The future is in the cloud. That is becoming more clear as we finish out this generation of game consoles with the next machines from Microsoft and Sony potentially being the “last consoles”. This brave new world is exciting and also scary for people who have lived our entire lives with a big box that plays games in our living rooms. However, that future is a long way off from the present. That being said it is becoming more clear with each passing day and Google Stadia is raising issue consumers need to be aware of.
Google Stadia is not the first cloud based gaming streaming system (RIP OnLive) however, it is the first that by all metrics seems to actually do what it says. That being said, the devil is indeed in the details and Google Stadia have a duty to inform consumers about what is different about their product.
The first issue and likely the largest technical roadblock to Stadia’s mass market appeal is its reliance on the internet. Now, let us assume that Googles claims its own “Stadia Internet” actually works and has the ability to transmit the amount of data that is required to make the system work. After all it has been tested out in the wild before and consumer testimonials seem to say it works. Unfortunately for potential Stadia users this is only half the equation: the other half being your own personal connection to the internet.
Testing my own internet speed out of curiosity it clocked in at 29.9 megabits per second. Which is good enough to play at 1080p 60 fps, though it may struggle to play at 4k 60 fps. Which is perfectly reasonable for a middle range Canadian internet package which I have. As such I do not foresee, in the initial launch regions, speed limitations on Stadia.
The same cannot be said for download restrictions. Right now using myself as an example I have a 400 gigabyte bandwidth limits before I start incurring additional charges. Despite streaming nearly all my media, I have never hit the data cap. It has been an effectively unlimited package, Stadia would change that.
As PC Gamer reported 65 hours of Stadia’s top end 4K streaming would take 1 terabyte of data. This would blow peoples data caps out of the water as they currently stand. For the United States where unlimited data plans are relatively common this may not be a major issue. For Canada that has a very restricted and effective oligopoly on our internet by big telecommunication. These unlimited plans are prohibitively costly. My knowledge of the UK and Europe’s internet landscape is spotty, however I have a feeling those consumers would feel the pinch as well.
Furthermore, regional variation is huge within these jurisdictions. Whereby rural customers even in the launch regions would likely be cut out by the lack of suitable internet. Leading me to believe Stadia will primarily be marketed towards urban individuals due to the fact they are the only people who will have access to the infrastructure required to make the service work.
Beyond that there is the fact that Stadia is not a product like a PlayStation, Switch, or an Xbox. It is decidedly a service and one that you have no ownership over. As gaming moves more and more digital players are becoming aware we “own” less and less, This is explicitly stated if you actually read those terms and service agreements on all the digital stores, take Steam for example:
Steam and your Subscription(s) require the download and installation of Content and Services onto your computer. Valve hereby grants, and you accept, a non-exclusive license and right, to use the Content and Services for your personal, non-commercial use (except where commercial use is expressly allowed herein or in the applicable Subscription Terms). This license ends upon termination of (a) this Agreement or (b) a Subscription that includes the license. The Content and Services are licensed, not sold. Your license confers no title or ownership in the Content and Services.
Stadia takes this to the next level. As unlike Steam or other digital storefronts like the PSN you do not even have the software download onto your hardware as you have no hardware to begin with. Your games on Stadia will forever be tied to Stadia’s well-being, which in turn binds you directly to Google, which is good for Google but not great for the consumer, Leading my more suspicious side to think that is the entire point of the venture.
To be fair this is not an issue that Stadia has alone, indeed the entire idea of ownership in the digital economy is one consumers will have to grapple with. Stadia just takes it to its logical conclusion, whereby you no longer have any ownership what so ever. Even your actions when using Google Stadia becomes the property of Google, as your inputs go through Stadia servers. It is a trade off I do not know how many people actually understand we are making in the name of convenience.
One issue Stadia does have and Google will need to answer for is Googles own legacy. To be blunt, Google has a habit of making flashy entrances into different digital spaces, promising transformational change, and then promptly leaving that space within a couple of years.
As we saw with Microsoft’s push into the gaming space. It takes two things: money and persistence. There is no doubt in anyone mind that Google has the cash flow to be able to do it. There is doubt if they have the willpower to see it through. This is an issue that must be addressed as unlike other failed consoles such as the Sega Saturn when Sega pulled out the Saturn and all its games still existed in your home. If Google shuts down its Stadia servers everything goes with it.
Including everything you may have purchased on Stadia. Remember you own nothing. Google does. They make the choices regarding the future of the service, the service which includes “your” games.
This is a pressing issue as right now as it is still unknown how Stadia and Google will fit into the gaming landscape. Nothing at this scale has been attempted previously. In tech the term “disruption” is spoken in hallowed voices, where a product or service disrupts a previously stale status quo and opens new markets. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not, it is a big gamble - Stadia is a big gamble.
While its clear Googles emergence as a player in the gaming market has prompted action from Sony and Microsoft. It is not clear how the players will respond or people from outside the gaming marketplace will as well. As from where I stand I do not really know yet how Stadia fits into everything.
For the past decade the games industry has been in a rather simple formation. Dedicated PC gamers do their own thing, Sony and Micosoft duke it out, while Nintendo continues to mine its dedicated fan base and often picks up “Second Console” sales as the generation moves on. In many ways it has worked which is why it has been stable.
Google aims to disrupt that. How though is the question. Will it try to find new players like the Wii did over a decade ago? Will it try to convert more dedicated players to games by streaming and target Microsoft and Sony’s playerbase, or perhaps convert mobile gamers into Stadia players? All of the above? Who knows, it is all rather exciting I will admit from a business perspective however charting a new path is always a difficult task.
This is a big question as it involves the very pertinent question of how Stadia will make money. Knowing Google, they have a lot of monetization strategies beyond the obvious. After all information is worth a mint in the current world and Stadia will be brilliant at collecting, compiling, and presumably selling data.
The final question I find myself pondering is how does the established game developers react to Stadia. Stadia has revealed they have big new(ish) games lined up like Final Fantasy XV and Assassins Creed: Odyssey and will presumably continue to get releases as they come out. However, will there be Stadia exclusives? What will the pricing model be on Stadia?
As we have seen from the recent slugfest that is Valve and Epic, these are real questions that have real world implications for consumers. The upcoming Borderlands 3 timed exclusivity is proof of that. Other minor issues is compatibility with other hardware options like third party Bluetooth game pads or even a Duel Shock and Xbox One controller themselves.
I would be lying if I said it was not an exciting time in the games industry. There is a lot of unknown and the potential of a lot of money to be made. However, Google Stadia poses fundamental questions about the future of the industry and how consumers relate to the developers and platform owners. As of right now, those questions remain up in the air and quite frankly unanswerable.
On the question of ownership I do not think there is any good answers. As the industry continues to move towards becoming fully digital, ownership will almost certainly become a thing of the past, and we will have to learn to live with it - or not. Stadia just brings this issue into sharp focus for many people and I do not know if we are ready. Regardless, Stadia launches in November and if it succeeds or fails Pandora’s box is open for good.
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