Impressing the potential of Google’s streaming infrastructure on curious onlookers during Stadia’s reveal event was one thing, but delivering an effective package to assert itself as a major player in the games industry is quite another.
Yesterday’s inaugural Stadia Connect presentation was Google’s big spotlight to do just that. Deliberately timed just days ahead of E3, the gaming industry’s most significant annual tradeshow, it was a massive opportunity to announce the service on a world stage, under the watchful eye of both the world press and the gaming hardcore.
What we got was a mixed bag. While there were major positives, like the ability to run on surprisingly low connection speeds, and for an equally surprisingly low monthly subscription cost, I was left scratching my head over other key takeaways.
For starters, Stadia isn’t the Netflix of games that I’d expected, with most games actually requiring a separate purchase in addition to the subscription fee. Google claims the included library will be added to throughout 2020, but it was vague on the specifics, and right now Stadia’s content offering feels much inferior to Microsoft’s Game Pass.
Elsewhere, the service is less accessible than the awe of its initial reveal had made out, as compatibility with TVs and Smartphones is limited to Google hardware at launch (Chromecast, Pixel 3). At which time, Stadia will only available to those that fork out $129 for its Founders Edition, which I’m not seeing the value in over traditional hardware quite yet.
Directly tying into that, and without a shadow of a doubt the biggest failing of Stadia’s Connect, was the lack of exclusive content. While there were notable games on display, they were mostly in-vogue live games from all the usual suspects, all of which are already available on conventional hardware.
More importantly, the only new game announcement was a PC-centric CRPG and the only exclusive content two mildly interesting indies. How many times does it have to be said? Software drives hardware sales. These are rules apply equally to streaming services…
To really announce itself, and especially in an effort to steal the show before E3, the announcement of some sort of exclusive partnership with a major AAA studio would have been a major selling point for Stadia. That didn’t happen, and neither did the promise of anything much moving forward, either.
Where were the studio acquisition announcements, or even the promise of future games in the making as a result of working with storied developers, as was alluded to during the reveal event in March?
I can’t reiterate enough that the appeal of any service or platform is the opportunity to experience exclusive content you can’t anywhere else. It’s the same for consoles, smartphones, video on demand, and basically any competitive service or platform. The story of Google’s Stadia service hasn’t even begun, of course, and yet the prologue of any good narrative is often so important in teeing up the beats to come.
I think back to my skepticism of Nintendo Switch when it was first revealed on-stage for the first time. The concept of the hardware had me sold but the lack of content at launch was worrisome. I had my doubts, but there was always the understanding that Nintendo’s software team are among the best in the world.
As it turned out, Nintendo delivered an exceptional year-one library of exclusive games that sky-rocketed its popularity and forced third-party developers to take note. Google, however, doesn’t have the option. They’re relying entirely on the appeal of untested and unfamiliar streaming technology to gain a foothold in a competitive (and fickle) market. It’s a big leap of faith.
Unsurprisingly, then, Stadia Connect did little to change my mind that the service won’t contest the big three for quite some time yet, despite being armed with technology more than capable of disrupting traditional hardware.
What I can’t quite put my finger on is whether this dropping of the ball was inexperience, arrogance, or whether Google feels it’s better to build their presence in small updates of which we are to hear more of soon. What I do know is that first impressions in the gaming industry can make or break success, and hype is so important.
The awe and wonder of Stadia’s initial reveal have fizzled for me a bit after yesterday’s event, and I’m left wondering whether Google will have the patience to eat up the losses as Stadia slow-burns its way into the mainstream. Because without the content to drive consumers over to their side of the market, that’s exactly what they’re facing.