Stadia’s Pricing Model Will Ultimately Be Its Downfall

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jul 10, 2019

Filed under: Column 184 comments

The topic of my column this week is, shockingly enough, described by the title. Stadia makes no sense. Even if Google has truly invented a way to magically solve the latency issues inherent with cloud gaming, this is not something anyone needs. I think their target market is, “People who have top-tier internet, who never have to share internet with housemates, who love gaming but are unwilling to buy dedicated gaming hardware, who own multiple non-gaming devices and want to switch between them at random times while hanging around the house.”

Are there enough of those people to form a customer base? I can’t see how. I don’t think there even enough of those people to fill a Prius.

Based on what we’ve been shown, I think the ideal user of Stadia is, “Person who wants to show off cloud gaming on the stage at E3.” So far that’s just one guy, and I’m pretty sure he’s not a paying customer.

A couple of mop-up points in response to the comments at the Escapist:

“It’s no fair mentioning GoG might go out of business because they have no DRM and therefore you can back up all of your games.”

I am a huge fan of GoG and I’m happy to give them praise for their DRM stance. But the point wasn’t to condemn them. I was just contrasting them with Stadia to show how GoG was better. I didn’t need to meticulously list all the ways in which GoG is better. My point wasn’t to determine which platform is bestIt’s GoG, BTW., but to explain to Google why their product is inherently riskier for the consumer.

“It’s no fair mentioning that Steam might go out of business because Steam has offline mode.”

In order to use offline mode, you must first go online to download and install your game. If you back that game up and move it to another machine, it will not work. (It’s actually more complex than that because individual developers can opt out of Steam DRM. You can back up some minority of non-AAA titles, but most of your game library will vanish with Steam.) If you’re worried about your goods outliving the store that sold them, then you can’t count on offline mode to save you.

People are always saying that Valve head honcho Gabe Newell has promised some sort of universal unlock patch if Steam ever goes under. I see this fact cited constantly, but I’ve never seen the original quote. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying the source is danged hard to track down. (It doesn’t help that all references to this statement are paraphrases, so you can’t even search for a specific series of words.) In any case, this is a pinkie promise with no details, and it’s not beyond imagination that a company imploding / abruptly bought outNot many people know this, but Gabe Newell is actually a mortal human being. He’ll theoretically die someday, and someone else will end up sitting in the captain’s chair at Valve. might not have the spare resources or permissionIf you’re going under, then you are beholden to your creditors. They are not going to care about your customers. They care about the money you owe them. to roll out some global patch.

I can't believe this game is 9 years old.
I can't believe this game is 9 years old.

I know Steam seems so huge that it’s hard to imagine them going under, but people once thought the same thing of Pan Am, General Motors, Kodak, and Blockbuster. It doesn’t matter how big you are, history can still kick your ass.

Young people sometimes scoff at stuff like this. “Bah. Nobody’s going to care. In 20 years we’ll all be playing holo-games over our cerebral links and nobody will care about stupid Half-Life 2.” But to people above a Certain Age, 20 years seems like a relatively short time. Also, I’m still fond of games that came out 20 years ago. Now that interfaces conventions have standardizedIn the 90s, every game had their own unique interface, but these days we have established rules for navigating 3D spaces. and graphics have hit a plateauYes, visuals are still getting slightly better, but the WOW factor is gone. I can fire up a game from 10 years ago and it doesn’t really feel antiquated., I expect games will start living longer. Cutting-edge Doom looked dated after just 3 years when Quake hit the shelves, but after 9 years Mass Effect 2 could almost pass for a current-gen title. I played through Thief 2 (2000) just a couple of years ago.

Someday you’re going to want to expose your kids to your favorite games. Someday you’ll get the nostalgic itch to return to a beloved classic. Someday you’ll get sick of the games-as-service / microtransaction bullshit and you’ll want to play something that isn’t constantly trying to sell you something. Someday you’re going to want to re-visit a familiar story from your teenage years and see it from a new perspective as a parent / manager / scholar / aging crank.

My point is that games can easily outlive the platforms that provide them.  This is particularly true in the case of Stadia, which is going to close the moment Google gets tired of throwing money into that hole.

 

Footnotes:

[1] It’s GoG, BTW.

[2] Not many people know this, but Gabe Newell is actually a mortal human being. He’ll theoretically die someday, and someone else will end up sitting in the captain’s chair at Valve.

[3] If you’re going under, then you are beholden to your creditors. They are not going to care about your customers. They care about the money you owe them.

[4] In the 90s, every game had their own unique interface, but these days we have established rules for navigating 3D spaces.

[5] Yes, visuals are still getting slightly better, but the WOW factor is gone. I can fire up a game from 10 years ago and it doesn’t really feel antiquated.



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184 thoughts on “Stadia’s Pricing Model Will Ultimately Be Its Downfall

  1. EOW says:

    What gets me is how pretty much every single game developer is jumping at this new “cloud gaming”.
    The triple A industry, one of the most risk adverse industry in the world is willing to all jump to this new thing without knowing if it’ll works or not.
    Now, i dont have their market insight, but i wonder how are they gonna do it.
    I mean, netflix is convenient, you pay the momthly fee and get the entire library.
    Adding having to pay for the games turns it into a hassle.

    1. chiefnewo says:

      They’re jumping on it like they jump on new DRM technologies – the hope that they can wring more money out of people.

      1. Raygereio says:

        From the point of view of the publisher, is cloud gaming really anything other then a convoluted DRM scheme?
        It’s taking the various “always online”-DRM methods & the idea that software is never bought, but instead is licensed and taking them to their logical end point.

        1. RichardW says:

          I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head there.

      2. Tariq says:

        But this doesn’t allow publishers and devs to monetize from players. This allows Google to do that, and both publishers and devs will need to play by Google’s terms or be locked out.

        I mean, it’s not as if we don’t see this model in Amazon, Netflix and Spotify. The creatives and distributors in those platforms are the ones being screwed, not even the customers.

    2. Asdasd says:

      They’re risk averse, sure, so the billion dollar question becomes ‘what does the industry perceive as a safe bet?’

      Human nature being what it is, some times it’s simply going to be whatever everyone else is doing, rather the result than a careful and nuanced cost-benefit analysis. So there’s a natural tipping point where the money-men see what their competitors are doing and start rushing into that sector of the market.

      I’m as mystified as anyone as to why streaming in particular became the new gold rush. The best I can do is gesture vaguely in the general direction of Netflix.

      1. RichardW says:

        There’s something to be said about how much of a hassle the act of playing a new game has become. If you buy a disc in a store, you need to install that disc to the hard drive, which takes forever on a console. Then you need to download a massive update for the game, which can take a long time to finish and even longer to unpack. The console might need a firmware update while you’re at it too. Probably need to log into a Uplay account or something to unlock the “full richness” of the experience on first startup as well. Then because they’re still on mechanical drives it’ll take between two and seven minutes to start the game up, depending on if it’s an open world title.

        Theoretically something like Stadia goes like this: see a game I might like, click play, and then I’m instantly playing that game (obviously with the user having signed up to the service previously). Setting aside the technical aspects, it’s kind of an appealing fantasy. But that’s all it is, a fantasy. And once next gen systems come out that are no longer using parts from the 2000s, and gamers aren’t constantly looking at loading screens on console anymore, one wonders whether immediacy would be as much of a selling point.

        1. Sartharina says:

          There will always be a loading screen. Gamers tolerate them, and so as the ability to load stuff gets better, it just means more stuff will be loaded, not load times decreasing.

        2. onodera says:

          > how much of a hassle the act of playing a new game has become

          No it hasn’t. I remember when you had to launch setup.exe to set your graphics mode and sound card IRQ correctly or even tinker with DOS4GW. One game had to be launched via a boot floppy to get enough RAM. All this without the Internet to help you.

