You’ve probably seen that Google announced Stadia at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, a game streaming service that’s sort of a next-gen console as well. The reaction to it has been mixed, and I for one am deeply cynical about the whole thing. As I pointed out a while back in an article on game streaming for GamesRadar, Google has a history of launching spangly new things and then ditching them if they’re not immediately successful, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this goes the way of Google+ in a few years.
Then there’s the unreliable nature of streaming – you can announce all the teraflops you want, saying it’s X times more powerful than this console or that, but it doesn’t mean anything if your internet is too slow to actually make it work properly. And internet speeds, at least in the UK, are a complete lottery. Sure, some people will have superfast connections that could handle streaming with ease, but others will spend whole days waiting for game patches to download. And of course, if your internet drops out completely, then your gaming will come to an abrupt halt.
Then there’s the ephemeral nature of streaming. Like with Netflix, there’s the likelihood that content will disappear from the service at short notice, which could be infuriating if you’re halfway through a 60-hour game. And for people who like to go back and revisit old games, there’s no guarantee that the service will even still be available in, say, ten years’ time.
But. BUT. I have the feeling that, as a nearly 40-year-old curmudgeon who’s set in his ways, Google Stadia isn’t really aimed at me. One of the things that leapt out from Google’s presentation was the idea of watching a YouTube or Twitch streamer play a game, then immediately loading up the same game to play within seconds using Stadia. I can see that being a big draw for people who like to watch other people play games – i.e. not me, but definitely a large proportion of today’s yoof.
Plus there’s the big draw of not having to drop a huge wad of cash on buying a new console. I recently bought a Switch, and even for an adult with a steady income, finding £300+ to spend on a new console and its various accessories is a big stretch. For a kid or teenager, it might be impossible. Many young ‘uns will be playing on older consoles handed down from older siblings, and owning a next-gen console of their own might be just a pipe dream. Yet for a small fee, Stadia gives them the potential to play cutting-edge games on a super-powerful machine.
There’s a big caveat here, however, and that’s price. Google has yet to announce how much Stadia will cost, and whether it will be subscription only, pay-per-game, or a mixture of the two. Are we looking at Netflix-level subscription prices, or something that costs considerably more? Then there’s subscription fatigue: families who already have subscriptions to Netflix, Spotify, Hulu and whatever else might baulk at the idea of adding yet another monthly service. I can already envisage the conversations happening in households with teenagers:
Teenager: “Mum, can we subscribe to Stadia? It’s only £XX per month, it’s loads cheaper than buying games!”
Mum: “But I already got you subscriptions to X, Y, and Z, and you never even use Z any more!”
Teenager: “Aw, but mum!”
Still, if canny kids can convince parents of the low cost per game of a subscription service and the lack of the upfront costs associated with buying a new console, they could be coming out on top in this argument across the world. Just as long as their parents’ broadband can handle it, of course.