Google Stadia squanders the dream as stream gets bogged down in the prosaic

Stadia’s key strength remains its ability to let anyone start playing console quality games wherever they like, without having to pay upfront for console hardware, plug it in, update it, and then be chained to the TV they attached it to.

Yesterday’s stream started with that exciting concept but then spent a lot of its time muddying those waters and limiting access to it until well into next year, all via poor explanation of its offering, an expensive pre-order pack, a delayed release for the free service, and limited mobile support at launch. By the end it seemed more restricted, more humdrum, than it ever needed to be at this point.

First, it didn’t explain its value proposition very well.

Many seemed to come away with a negative reaction against the pricing – they disliked that were paying £9/$10 a month for the service and would then have to pay in addition for games to play on it. While that may be case, Google could have done a lot more to explain how that stacks up against the incumbents and their current offerings.

It should have pointed out very clearly that you won’t need to buy a £350+ next-gen console for starters. And that it’s cloud hardware was well in excess of what current high-end consoles offer, such as Xbox One X and will likely rival anything the competition has lined up, and all without a PS4 Pro-like hurricane under your TV.

“Stadia will not succeed on the incumbent model of attracting the early adopters in and the rest will follow… it will win by being as ubiquitous as Chrome and YouTube are today.”

It should have been clearer about at least some of the games that will make up the Pro subscription. And it should have confirmed, as we suspect, that there’s no additional cost requirement for playing multiplayer games, as there is on Xbox and PlayStation.

After all, Xbox Live, Xbox Game Pass, and the cost of an Xbox itself, hugely outweigh the costs of Stadia Pro, and that’s again before consumers buy any new releases.

Second, the true release for Stadia has been pushed back to some undefined point in 2020.

Stadia’s huge advantage over incumbent platforms isn’t the ability to deliver gaming to a TV through a dedicated media streaming device – and I say that despite how much I love and depend on Chromecasts around my home for everything, but I’m in a minority in that. It’s the ability to push gamers from a YouTube video directly and immediately into a game while they’re using their battered old PC, laptop or mobile phone.

The launch period’s Pro subscription is a massive stumbling block to Stadia’s true potential, which requires friction-free shifts from passive to active entertainment in order to truly grew the addressable market, maybe many times over. And the Founder’s Edition doubles down on that traditional way of playing, it’s a hardcore gamers package, providing a service that bar some possible graphical bells and whistles (broadband depending) they already have below their TVs.

Stadia will not succeed on the incumbent model of attracting the early adopters in and the rest will follow, it should abandon such thinking and role out the most democratic service possible, in as many places as possible in one go. It will win by being as ubiquitous as Chrome and YouTube are today.

And related to that, device support was lacking.

The key was to roll out support for as many mobile devices as possible. After all, we saw Sony push game streaming from a local console in the past, and it was hamstrung by official support only appearing for Sony mobile devices. Google must focus on offering support for Samsung and Apple devices (which make the vast majority of the market) as soon as possible.

In conclusion…

I can’t help but feel that Google has somewhat squandered the dream here by moving to talking about the prosaic details too quickly. Sure, the industry was crying out for more details on its plans, but this landed uncomfortably between the prosaic, as it could have done more to explain to consumers why it offers value, and the inspired, delivering on that dream of playing any game, anywhere. Of making playing a game as simple as clicking on a link.

It’s a tricky path to tread and likely its hand has been forced by an infrastructure need for a slow ramp up in late 2019 and early 2020 before it opens the service up to everyone. Despite that, it will need to return to talking about the more exciting parts of its offering next time we hear from it.

Read more of our stories and analysis from E3 2019.

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