          Now I can just click buy, click install, go have dinner, click play and then see how much of a hassle rebinding to ESDF is (I’m looking at you, Hitman 2).

        3. noanoga says:

          Well this is on the consoles side. On PC the time from seeing a game on the (Digital) store to playing it is much much shorter, and you less frequntly have to fiddle with things for the game to work (and even than, usually because the game is from back than).

    3. Ancillary says:

      Well, they’re the actual customers for Stadia. You are the product.

      1. Matthew Downie says:

        Really? I’ve heard that said of free services like Facebook, but in the case of Stadia the customer is expected to pay up front.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          INB4 a major publisher announces a Stadia exclusive right before saying “it’s not really exclusive since everyone can access it, right?”

          Promising publishers the chance to reach the entire console/PC audience without having to go through 3 sets of certs for 3 separate platforms (along with a ton of other development shortcuts and DRM enabled by Stadia) seems like a no brainier who their real customer is. I predict we’ll start seeing all the exclusive buyouts as soon as 5G becomes widespread in the US

          OF COURSE publishers are enthusiastic about cloud gaming

          1. Blork32 says:

            I think in that case, Stadia would be the customers for the developers. In other words, the developers would be selling their product to Stadia for all that sweet exclusive deal money. But Stadia would still be trying to turn around and sell that product to us.

          2. Matthew Downie says:

            Problem: There are three different platforms we have to develop for in order to reach all our potential audience.
            Solution: A cloud-based streaming platform.
            Result: There are four different platforms we have to develop for in order to reach all our potential audience.

            1. Hector says:

              I understood that reference!

            2. Abnaxis says:

              I also understood that reference :)

              If you buy the hype, the fourth platform is “free” on the development end. You make a game for one of the original three platforms (or Stadia exclusively) and Google automagically makes it work through streaming. Somehow.

    4. Henson says:

      Who, exactly, is jumping at cloud gaming? If it’s the game developers, then I don’t see why they wouldn’t: they have basically nothing to lose. They don’t need to implement special code for a new platform, they don’t need to make exclusivity deals, they basically can just sell their games as-is. It’s another opportunity to make sales, and if it doesn’t work out, they’ve lost nothing.

      If it’s game investors jumping at this…well then, yeah, that’s a big risk there.

      1. EOW says:

        i mean, just look at last E3, where everyone and their mothers announced their subscription service

    5. Daimbert says:

      Big corporations also like to chase buzzwords, though, and “cloud” is a HUGE buzzword right now in the tech industry. Never mind whether it’s a good idea or not …

      1. RFS-81 says:

        Quick, let’s make a cloud gaming with AI and blockchain startup! We’ll figure out what that means later!

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Not just “AI,” you need to make sure your using “neutral networks”

          That box is an easy one to check though…

          1. Scampi says:

            Did you mean “neutral” networks? Did I miss another hype around some obscure detail of net neutrality? Or was it meant to read “neural”?

            1. Sartharina says:

              He meant Neural. They’re machines capable of learning, and end up writing incomprehensible code for themselves that sometimes creates things (And also creates a lot of garbage, currently. At least the Recursive Neural Networks used to generate Fake Magic Cards or play Super Mario Brothers)

        2. “Our blockchain uses deep learning to more optimally effectuate P2P NoSQL paradigms going forward!”

        3. RichardW says:

          It’s funny because it’s true. There’s a bunch of those springing up right now, using all of the buzzwords. Most are just vaporware to attract VC.

          1. RFS-81 says:

            Generally speaking, or gaming startups in particular? Because that I haven’t heard about yet.

    6. shoeboxjeddy says:

      It’s essentially a new store, the risk of “jumping” to it is very low, unless the stupidly promise exclusives to the service.

      1. EOW says:

        well, they will need exclusives to get people interested.
        What worries me is that unlike netflix, you are expected to pay monthly and then pay for individual games.
        I bet if netflix required you to pay for each season and movie it would have bombed hard.

        1. Richard says:

          Amazon Prime Video kind of does.

          There’s a rolling set of “included”, and a huge catalogue or “pay extra to rent for a day/week/until-we-get-bored”

          It’s also carefully made sure that you can’t easily only search for titles that are “Included with Prime”, and there are several series where the first one or two seasons are “included” while later ones are not.

          So yes, worst of all worlds is entirely plausible.

    7. Wiseman says:

      The big risk here is for us: death of game ownership. The less control we have, the more they appreciate a change. I don’t think it can even be called risk though. Google never follows through on anything that isn’t successful immediately. I’m amazed Youtube still exists.

  2. Grimwear says:

    20 year old games? Who in their right mind would ever want to play those?!? That’s like saying I’d want to watch 20 year old movies! I only get 2 more years of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter before I lock them away for good never to be watched again along with every other film made before 1999.

    1. Lino says:

      Yeah! And I’ve heard of people that go to film school and watch movies that came out 20 years ago (even more than that)! Can you imagine how stupid that would be?!?!

    2. Nimrandir says:

      I’ve heard whispered rumors of movies made in black and white. Not as an artistic statement, mind you, but because they had to!

      1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

        I once found veiled references to a forgotten period in which all movies were made with mimes! They had to clumsily insert shots of the script just to have some kind of dialogue!

        1. shoeboxjeddy says:

          It’s worse than you realize! The theaters were so embarrassed to get these silent reels of film, they would just have music play in the theater locally so that it wasn’t an awkward silence.

          (It would have been really STRANGE to be alive for the transition from silent films to “talkies.”)

    3. Cubic says:

      The Matrix was released in 1999 and who watches that anymore?

      I see that GTA III is 18 years old now, by the way, which is pretty old. Yet I played through it just a couple of weeks ago, this time following a fun video showing how to collect all packages before starting the first mission.

      Also it seems evident that Rockstar is bogging down in releasing new GTA versions. GTA V was 2013 vintage. Yikes.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        They’ll probably get started on the next GTA game when the last one falls out of the top twenty in sales. On current form, that’ll be around 2024 or so.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          I really want to know who the hordes of people are that buy GTA V in 2019. Is it like Minecraft, where it’s super popular with the kids and has a constant stream of youths aging into being old enough to start playing?

          1. Nimrandir says:

            That could definitely be a factor, and since it would imply parents are actually paying attention to ESRB labels, I simultaneously want to believe it and figure it’s not the case.

            Perhaps it’s platform transitioning? If people bought GTAV on their Xbox 360’s, they could be repurchasing the game on a PS4 or PC.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              A toddler cannot logistically play GTA because toddlers aren’t good at complex videogames. At some point though, that kid will become old enough to grasp GTA, and then he’ll try to get a copy. Notice that no one has to respect the ESRB for this to work.

              1. Nimrandir says:

                Fair point. I suppose launch day’s kindergartners are today’s tweens.

            2. Sartharina says:

              For most people, you can shave 4-6 years off the ESRB label.

          2. DerJungerLudendorff says:

            I suspect it’s their online mode that is bleeding people dry, and that money is being counted as “sales” of some kind.
            Otherwise F2P games would never even show up on a sales chart.

            1. shoeboxjeddy says:

              No that’s incorrect. When they say GTA V sold 2 million copies in May, they mean digital or physical copies of the game. Not Shark Bucks. Yes it’s hard to believe, but it’s real data.

          3. Matthew Downie says:

            I heard it was people who play multiplayer online GTAV and who have to buy a new copy every time they get banned.

          4. Baron Tanks says:

            I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the times you see GTA V pop-up as ‘best-selling’, a lot of those lists are actually revenue lists, fuelled by endless Sharkcard (GTAs ‘micro’ transactions) revenue. I’m sure there’s still a steady dripfeed of kids going into GTA, but surely that would not be enough to drive it up so high? I could be totally off base of course…

            1. shoeboxjeddy says:

              You’re off base. Sales charts are sales of full titles, not microtransactions or “revenue” for each game.

