Don’t Count Google Stadia Out Yet

Two Stadia controllers.

The launch of Google in the stadiums is … not terrible. A poor value proposition, a small selection, and a vast list of missing features best rendered the critical response to the streaming platform. Our own criticism was less than nice.

But that does not mean you have to ignore Stadia, or even Google. While this is not a great experience at the moment, Google is laying the groundwork for its platform and has the time and resources to face the biggest names in the video game industry. Sony and Microsoft are preparing to launch new versions of their consoles in 2020 and to prepare for the same options for streaming high bandwidth games, it is the race of all.

It’s a beta

As we said in the review, Stadia is a beta version of everything but its name. As long as the free level will not arrive next year, allowing players to sign up without buying $ 130 worth of equipment and a $ 10 monthly subscription (no play, like Xbox Game Pass or PlayStation Now ), it’s expensive. novelty.

A Stadia controller, a phone and a mount.
Google’s initial materials and services for Stadia are, at best, clumsy. Michael Crider

This does not help that Google positions Stadia as its own platform, which developers need to develop specifically, thanks to its custom cloud-based hardware and Vulkan graphical API. This contrasts directly with the streaming offerings from Microsoft, Sony and NVIDIA, which work with existing Xbox, PlayStation and PC games, respectively. Stadia has a handful of new titles, but most of her initial offer is at least a year old, with just indie exclusivity, Gylt.

Another proof that Stadia is in beta: it lacks tons of features. Aside from streaming on different screens, none of Google’s unique features featured at GDC earlier this year is available on the first day. It does not integrate with YouTube or Google Home / Assistant, it can not be streamed on an iPhone or a non-Pixel Android phone, the game store is only accessible from a phone and it can not even export screen captures or video clips.

A screenshot of Gylt.
Independent horror game Gylt Stadia is the only exclusivity to date.

So, why start it early, if so many things are missing? Popular wisdom is that it is essentially an elaborate capacity test. Early adoption of Google allows buyers of Founder’s Edition and $ 130 Premiere Edition to test water from its custom gaming data centers. The company will use this time, with a much smaller pool of competing players, to iron out the problems in its system.

RELATED: Google Stadia Review: an expensive and limited beta

Then, when the free level is unlocked and (hopefully) a million or two people jump on their Chrome browser to play Destiny 2, the system will not warp. Like all major platform owners, Google is investing in its own publishing house, which means that it should also enhance its selection of exclusive games running in the cloud.

Google has a good reason to stay

Why is Google so interested in the games market, having only slightly touched it in the past via Android? Why do you think? Video games are now a larger sector than even Hollywood movies, with annual revenues of more than $ 130 billion expected to reach $ 300 billion over the next decade.

There is enough money to win in games to make Solomon blush. It’s so big that Apple, historically opposed to the games of almost all types of players, has launched with its own subscription service, which has had adverse consequences on some of the largest publishers on the planet.

But no matter who can just throw money in a market. (This is essentially what Sony and Microsoft made, in 1994 and 2001, respectively.) As the era of PS4 and Xbox One comes to an end, two of the industry’s leading players are looking for ways to put people on their platforms without having to sell them a box of $ 300-500 first. PlayStation Now, the Xbox Game Pass (which both run on PCs) and the future xCloud system are proof of this: the console market is saturated and the two companies want to expand their customer base even further.

A PS4 controller and a laptop.
PlayStation Now can already play PS4 games on your PC. Sony

The solution, at least for now, seems to be to get rid of the console completely. PlayStation Now will play a huge library of games for $ 10 per month (it will not be necessary to buy individual games) and will be broadcast on a PS4 or PC. This PC does not need to be particularly powerful, a low-end laptop will work perfectly. The next Microsoft xCloud will do the same, but will also be available on iOS and Android phones.

With the PS4 and Xbox One at dusk, Google will be ideally placed to attract players to its platform. Google’s power in the cloud is greater than that of Microsoft and Sony, but it already has a significant audience of YouTube players that can be leveraged for social promotion. While traditional console titans divide their audience between new devices and streaming services, Google can offer a unified system that works on the screen of your choice, including thin hardware like Chromecasts and Chromebooks, which is free .

A Stadia data center.

Many critics of Stadia are concerned that Google is abandoning the platform if it does not prosper, as has been the case with many other Google Graveyard products. Even game developers are reluctant to embark for the same reason. . But I think Google will be there at least until the 2020 holiday season, if only because the profit opportunities are enough to get Scrooge McDuck to look for a swimsuit.

More than games

Eric Ravenscraft, editor of Geek, points out that Google is looking for more than just money for web services: the company lives and breathes data.

Game developers and game publishers are already sitting in the mass of data of a dragon – this is the type of information that allows some of the crudest practices in the free games industry. But Google, for the better and for the worse, can turn data into gold like no other company on Earth. The potential of millions of players making purchases, connecting with friends and shopping at home and abroad would be irresistible. He might even be able to give an overview of the things you want to buy depending on how you play a video game, giving a new and more literal meaning to the idea of ​​targeted laser marketing.

Google's Stadia GDC presentation.

And the application of the data collected by Google to players is not limited to their preferences or their social activities: the data collected during a driving game can be used to form autonomous cars in the real world. In-game voice chat records can be used to create a more natural speech for Google Assistant. The way players treat non-player characters in role-playing and adventure games could shed light on psychological studies. The savings data at stake, on how players deal with money when scarcity and demand variables can be easily manipulated, would be invaluable for market analysis. The possibilities for both Google and potential customers are almost endless.

It’s certainly a scary thought if you do not trust Google with your data (and you probably should not do it). Nevertheless, this is a reason for Google to stay in the video game industry even if it loses years in the beginning to lose money.

The real test is 2020

If we are generous, we can assume that Google is about a year old to make Stadia work. This involves providing the capabilities it has presented to consumers and developers, including the ability to dynamically allocate the power needed for new types of games. This means expanding the library by an order of magnitude enough to at least compete with Microsoft and Sony in their migration to new platforms. And that means making a higher value proposition than “paying a subscription so you can buy games”.

This is possible. Google has disrupted the largest and most sinister industries compared to previous games. And while I compared Stadia’s initial offer to the unfortunate Google Glass of our review, it’s worth noting the less tangible differences. Glass was trying to invent a portable equipment market that did not really exist and which, in this form factor, still does not exist. Stadia is trying to make its way into an already profitable market and is doing so with a great lead over a period of fundamental upheaval: the launch of a new generation of consoles.

We recommended to buyers to avoid Stadia during the launch, and we stick to that. But anyone looking for something new in the way games are purchased, played and even manufactured, would do well to keep an eye on the platform in the immediate future.

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