a service, and we know what it’s modeled after, what it entails from you as a consumer and what you’re getting – but who exactly is the Google Stadia for?

This question is not meant to be derogatory, or in any way knock on Google itself. It’s an actual, genuine one coming from someone who’s struggling to see the significant benefit to getting the service, especially after seeing all of the fine print it comes with.

Let’s first take a look at console gamers. If the Stadia ever truly takes off, there’s a general consensus among the industry that this particular group will take the brunt of the hit. Currently, if you’re looking to play on a console, you get either a PlayStation 4, an Xbox One or a Nintendo Switch, buy either physical or digital games for it, and that’s it. But, two of these consoles lack portability, and there is a growing number of people that want to play their favorite games on the go.

Then we have PC, of course, which is a harder sell, as PC gamers love their hardware which the Stadia hopes to eliminate. However, there is a considerably large section of PC gaming that’s stuck on the lower end when it comes to hardware, owing to the considerably higher barrier of entry for PC gaming in general. This subsection may see the Stadia as a better alternative, as they can basically run the most graphically intensive AAA titles on even entry-level laptops.

These two smaller markets within consoles and PC could have been an amazing target for the Stadia. However, there’s some pretty big caveats to consider.

Sure, the Stadia will let you run the latest games even on something like mobile phones, but there is still the issue of the actual internet connection which will need to be reliable if you’re going to enjoy playing. As an online-only service, the Stadia is basically crippled if there’s no good internet connection to support it. Your play-anywhere plans are dead in the water if you’re in an internet dead zone, of in the event you hit your data cap.

Some of the arguments made for the Stadia are making the case that it’s a lot cheaper than getting a console and especially a PC, which is true, in some cases. I say some, because for the Stadia to basically work, you’re at the mercy of your ISPs. If the Stadia takes off, I wonder if ISPs will improve their services, while offering reasonable prices on data bundles – perhaps even give out good deals on unlimited data caps? A lot of this argument is based on the fact that companies will actually play along and do all of these things in order to make the Stadia a cheaper option than a console or a PC – how disappointing will it be when not only do data bundles get pricier, but become worse over time in order to take advantage of the people actually willing to spend on it.

So, console gamers who want an on-the-go experience are already out of luck, since the internet as a whole hasn’t developed yet to the point of working like actual magic, and low-end PC gamers will get screwed by ISPs. That’s two of the potentially targeted markets down, and that’s not even going deeper into the brunt of the problem.

Considering that on top of all the additional costs you will incur from the assuredly higher charges from your ISPs, you will also have to buy your own games on the Stadia service (even for the Pro subscription, mind you) which can only be played through Stadia itself, it becomes more ideal to just get a console or a PC. If the Stadia’s service suddenly ends, you have no actual way of playing the games you bought on it any more. Sure, you can say the same about any other online platform, like Steam, Origin, or Uplay, but the files needed to run the game are kept within your computer, not stored on a server somewhere. This is even the same for consoles, as PS4 and Xbox One have hard drives to store games from digital purchases. I still have an old PS3 lying around with copies of games despite their servers and services being long gone.

Even Google has acknowledged something like this happening in the future with their latest AMA from Reddit. To quote, the Director of Product for Stadia says that the same move to a cloud-based infrastructure “happened to Movies and Photos and my Docs and other files… And it’s great! Games are no different. Eventually all of our games will be safely in the cloud too and we’ll feel great about it.” What he forgets is that most of what I place in those Photos and Docs apps are just back-ups of what I already have – with the Stadia, you’re paying Google to keep the only copy of your game for you, with no way of getting it back should the service end.

If anything, I feel like the Stadia is a wonderful topic that touches on a lot of things wrong with the industry today, and the ongoing corporate-backed move to basically sell you a “license” to play the game, and not “own” the actual game itself. These are all topics for another day, but at the end of all this I’m less surprised that I still don’t know who the Stadia is for. Maybe it’s not actually meant to be for anyone in particular, just another passing fad that gives ‘early adopters’ of cloud gaming a ‘taste’ of what’s to come for us in the future. All that said, I hate the idea of cloud gaming as Stadia models it, because as much as it peddles itself to give players the choice on how, when, where and what to play, it’s all within the confines of what corporations will allow you to do.

What I do know is that we are in for a very interesting November.

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