              1. Baron Tanks says:

                I was just thinking of Steam’s charts, where GTA V keeps cropping up and it has been confirmed that those lists include all kinds of revenue, see for example the throwaway line in this article:

                https://variety.com/2018/gaming/news/valve-best-of-steam-2018-1203095967/

                I enjoy the ‘Steam charts’ article that appears every Monday on rockpapershotgun.com*, where it’s pointed out that almost every week that GTA V is present. People’s incredulity at this revealed at some point that while the lists are called top selling and even sometimes sales charts, in fact they’re associated revenue charts. What I’m saying is, just because a sales chart is perhaps ‘supposed’ to be specifically about sales of full titles, there is enough reasonable doubt about this that unless you have a confirmed source or numbers, there’s no telling what people and/or corporations use to manufacture their lists.

                *because it’s questionable comedy, not because the sales information is compelling in any form.

      2. shoeboxjeddy says:

        It is incorrect to count “GTA versions” instead of “Rockstar Games.” Whereas during the Playstation 2 era, they pretty much just made GTA sequels, now they also spend some time making Red Dead Redemption sequels and content. So they weren’t “not working on GTA”, they were making RDR2.

        1. Cubic says:

          It is incorrect to count “GTA versions” instead of “Rockstar Games.”

          Depends on what you want to count of course, but more interestingly it looks like you’re saying the next GTA may actually come out in the 2022-2024 timeframe? They released RDR 2 in 2016 and assuming they began GTA development in 2016-2018. OK, I guess I’ll have to play it in the old people’s home or something. Shady Acres, here I come.

          (Rockstar did GTA V and RDR 1 concurrently, from what it looks like.)

          1. shoeboxjeddy says:

            What? Red Dead Redemption 2 came out in October 2018, not 2016. Was that a typo, or did you mean something else?

            1. Cubic says:

              My failure at reading gud. But it doesn’t change anything substantial above (2018 + 5 years = 2023, in range), so I guess I should prepare myself for Shady Acres.

        2. Taxi says:

          R* in the PS2 era released Bully, Red Dead Revolver, 2 Manhunt games, a bunch od Midtown Club games, The Warriors, Table Tennis (yea X360, not PS2 but still old ‘era’), collaborated on 2 Max Payne games and I probably forgot some more. In the recent years they released only sequels to 3 of those franchises.

  3. Steve C says:

    Wait.. Stadia users will have to pay the monthly service fee PLUS full price ($60) for each individual game? That point is unclear from the article. If true, that sounds nutty.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Google is asking the user to pay a full $60 for a game that will require additional monthly fees forever

      What part of this is unclear?

      1. Hector says:

        Yes, but at the early announcements Google was pretty clearly implying that the $10 per month included a lot of games, even AAA titles, when that doesn’t seem to be the case now. There was some real obfuscation up front and the pricing model now sounds like a pretty bad deal.

        1. Lanthanide says:

          “when that doesn’t seem to be the case now”

          At present / launch. Once the system is more established they’ll move away from the up-front box costs. Just has to be successful enough to allow that to happen.

          1. RichardW says:

            Yeah, that last part. I’d say good luck Google, but if it does actually get “successful enough” by that point they might conclude there’s enough suckers out there who’ll just pony up the cash for each individual title + subscription, and cancel the idea of a more inclusive service (like EA Access or whatever). Since it’s all been a bunch of vage handwavey-ness so far they have no obligations outside of not being evil.

            Mind you, I still think this thing’s essentially aimed at a niche of a niche, the weirdly affluent yet hardware averse 5G network user. So uh, good luck Google I guess.

    2. Agammamon says:

      Console players are doing basically the same thing for any online title already.

      This just extends that to *everything*.

    3. Cubic says:

      Any of the remaining seven people in the target audience who enjoy this little twist? Nobody? You sure? OK then. Lol.

  4. ElementalAlchemist says:

    The massive black mark against Stadia you didn’t mention is that Google’s MO is to quickly come up with ideas, only to just as quickly drop them with no regard to the users. They have a kill list that EA would find impressive. They are the absolute last company I would want running something like Stadia. I’d put money down that this thing will be dead inside a couple of years and not because of direct failure necessarily, but just because Google gets bored of the idea.

  5. Infinitron says:

    Hey Shamus, are you going to keep writing for The Escapist? Seems like they’re having problems again.

    1. Lino says:

      Seems like they’re having problems again.

      Are they? I only go to their website to read Shamus’ stuff, but as far as I can see, they’re still putting out articles, and their YouTube channel (i.e. the Zero Punctuation YouTube channel) seems to be doing OK.

      1. Joe Informatico says:

        Their owners merged with two other companies. Some changes have already happened (mainly laying off the EiC), but there hasn’t been a formal announcement that I’ve seen, so I think the uncertainty is making people anxious.

    2. ElementalAlchemist says:

      As long as they are paying him, I don’t see why not. But he does seem to be getting the shaft. His articles are always buried right down the bottom and quickly drop off the front page.

      1. Lino says:

        Yeah, I thought I was the only one bothered by that – they’re more than happy to keep weeks-old articles on their front page, but even the day his new article comes out, you have to scroll through half the site in order to get to it! I remember this one time when they didn’t even HAVE his new article on the front page! I hope they’re paying him a flat fee, rather than based on the views his articles get…

      2. Nimrandir says:

        I too had noticed how quickly Shamus’ stuff becomes tough to find. I’ve wondered if the issue is structural in nature, since Experienced Points is a ‘column.’ That block of stuff seems outweighed by news posts and videos.

      3. I didn’t even notice this – I infrequently visit the site outside of Shamus’ direct links – but whatever the underlying algorithmic or similar process is doing… yeah. That seems like the short end of the stick.

    3. Nimrandir says:

      How long has it been since the Escapist reboot? They’re going to be on at least the third editor-in-chief, if I recall correctly. Is that typical for this business?

  6. John says:

    Bah. Nobody’s going to care. In 20 years we’ll all be playing holo-games over our cerebral links and nobody will care about stupid Half-Life 2.

    I played a twenty year old game literally yesterday. I can do that because twenty years ago I payed a one-time fee in order to acquire this thing called a “compact disc” which contains the game data and an install program and which now allows me to play the game on any device capable of running either Windows or Wine. Now, admittedly I can’t switch easily and seamlessly from one of those devices to another. It takes time to copy and transfer saved games, whether over my home network or using some physical medium. But it can be done and at least I don’t have to pay anyone a monthly fee for the ability to do it.

    Then there’s GOG, which exists because CD Projekt Red wanted to sell twenty year old (not to mention even older) games to a bunch of eager old-game enthusiasts. Eager old-game enthusiasts are clearly a niche audience, but we exist. Just think, hypothetical person of today, in twenty years you could be one of us.

    1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

      Nonsense! I shall be young FOREVER!
      Aging is for old people dammit!

      1. RFS-81 says:

        I wanted to say “username checks out”, but then I thought that it’s probably supposed to be Jünger which means something else.

        1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

          It’s supposed to be a reference to a historical figure, but both my references died of old age long ago. Which is also kind of fitting.

    2. Lisa says:

      I played a game over 50 years old, that was handed down to me by my parents. I can even play it during power outages! (Assuming I remembered to stock up on candles)

      1. John says:

        I had a portable mini-chess set that belonged to my grandfather, but time (and I think humidity) eventually did it in. The little plastic pegs wouldn’t stay stuck in the holes on the board any more.

        Someday the same thing, metaphorically speaking, will happen to my Alpha Centauri CD, which is why I have the disk image backed up to a couple of hard drives.

