Will Google Stadia be successful in 2020?

Google Stadia: long-term test and outlook for an uncertain future

At the beginning of February, industry veteran Phil Harrison, who is responsible for Google Stadia, announced that the two studios founded specifically for game development had been closed. They want to focus on technology and be a lot more partner for gaming studios such as Ubisoft or Electronic Arts. The idea about a year ago was a different one. They wanted to compete with the big console manufacturers for the growing and billion dollar gaming community. Three months after the start of Austria, you can draw a first conclusion about the current status of the service and take a look at the possible future or the possible non-future of Google Stadia.

Easy entry

On December 7th, 2020, Google Stadia started in Austria, around a year after countries like the USA or Germany. First of all, it can be said that the service has something futuristic about it, if you are used to investing in hardware, be it a gaming PC or a console. With the Google Stadia service, you connect to your Google email address and can then immediately buy a game in the store. A few seconds later you are in the game. At no additional cost for the streaming service itself.

The menu navigation is kept simple. Purchases are made in the app, which you have to load onto your smartphone. It is preferred to play on a PC, laptop or TV. A Chromecast Ultra is also required for the latter. You can navigate through menus and games using a keyboard or a standard Bluetooth controller. As an alternative to the free offer, there is Stadia Pro. For 9.99 euros per month you get 30 more or less well-known games and the option to play games in 4K. It must be said that the game selection that is included in the Pro subscriber contains few hits. The biggest highlights are primarily indie games that are two to four years old, such as the Steamworld-Games. The better-known games include, for example F1 2020, superhot or Hitman 2.

No download - no updates

Anyone who has ever downloaded around 100 GB for a game or 15 GB for an update knows how frustrating it can be when you have just under an hour to try out a game. These disadvantages do not apply to a streaming service. It only takes a few minutes, if at all, from the purchase to the first opponent in the selected game. That seems much more contemporary than being bored with update messages every time you start up. However, it does not come without a price.

Even if 4K is possible as a Stadia Pro customer, this is rarely recommended. The delay in entering the data and the large amount of data are easy to manage for very few Internet lines. Especially with games that require very precise input, you are well advised to switch to 1080p. Now the question arises, who is how at games Assassin's Creed or Cyberpunk 2077 willing to compromise on graphics?

The biggest problem: the game selection

If you look around the store, there are around 100 games waiting to be discovered. Current blockbusters such as Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Cyberpunk 2077 or F1 2020. Most of the titles, however, are older. Borderlands 3 about, Celeste or Dead by Daylight. It's a good mix of games, but the range has remained manageable even after a year.

The lack of exclusive titles is a major problem for the platform. A God of War on the Playstation Mario Odyssey on the Nintendo Switch or a Microsoft Flight Simulator for Xbox or PC. Since the Stadia announcement in 2019, Google hasn't even been able to announce, let alone publish, a potential hit. After putting a stop to their own studios at the beginning of February and so far, like Microsoft, they have not made any move to buy experienced studios, this will not change in the future either.

Also perennial favorites like Fortnite or Call of Duty, which are found on almost every gaming platform, are missing from Stadia. That's not to say that casual gamers won't find anything. The new Hitman 3 is available, Doom Eternal is a wonderfully entertaining shooter and Valkyria Chronicles 4 a Japanese round strategy game that can motivate for weeks. There are also wonderful indie games like Steampunk Heist, Enter The Gungeon and the two Hotline miamiParts.

If you are a fan of the Ubisoft games, you will definitely find it. In addition to almost everyone Assassin's Creed-Share, all current Ubisoft titles are included in the store. They have a strong partnership that even allows Ubisoft Plus customers in the USA to stream their games via Stadia anywhere. It is currently not known whether this will also be possible in Austria at some point. A stronger range of classic PC games, such as the timid with Baldur's Gate 3 happened, missing. It's a shame if you could at least persuade console gamers who want to think outside the box to buy in this way.