        1. Lino says:

          I love those tiny chess sets! I had one when I was young, and it’s what my grandfather used to teach me chess. The board was made of metal, and I still remember how its “white” spaces were a very soft hue of orange – just like the white pieces. Even though I almost never play chess, I’m kinda bummed out that that board got lost some time in my very early teens,, and I don’t even remember the exact moment it happened.

    3. Agammamon says:

      Oh, is that how you did it?

      I just went online and torrented them.

  7. Geebs says:

    Anything that comes out of Phil “rendering in real time on a PS3” Harrison’s mouth is already suspect, but when Yves Guillemot also agrees that it’s a good idea you know that you’re looking at something which will suck.

    I think there should be a formal internet rule for this; we just need a snappy name, something like “Guillemot’s reverse”.

  8. Karma The Alligator says:

    I think their target market is, “People who have top-tier internet, who never have to share internet with housemates, who love gaming but are unwilling to buy dedicated gaming hardware, who own multiple non-gaming devices and want to switch between them at random times while hanging around the house.”

    So, CEOs who do nothing at work?

    1. Mintskittle says:

      Honestly, this may be the only way to get CEOs of video game companies to actually play their own games and see the hot mess they are shoveling out to their players.

    2. The more charitable usage case, basically, is someone who loves their gaming, but is forever on the move. Floating back and forth between their home rig, mooching some computer time at Uncle Frank’s house, borrowing an iPad at their partner’s apartment, and using their phone on public transit. (Excellent broadband becoming more commonplace helps this narrative! Improved cellphone processing where one can handle it locally and there’s no need to lean on a cloud server anywhere works against it.)

      And at times, some folks are not unwilling to buy, but frankly just unable. I know I’ve had enough friends who would be mired on years-old cellphones and cruddy thirdhand PCs, with no hope of a near-term replacement. But $10/month (or whatever) even with harsh bandwidth requirements was preferable to having basically NO gaming available outside of simple mobile games.

      I mean, it’s not a juicy and robustly exploding market, as such! But I at least get what folks were GOING for, even if it’s a godforsakenly clunky offering for a ton of folks.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Not sure if I haven’t posted to this effect already but here’s the thing, I’d be interested in a game streaming service, I mean I have a fairly eclectic taste in games, I currently have a somewhat stable income, I wouldn’t even mind being some kind of “standard” subscriber that gets access to most AAA games a year or two after release if I was paying 10-15$ a month, it’s fairly rare for me to buy a AAA titles within two years of it coming out anyway. Heck, I subscribe to Humble Monthly largely because I’m getting a lot of games that are sitting on my wishlist for at least a year or two and I also get games that are somewhat out of my comfort zone or “low priority”. I really wouldn’t be against paying a flat monthly fee for a library of games that I can pick and choose from whenever the mood strikes me… eeeexcept for a bunch of things.

        1) The internet connection requirements, I have what I’d consider “decent” internet for my country, it’s definitely good enough to download stuff at a decent pace and to watch streams or youtube videos while playing an MMO, it does not seem to be good enough for what the game streaming services requires and I’m fairly certain if I tried to upgrade it now the companies would want to saddle me with some kind of monthly bandwidth limitation (these did not use to be a thing back in the day so some people hold on for dear life to their old services);
        2) It comes in late, as in, it would be much more interesting to me if I didn’t have literally hundreds of games spread between various digital stores already;
        3) A very big thing for me is going to be the balkanization of these services. It’s the reason why I don’t have Netflix or Amazon or HBO, I’m interested in some things on every one of those services but I’m not going to afford all three and thus have opted for none. These gamestreaming companies already seem to be grabbing small and mid-range developers that they probably intend to use as stuffing for their service between AAA titles*. I’ve definitely seen people speculate that’s the case with Microsoft obtaining Double Fine.

        *Which I don’t hate as an idea? I know it’s hard to get sales on smaller (especially independent) games that can’t afford big advertisement budgets and if those studios could support themselves by being part of a larger subscription service I’d be all for it, on paper at least.

  9. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    as someone else pointed out in the comments, Google is very happy to shut own a service if it doesn’t really pan off. Just ask the bozos who bought google glasses how much support they’re getting these days. So yeah, it’s an incredibly risky investment.

  10. Lee says:

    I think you’re actually missing their target market.

    Stadia seems aimed directly at casual gamers with money. Casual gamers don’t buy gaming systems, but sometimes they see the hype and still want to play the “Latest Big Game.” If they can get that for a Stadia subscription and the occasional $60, they’ll take it.

    That sounds like the pitch, anyway. Everyone knows that the casual gamer market is huge, and I’m guessing that Google is selling Stadia to devs as the way to tap into that massive piggy bank. It definitely falls flat at E3, presented to the non-casual crowd, but I bet it sounds great to the non-gamer CEOs making the decisions.

    Also, apropos of nothing, I’d love it if my corporate firewall would go back to letting the escapist through its filters. I never get to read your escapist articles at work anymore, so I’m never on time.

    1. Daimbert says:

      I AM a casual gamer with money by pretty much all accounts, and this model is TERRIBLE for those people. If you aren’t playing any game on Stadia, even if you have disposable income you’re going to be grumbling about paying that subscription fee when you aren’t using it, and if you’re not likely to really care about new games coming out unless it’s one killer app that you really love and/or you see that there are a bunch of them that you want to play that are now out on one of the consoles, at which point it becomes worth it to just buy the console. Add in that casual gamers are likely to have to buy SOME sort of new device — PC, mobile device, etc — for the latest and greatest anyway just to hook up to the system and this is not a good model for the casual market, as dumping the money on a console is something they can afford to do and likely plan on doing when they see enough things they like there.

      And those who aren’t informed enough to keep up with what’s available on which console likely aren’t paying attention to the latest and greatest games anyway.

      1. Geebs says:

        PCs and TVs aren’t really a good fit because you might as well just play on local hardware, and phones aren’t a good fit because AAA games aren’t designed for tiny screens and touch controls.

        I can think of one (and only one!) device where Stadia would be pretty cool; it would be neat for streaming games to be played on the Oculus Quest in the virtual desktop mode.

        Not exactly a huge market, admittedly.

        1. Daimbert says:

          The one good thing about PCs and TVs, though, is that casual gamers are likely to have one for other things already, and so would just be adding the subscription service to it. Of course, they’d have to be casual gamers but not casual about PCs and TVs or else they’d have to buy something new anyway to make it work.

          1. Thomas says:

            But for that subscription service, you could just buy a console instead. That’s probably less hassle when you consider that even high speed internet fails you every now and then.

        2. Steve C says:

          Except that VR absolutely positively cannot have any lag. Even if Google managed to get every reducible lag down to zero, it still wouldn’t be enough. The lag from the speed of light would still make VR users throw up.

        3. Ivan says:

          Isn’t latency a massive deal for VR though? Like, makes you sick if its even there a little bit, kind of deal.

          1. Geebs says:

            @Steve C @Ivan
            Lag isn’t an issue for 2D images displayed on a screen in VR, only for the movement of the environment. Admittedly, playing side-by-side 3D games (as in, displayed as if on a 3DTV) can give you quite a headache in this setting if the 3D isn’t done well, but 2D is fine.

            The big issue for me with using Stadia for portable gaming is that games designed for a big screen suck on e.g. a phone – everything is too small and it makes the game feel “small”, which takes a lot away from big AAA games which are going for a sense of spectacle.

            It’s already possible to play PC games rendered on a big virtual screen on the Quest, streamed on the local network; so this would give the (vanishingly small number of people who own one) access to a pretty nifty portable gaming rig with an arbitrarily large screen.

  11. Ninety-Three says:

    Not many people know this, but Gabe Newell is actually a mortal human being.

    Bold claim immediately after complaining that no one else sources Gaben quotes.

    1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

      Can confirm, I know this guy at the pub who works for Thanatos Inc, and he says that Gaben is indeed on the list.

  12. Ninety-Three says:

    I’ve never seen the original quote. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying the source is danged hard to track down

    I found a 2013 quote from customer service:

    In the unlikely event of the discontinuation of the Steam network, measures are in place to ensure that all users will continue to have access to their Steam games.

    But that’s not the original because people were talking about this policy back in 2011.

    1. Gary says:

      Could you provide the link to that quote? I’m curious, and I’m sure Shamus is as well.

      1. Matthew Downie says:

        You can google that phrase. It seems to lead to this:
        http://i.imgur.com/4sa1Ln6.jpg

        1. RFS-81 says:

          I’m not going to believe it if it isn’t in a legally binding document, but “measures are in place” is a stronger statement than “we promise to do this”. That surprised me.

          Regarding Steam having permission to do this: did all the game publishers really sign agreements that the DRM can be stripped away if Steam goes belly-up? I somehow doubt it.

          1. Ivan says:

            I don’t think, that that even matters. Honestly, as Shamus has said in the past, when you’re bankrupt, having your offices raided by creditors (or whatever happens iunno), I doubt you have the capability or organisation and systems that will just work at the push of a button, to roll out a patch for every game, for every user, all over the world. That just seems silly hollywood fantasy of what an engineer can setup. And that would have to still work as your systems are being raided, frozen, wiped, etc. by creditors with clumsy, uncaring hands.

            But, regardless, the quote there says ‘access’. And that is the key point, because removing DRM is just one half of the equation. The other half is still being able to download and install games, that, for example, you don’t currently have installed on a machine when Steam goes bust. Or, say, when you get a new computer, install a new OS, and want to play a game from your steam library. WTF kind of ‘measures’ can possibly be in place to ensure ‘access’ to your games then? Some magical giant server farm powered and paid for by pixie dust is going to run forever while Steam is totally shutdown as a marketplace? I doubt it.

            Like, I have a small Steam library, by comparison to some. I have like, 87 games or some such. Most of which I have never installed or played, but that is another discussion. Anyway, I paid for those games, and while Steam exists, I can theoretically download and install and play, any of them. I say theoretically, because at least out of the box a bunch of them are literally broken and in need of community patches to get working, but whatever. Anyways, I doubt I will be able to, in the minutes or hours before Steam shuts down, download and install every game I own. I doubt I would have the hard drive space to contain them if I tried, though I possibly might. But yeah, not going to happen, especially since every Steam user ever will be possibly doing the same thing at that time, and the servers will face the biggest stress test ever seen.

            So, ya, again, I really doubt those ‘measures’ are worth more than a plaititude.

            1. Richard says:

              True, but I’m not worried.

              Steam is a straight-up money tree. All that its owner needs to do is wring it for cash every few weeks and drip-feed it enough small change to keep the servers going.

              Valve would have to actively rip it to pieces, jump up and down on them and then eat the pieces to prevent another organisation from buying it wholesale and leaving it running, making huge profits.

              It could run for at least five years on zero investment, just maintenance of the datacentres. It would probably die after a decade of abuse, but the abuse would be pretty obvious for several years before it became an actual problem for “run my games”.
              And the shareholders would notice long before that. Shareholders notice if you take an axe to the money tree.

              1. Crokus Younghand says:

                There are no shareholders. Valve is a privately owned complany.

                1. Richard says:

                  Those private owners are the shareholders. That’s literally what shareholding means :)

                  However, private shares are relatively difficult to sell as there is no marketplace and much less public information about the company – you can’t just announce that you’d like to sell fifty privately-traded shares, would they match you to a buyer, as you can with publicly-traded shares.
                  The primary function of the NYSE is to match buyers with sellers, so you’d have to actually find a buyer yourself – which is often quite difficult.

                  You also usually need permission to sell from the other shareholders, which is the other major reason companies stay private – it makes ‘hostile takeovers’ effectively impossible, and gives the shareholders complete control over who has a say in the way the company is run.

                  Being privately owned also means they don’t have to publish quite as much financial and forward planning information as a company like Microsoft or EA (but still quite a lot, mostly for tax reasons)

                  In some ways a private company is more beholden to their shareholders, because private owners are generally primarily concerned about long-term profits (ie dividends), rather than the short-term price volatility of publicly traded shares Wall St et al are (in)famous for invoking.

  13. Lino says:

    I generally agree with you on this, but your arguments is how the games on Stadia (i.e. AAA titles) aren’t the right length for games people play on their phones. This made me wonder – what if Google plans to target Asia with this product? Consumers over there would certainly benefit a lot from Stadia’s mobile component, since they mostly play on mobile. They have long commute times, as well as some decent to very fast internet speeds.

    What if Western audiences are just the gravy on top of that sweet, sweet Asian market?

    Also, why is no one mentioning Shadow Tech? They’ve been offering game streaming for years, and the only mention of them was a Super Bunnyhop video 2-3 years ago…

    1. Daimbert says:

      The problem is that the really big money Asian nations — Japan and China — don’t have that long of commute times, and the others don’t have that fast of Internet speeds. The big market there would be Singapore and Hong Kong, which probably isn’t enough of a market to make it successful.

      1. Lino says:

        And in China’s case, the government has banned Google’s search engine and YouTube – I don’t see how they’ll treat Stadia any differently.

      2. Grimwear says:

        And how would it work in Japan? Remember that Steam had to change and introduce Steam cards so that the Japanese could buy physical cards with money rather than using credit cards or the like. Is Google ready to make a whole bunch of Stadia specific gift cards? I doubt it.

    2. Thomas says:

      They will buy Switches in those markets.

      I’m skeptical that you could do really intensive game streaming on a train.

  14. Jack V says:

    Huh. Interesting.

    I definitely share your cynicism.

    But I also have a bad feeling this will work out somehow, at some point, however stupid it is.

    In “maybe it will be useful after all” stakes there’s a lot of people who DO watch netflix on the bus. I would have thought that was impossible. But apparently so. So… maybe people CAN do that. Streaming to a small screen is less bandwidth.

    And… there may be a niche it’s not obvious in advance. E.g. people who don’t want to THINK about gaming hardware, and want to just buy a game and have it work, and not think “do I want console A or console B” or have to have house space for it. What does 1 sq ft of house space cost a month??

    Or some other tradeoff that’s not exactly current games. Like, REALLY high end hardware, that needs to be in a data centre. Or games with heavy rendering but designed for small screens (that’s already happening).

    In our “but people put up with that” category, I hate fake-ownership, but lots of people do just accept “buying” games tied to amazon to steam, or whatever, and that they may go away. Partly because they feel ownership is more ephemeral than I do. And partly just because it’s (sadly) normalised so people just accept it as the way it is.

    Maybe there’ll be games designed where latency don’t matter (like, who decided shooters should run on consoles where you can’t aim? But apparently that works ok for people.)

    I’m still cynical, but if google keep trying things good for google, they may eventually hit on one people want. I wish we could get the one people want without the “and has to be beholden to google” at the same time.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      But I also have a bad feeling this will work out somehow, at some point, however stupid it is.

      My expectation is that it will be a commercial failure and that won’t matter because Google has billions of ad dollars burning a hole in their pocket and they’re willing to spend ages subsidizing a money-losing venture (see Youtube, which still doesn’t turn a profit).

      1. Asdasd says:

        This may be apocryphal, but it’s widely believed that Microsoft made no profit at all on the first-generation Xbox in order to lay the foundation for the 360 (and incurred such heavy losses replacing red-ringed units that even that juggernaut wasn’t the financial success it should have been.)

        edit: Wiki reports Microsoft lost four billion on the original Xbox, and a further billion replacing bricked 360s. The Xbox division made no profit until 2008, three years after the 360 launched. So these tech mega-corps are not averse to strategic loss-leading (although who knows if Google has a similar appetite.)