Another problem for Stadia is currently multiplayer titles. No matter if the free one Destiny 2 or PUBG - In general, the service suffers from the low number of players in order to find enough players. The Division 2 has already advanced here and allows cross-platform play. However, the decision rests with every developer as to whether or not they want to incorporate this feature.

Who is my target group?

The core gamer target group, which was so heavily courted at the gaming fair E3 in 2019, had to be said goodbye due to the lack of offer in the course of the short lifetime. The new strategy was called occasional gamers, i.e. those gamers who would like to play a blockbuster in very good quality on TV or an entertaining indie game on the laptop or smartphone when they only have 30 minutes.

One point for Stadia: the technical side works smoothly as long as there is a good internet connection. You can get into the game quickly, the store is clearly laid out and the connection with a controller is intuitive. In a word: it works.

Uncertain future

Even before the aforementioned statement by Phil Harrison about the studio closings, Google was known for its fickleness. Google+, Hangouts, Nest Secure - the list of services that the US company surprisingly ended over the years is not too short. There are fears that Google Stadia could also disappear tomorrow. Gaining a foothold in the gaming industry and developing your own games takes a lot of time and even more money, Harrison told the community. It doesn't sound like a declaration of love to an industry.

Therefore the question arises where the journey is going. Since the beginning of December 2020, the offer has been expanded to 22 countries, in March FIFA 21 finally appear for the platform and every month new games will continue to be offered in the store. Still, this seems to be the end of an old strategy. Coming moves will be much more aligned with the recent Phil Harrison opening. Becoming a service provider for other publishers, such as Ubisoft or Electronic Arts and integrating the cloud gaming services into their portfolio seems to be a valid approach for Google. But what does that mean for the Stadia player?

Conclusion

Google Stadia isn't the first service to show that cloud gaming can work. Microsoft is going very aggressively in this direction and services like Playstation Now or GeForce Now are doing very similar things. The idea of ​​being able to play anytime, anywhere and on any device is a convenience that should not be underestimated, especially for travelers or people with limited time resources. Stadia currently offers this, but not exclusively.

A larger portfolio, such as typical pearls Hades, which otherwise only appear for PC and Switch, should have reliably migrated to the Stadia program right from the start. Long-running hits like FIFA should be standard anyway and the TV functionality should work barrier-free with every Chromecast, or even better with every television, as will be the case with LG in the future. There are so many small stumbling blocks that make Stadia look uneven over such a short lifetime, the technical implementation alone is convincing.

Did the Google Stadia project fail? The group, which is traded as the fourth most valuable brand in the world, did not fail in the area of ​​streaming. When one with the Cyberpunk-2077-Deal showed that you could deliver a game of better quality than existing consoles, that was a strong sign. But Stadia failed because of the conception and the resolution to become a big player in the gaming market.

The big idea two years ago, one day games like The Last of Us or Halo Producing in-house is destroyed by the closure of the own studios at the latest. Apparently, the prominent people they bought, starting with Phil Harrison, could not tell the decision-makers at Google how complex and time-consuming game development is. With impatience and the naive assumption that one could overtake or even overtake the long-serving competition in two years, at the latest with a look at Amazon, which has been trying unsuccessfully to force its way into the market for around eight years, should have clarified.

Microsoft also had to invest a long time before they understood the market to some extent. The US corporation's rollercoaster ride lasted 20 years until it understood that with exclusive brands, a functioning service like the Game Pass and a bond with the player base that had been fought for over many years, you could finally be a serious competitor for the top dogs.

The fear of many gamers and of course the established console manufacturers when Amazon and Google announced their gaming plans a few years ago has now subsided. The growing gaming market is currently well supplied with three console manufacturers, a still dominant PC gaming community and the fastest growing mobile games community. Better technologies that make gaming even easier and more accessible are sure to play a major role in the future. The coming years will certainly show whether Google will play a role here or just sit on the bench. (Alexander Amon, February 6, 2021)