        1. Lame Duck says:

          “So these tech mega-corps are not averse to strategic loss-leading”

          This seems like the exact opposite of a loss-leading though strategy though. The Epic Store seems like a loss-leading strategy where they’re throwing tons of money at trying to attract users in the hopes they can turn it into something profitable later. Google appears to have priced almost everyone out of wanting to use the system for some reason.

          Edit: it occurs to me that maybe the only way this idea works financially is if there’s just a small number of people paying a lot each; more people means more server costs, so each customer need to be extremely profitable to be worth it at all.

          1. Kylroy says:

            Yeah, your loss leaders need to draw in large numbers of people (i.e. Youtube) – you’re spending money in exchange for, essentially, recognition. Unless Google starts out with a year of no subscription fees and half price games, I don’t see how they get the numbers.

          2. RichardW says:

            New for publishers 2019, we present, the service made exclusively for whales!
            Why waste time on the little minnows when you can go straight to the big fish?!
            ACT NOW!

        2. Bloodsquirrel says:

          Some of that is misunderstood financial analysis. MS was building an entire corporate division. A lot of that money they spent weren’t actually losses, but capital investment. You would have to take into account the current market value of the Xbox business to figure out what their actual losses were prior to 2008.

    2. Lino says:

      I don’t think most people think that hard about things like ownership of their digital goods. As long as someone offers them a good/service in a convenient way, most consumers just jump at the possibility, without giving much thought on how that’s going to affect them (and the world) in the future.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Right up until it DOES impact them, at which point they can get quite bitter.

        I recently had this watching Star Trek: Voyager on a streaming service instead of my usual method of simply buying the DVDs: it was more convenient and cheaper, but they didn’t have all of the episodes. So now if I can get the series for a decent price on DVD I’m thinking about buying it.

        1. Lino says:

          And the even bigger problem is that when it DOES hit them, the thing has already gained enough momentum so as to be very difficult to stop or change.

  15. Ross says:

    I played through Thief 2 (2000) just a couple of years ago.

    Careful old man, at our age ‘just a couple of years ago’, can in fact turn out to be 19 years.

    1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

      Nonsense. Thief is an old game, unlike more modern games like the Mass Effect series which only came out fairly recently.

      And the really old games (the ones who get the designation of “The First X”) happened so long ago that i’m pretty sure nobody who was around for that is alive anymore. I mean, that was all the way back in the late 1900’s!

    2. Nimrandir says:

      I mean, this is how the Marvel universe works, where just about everything other than Captain America’s WWII service was ‘a couple of years ago.’

  16. Benden says:

    I travel a bit for business. I know of people who travel a lot for business – one who was home under 90 nights a year at one time. If hotel internet wasn’t half-washed donkey dung, I’d think I’d found Stadia’s market: the perfect confluence of money, midrange laptops, high-end mobile devices, and free time away from home. Could they be banking on internet service improvement somehow? Do they think Google Fiber is actually still happening?

    1. Xeorm says:

      I’m betting it’s still primarily an internal politics thing. See, my understanding of Google is that they heavily reward “new” projects in terms of benefits. Their company is in part built on that kind of idea too. Throw a bunch of stuff, rapidly get it to market, and see what works. That works really well for internet and app development. The timeframe for those projects is small, you want to get there first, and there’s a wide range of potential activities so it does serve them well. If things work, they keep it going, if they don’t, they can them.

      It’s a process that works well for some things, but in cases like Stadia not so much. Mostly as they don’t seem to be protecting themselves well against terrible ideas. There’s a definite market for things similar to what Stadia is doing. From people on the go to being the Netflix of gaming. Those are solid areas to target. Not so much the hardcore gaming community. If they had done some proper research they likely would have seen this, but I don’t think they did. If interviews and such are anything to go by, it does seem like the project is being mismanaged.

  17. Lino says:

    By the way, Typolice:

    but people once thought the game thing of Pan Am, General Motors, Kodak, and Blockbuster.

    Should be “the same thing”.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Also “paraphrases, to you can’t ” should be “so you”

  18. Bookwyrm says:

    but people once thought the game thing of Pan Am, General Motors, Kodak, and Blockbuster.

    I’m guessing that should be “same”, since the sentence ended after naming the companies.

    nostalgic itch to return to return to a beloved classic.

    “to return” repeated.

    Maybe the target market is “people who don’t want to stop gaming while taking a bathroom break.”

    1. Zerbin says:

      That market already bought a Switch.

  19. Lame Duck says:

    “The Stadia Founder’s Edition package (which is the only way to access Stadia until the free version releases) costs $130, and the service itself will be $10 per month.”

    I’m sorry, are you saying this thing at release has an upfront cost, a monthly cost and a per-game cost? That…can’t possibly be correct, can it?

    1. Lino says:

      The way I understand it, the upfront cost is only for people who want to get in early – kind of like how people with preorders sometimes get to play the game early.

      1. Lame Duck says:

        I guess maybe Google have looked at things like the release of Diablo 3 or Sim City: Always Online Version and decided that keeping the initial user-base very small is way better than the opposite.

      2. shoeboxjeddy says:

        Man, I can’t WAIT to pay an extreme upfront cost to get in on the worst performing version of the service! It’s a GREAT deal to pay the company hand over fist to beta test for them!

        1. RichardW says:

          As a day one purchaser of Fallout 76, I’m getting PTSD reading this.

          1. shoeboxjeddy says:

            Yeah at this point, I don’t pre-order any games. I might do so like… a day before release if there’s a bonus for doing so and I’m CERTAIN I want it even if it reviews poorly, but for the most part no pre-orders, and few day one purchases. I think the only thing it’s reasonable to hop into blindly at this point in the industry is the next expansion to an MMO you are currently actively playing. You’re gonna like that if you like the game.

  20. Joe Informatico says:

    Question for better-informed/tech-oriented people: Does the ongoing rollout of 5G cellular networks make Stadia more viable?

    1. Bubble181 says:

      Yes, because it should offer more than enough bandwidth, and its latency is also much, much lower. Maybe not for the real twitch games, but most types of games should be easily streamed over 5G. Of course, when and where that’ll bigger available….

      1. Geebs says:

        As long as you’re in a national capital, and in the right spot with line-of-sight to the tower, and have real 5G and not imaginary AT&T 5G, and don’t, like, turn around, or wear a particularly large hat, 5G is amazing!

        1. Thomas says:

          Yeah, you can lose 5G connections just by turning the corner of a street.

          A UK provider has already admitted 5G isn’t likely to ever stretch further than cities. And at the moment the only UK 5G network has such a tight data cap you’d run out of internet in a few minutes if you actually used 5G speeds.

          If it does take off, game streaming will be much better. Apparently you can have 5G connected buses – that would be pretty much the ideal use case.

    2. Agammamon says:

      Yes. And no.

      Because of the way the 5G system will be set up – more nodes to cover an area due to the higher frequency band being used – its likely to not get rolled out outside of urban areas, even with a delay, like previous standards were. It might have take an year or two, but eventually 3/4G achieved nationwide coverage (er, mostly).

  21. Bloodsquirrel says:

    While it’s easy to see why cloud gaming is attractive from the supplier side (it gives them a constant revenue strategy), the fact that internet access for a.year still costs more than an Xbox One and PS4 combined shows you that the economics are fundamentally wrong. Local hardware is cheap. Data transport isn’t, especially high-quality data transport.

    Cloud gaming is like having your car shipped to China for an oil change. No matter how much more cheaply they can do it over there, it won’t matter as long as shipping costs are higher than the total cost of doing it locally.

    1. Matthew Downie says:

      I thought the actual data transport was pretty cheap; that’s why most companies don’t charge by the gigabyte. The high cost of having internet access is to pay for the tubes through which the data flows (or to profit shareholders, or whatever).

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        Variable costs per byte are negligible, but the fixed cost of the network infrastructure isn’t, and it has limited capacity. In other words, if your pipes can move 100GB per second, then there’s very little cost difference between using them to send 10GBps or the full 100GBps, but if you want to move 200GBps, you’ll need to double your investment,

        But the details don’t matter: What’s relevant is the market price of internet access, which is high enough that access is still relatively limited. Even if the only reason it was that high was because of government-granted monopolies, it would still be the state of the market that some people have bandwidth caps, that hotels/coffee shops aren’t providing sufficiently fast service per customer, and that 4G networks are too congested.

        Even if internet was only 1/10 of the cost it is right now, though, the economics still wouldn’t make sense. The computing hardware would have to be expensive enough to make it worth, basically, sharing a machine with somebody else. The hardware still has to be bought and paid for, one way or the other, so you’d be relying on the fact that you’re not using it 24/7, so that the cloud company doesn’t have to buy the equivalent of one machine per customer. But… chances are, if you’re using it enough to justify keeping up a subscription, then you’re going to be using it often enough that you’ll run into trouble at peak times. You might not be using it 24/7, but if you play every weeknight from 9-10, and that’s when half the customer base also plays, you won’t exactly be able to share one machine between twenty people.

        With an Xbox One S sitting at $300 right now, and considering that the controller alone is $60 of that, it becomes really hard to somehow run a service that isn’t going to be more expensive in the long run. $240 over a mere four years is $5 a month. For that price, you have to be able to buy the hardware, rent the space for it, pay people to keep it running, etc. Hardware is, ultimately, just too cheap.

        At the end of the day, you’re trying to use a scare resource (bandwidth) to replace a non-scare bandwidth (local hardware). The only way you could make that work would be by providing better features, but even then- if bandwidth was a solved problem, why not just stream from my own console?

      2. Erik says:

        Data transport is *pretty* cheap, but this isn’t basic data transfer – it’s low-latency HD video transfer, and that’s a much bigger ask.

        Also, don’t forget that cost is not always in money – there’s a big potential latency/playability cost. It’s like if shipping your car to China for an oil change was actually cheap enough to be competitive… except you forgot that you’ll need a car while yours is in China, and you’re stuck with the HUGE hassle (and potential expense) of using Uber or renting or begging rides from (soon to be former) friends until it gets back.

    2. Lanthanide says:

      ” the fact that internet access for a.year still costs more than an Xbox One and PS4 combined shows you that the economics are fundamentally wrong”

      By that logic, no one would by a dishwasher either because the cost of hooking up your house to the electricity network means it’s not worth it.

      In other words: people are paying for internet access anyway, this is just another service being offered over that network.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        That would only work if internet access wasn’t tiered (more money for a fast enough connection), data caps weren’t a thing, and it was available wherever you went, not just in your house. In reality, the internet access that “you’re paying for anyway” has a lot of limitations.

        Just like, for example, the fact that you already have electricity hooked up to your house doesn’t mean that you run your air conditioner full blast 24/7.

        Your analogy also makes no sense since it does not provide an alternative. It would be more apt if we were talking about buying a dishwasher versus renting one, and the one that you rented used $100 a year extra in electricity.

  22. evilmrhenry says:

    I think a good comparison is the Switch, because that also lets you play traditional games on the go, with a good ability to switch from a TV to on the go.

    Switch: $300 up front, $20/year for Nintendo Switch Online (optional), $60 games.
    Stadia: $130, $120/year, $60 games.

    The problem is that the Switch is a rather good competitor to Stadia. My impression is that the Switch will be a better experience for on-the-go gaming, as it’s not reliant on an internet connection, and it’s comparable in price with a decent selection of games. You can ease the price differential by buying used or waiting for a sale, as well. (Switch games can be bought used as well.)

    1. Nimrandir says:

      The Switch also has built-in exclusive titles, since Nintendo is a game publisher as well. Does Google have a game-publishing division?

      1. GoStu says:

        No, but now if they’re trying to get into the gaming market, perhaps they should.

        Imagine a less-evil EA that indies could sell their souls to for publishing.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          This begs the question: who exactly is eliminated by requiring less evil than EA?

        2. tmtvl says:

          Google less evil than EA? Are you sure about that? At best they’re evenly matched.

          1. Richard says:

            Google are less incompetent, which as Shamus is fond of implying, makes them less obnoxious even if similarly evil.

        3. RichardW says:

          Phil Harrison did mention Stadia exclusives would be a thing they’re looking at, but it’s unclear whether that means “streamed only on Stadia” or “only available on Stadia and nowhere else”. It seems financial suicide for anyone to go with the latter, even Ubisoft knew better than that.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            Stadia exclusives wouldn’t be financial suicide for the same reason VR exclusives aren’t: the platforms are willing to write huge checks in order to entice studios to work for them (see: Respawn Entertainment, who are currently making a VR game despite the fact that their games normally sell more copies than there are total VR users).

  23. Allen Gould says:

    What bugs me about Stadia (and OnLive before it), is that it feels like a much more compelling product if you remove the storefront from it.

    Picture this: you can rent a chunk of dedicated server, install whatever game you want to play (from wherever you got your existing game), and then stream *that* to your device.

    Now, your market expands to folks who just need a bigger PC for this one game, and eventually (if you get the “play on your tablet/phone/windsock” thing), something that may be more cost effective that buying your kid a bleeding-edge machine (or multiple machines if your kids don’t share).

    But as long as these platforms try to double-dip (by renting me the machine *and* selling me the games locked-in)? Yeah, no thanks.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Sorting out the rights for that can get complicated (what if it’s not a legally-obtained copy of the game? How do you verify that anyway?). Like a lot of digital age copyright questions, it’s not well-tested legal ground, and no one wants to build around a business plan which involves “get sued, pray the courts don’t declare our business model illegal”.

  24. Ed Weatherup says:

    I think there’s another potential market: The concerned and price conscious mom who doesn’t want a big chunk of family budget spent of something “just for playing games” but at the same time wants to let Junior play some of the games his/her friends do — not realising that she is dooming him/her to being “the kid that has to use Stadia because they don’t have a PS6 or Xbox10XX” … or whatever the latest iteration is.

  25. Chad says:

    The reasons game companies are excited and Google people are cagey about pricing are actually the same reason: if Stadia works, game companies will be able to move (even more) to subscriptions instead of purchases. Games like Madden, FIFA, Halo, CoD, Assassin’s Creed, Gears, (insert many, many more) that currently mix DLC, season passes, and sequels can migrate to continual rent-seeking, smoothing out the money curves and letting the executives play with bundling and pricing models (I.e. things they know and like) rather than constantly worrying how much they can blow the budget to ship a beta-quality game with complete-replacement “patch” on day 1, day 21, and day 45. Games will never need to ‘ship’; they’ll just go out to beta subscribers and the devs will fix the squeaky wheels behind the scenes. The size of the dev team can be determined directly from the size of the audience, rather than having to choose to cut/replace/beef up the team immediately after a weak/strong/buzzy launch. It shouldn’t be surprising that nobody is currently saying “we want game streaming because it’ll enable us try to extra constant dollars from everyone, coincidently turning everything into Eternal Early Access; that’d be like selling McDonalds with images of cows plodding into feedlots.

    Google, meanwhile, gets to app-store the whole thing, and also gets you to run their data-harvesting software everywhere they tell you that you want to play your games — which is everywhere (or “everywhere you will let them”, turn they’ll work to make those the same). This isn’t meant to imply tinfoil-hat territory; to make these sorts of streaming systems work for various devices, you really do need to collect a bunch of data about those devices in the real world, and you need to keep it up to date. Google just happens to be in a good position to make extra use of that data (which is the entire value proposition of YouTube, Gmail, Android, etc — in other words, of Google as a company).

  26. Microsoft seems like the clever ones in this “race to the clouds”, in that you can use your Xbox as a local (LAN?) cloud, this gives you near zero or zero latency from most devices/computers at home so you can game on your phone in the backyard while watching over the kids”.
    Or if you are at the bus-stop waiting you can use mobile data and Microsoft’s global cloud. Best of both worlds (as far as cloud vs console gaming goes).

    There is nothing preventing a DRM free solution ( “GOG Cloud” ?) from being made either that behave in a similar way.

  27. rabs says:

    Publishers have no good reason to lower their earnings, especially it requires some work to port a game to Stadia.
    I guess Google could negotiate special prices with games publishers (like pre-purchasing 100k at a discount), and cut their share to a minimum. Or they are already doing that, to maintain a normal price while motivating publishers to work for their platform with a good deal.

    About Steam DRM, SteamWorks documentation says it’s not very secured and an anti-tampering protection should be added. So even if GabeN doesn’t remove it, anyone can.
    The main problem are games that use 3rd party DRM and many layers of protection (like competitive online games).

  28. ngthagg says:

    I think you missed the mark on this one Shamus. There is a clear market for the Stadia. It’s not for you and me, but it’s there.

    Stadia is a new console. It’s the last console you’ll ever buy. It’s for the people who have enough disposable income that a physical console is an inconvenience. Let’s look at your points from that perspective:

    1) Games can’t be traded in. For the budget conscious this hurts the value of a game, but Stadia is aimed at people who don’t have the patience to wait for a game to download (no downloads is the second bullet point on the Stadia website). For you, no resale value makes a game worth less, but for the target audience, immediate playability makes it worth more.

    2) Increased risk. Again, for the budget conscious, games tied to an ephemeral system have less value. But if you’re the type to play only the newest hits, this isn’t an issue. Unless Stadia shuts down a week after you buy a new game, it’s irrelevant. You’ve already played that game, you’ve gotten the value out of it. Same thing if you move somewhere with an inferior connection. You just cancel your Stadia account. And for what it’s worth, the infrastructure for a good Stadia connection is at its worst state at launch. It’s only going to get better.

    3) The monthly fee. This is the weakest point, because people have been paying for console subscriptions for years already. There are tens of millions of people on Xbox live and PS plus. For those people, buying a game in addition to paying a subscription isn’t a new expense, it’s a given. Steam and GoG aren’t great comparisons, because they still rely on a separate piece of hardware to run the games.

    4) The drawbacks of cloud gaming. These still stand, but it’s a mixed bag for how relevant the problems are. Latency seems like the biggest challenge to me, but I’m not an expert on this sort of thing.

    tl;Dr Stadia is a competitor to the PS5 and XBox Two and is aimed at the whales who buy AAA games on release day.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      It’s for the people who have enough disposable income that a physical console is an inconvenience.

      I’m trying to find the sense in this sentence, but I just can’t. This is like saying “I’m making this shampoo for people who have hair so long that they prefer Android to iOS”. Just how does one thing relate to the other? Is your comment satirical?

      1. Thomas says:

        If you have a large house, you don’t want to disturb the Feng Shui by placing objects in it.

      2. ngthagg says:

        Nope, not satirical, but maybe badly worded. I’ll take a second try.

        For me, a console is a luxury. My gaming budget is small, and spending hundreds of dollars just to be able to spend more money on games isn’t realistic. But if I had a large entertainment budget, to the point where price isn’t a significant part of deciding whether or not I want a game, a console has a lot of inconveniences. It has to be physically connected, it’s not portable, games are tied to physical discs or lengthy downloads, it can break down, etc. Compared to how I consume movies, music, and TV shows, that’s archaic!

        But that only applies to people with large entertainment budgets. If I’m considering buying a PS4 to play Spiderman, I’m asking myself whether it’s worth the cost, not worrying about being tied to one tv when I’m playing.

    2. Mephane says:

      The monthly fee. This is the weakest point, because people have been paying for console subscriptions for years already. There are tens of millions of people on Xbox live and PS plus.

      As a PC-only gamer, it still boggles my mind that the console manufacturers got away with these subscriptions in the first place. Now that these are getting folded into a Netflix style system where the subscription also grants access to games without buying, it makes more sense, but having to pay extra for the mere ability to play online still sounds ludicrous to me.

      1. Scampi says:

        I actually would be interested if there’s some kind of statistics breakdown of the demographics of gamers including this kind of info. Are the people who use paid subscription services mostly under a certain age (are they overrepresented)? It would imply companies made use of picking people up while they are young. It would also imply it’s easier to get used to a deteriorating quality if you never got used to superior quality.
        If so: Who are the people over that age who use them mostly? Wealthy high income people who can afford this kind of subscription? Or the poor lower class kids with insufficient education who build up their first experience with debt (they still exist, I’m rather sure)? Or a type of dedicated gamer who adopts any new idea early just for the bragging rights of having been at the helm of a new development? I think it would be really interesting to have this kind of statistics/survey available, but I bet the only people having access to at least some relevant data are the companies who run the subscriptions, and I’d bet they jealously protect them from any investigative view that doesn’t intend to further their specific interest of harvesting this for better info on how to make them more money.
        Maybe they will now take up that bet for a significant sum, just because using the data this way might make them some money…

    3. Lanthanide says:

      Surprised how long I had to scroll to find this.

      I agree that Shamus is wrong.

      Also the $60 box price appears to be a short-term thing only. Medium-term it’ll be the subscription price only, although it might move up to $15/month instead of $10.

  29. Hey, always interesting to see someone referencing OnLive!

    Fun fact: after the company crashed and burned that first time, it was resurrected! Putting out new products and everything! Like being able to play some of your purchased Steam games by linking your accounts! (I should know; I was a QA engineer there during the second incarnation. AMA.)

    The technology was pretty great! The latency was actually pretty impressive, where you could play fast-twitch shooters and racing games with minimal impact! But a hard sell, especially for both branding and licensing reasons, and what with every Major Gaming Player worth their salt having their own in-house solutions they wanted to build up and/or roll the dice with instead. A pity, but such is life.

    (If you especially hated the company for whatever reason, sleep soundly knowing that not only did the second incarnation also shut down, but the Silicon Valley building where the company was housed has since been razed to the ground and replaced, so there isn’t even a location to nostalgically visit.)

  30. Olivier FAURE says:

    I’m not familiar with the technical details, but I’d guess most games relying on Steam DRM are safe forever.

    The data is all stored locally, mostly unencrypted, and relies on a DRM/API common to multiple games. In the unlikely event that Steam shuts down without warning, people will be publishing generalized Steam emulators within the week. (a quick Google search suggests some already exist, though Steamless looks quite limited at a glance)

    They probably won’t have all the features of a normal Steam game (achievements, multiplayer in some cases, maybe DLCs), but generally speaking games relying on Steam are probably way safer than games relying on remote streaming.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      I tried posting this as a reply to one of the comments on the Escapist article, but I do not want to create a Disqus account.

      Assuming you download and install games as you purchase them, and so long as you never delete them to free up storage space, I’m sure the community would find something to do if Valve or CDPR were to pull a Telltale.

      On the other hand, I know a couple of games in my Steam account have never actually been installed (Thomas Was Alone and Rogue Legacy spring to mind), and the same goes for a bunch of older titles I got as part of GoG bundles, like most of the Gold Box AD&D games. My guess is that my access to those games would be gone.

      This doesn’t really impact any of Shamus’ arguments. I just thought it worth pointing out that there are cases where losing the service would take away game access.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        Can’t you use guest accounts with Disqus? It was doable at least until the last time I checked.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          Possibly. After I typed my comment, it popped up the usual queue of ‘log in with foo’ icons. I figured, what the heck, I’ll use my Google account; the role-player in me saw that as apropos. Clicking that took me to an account creation page for Disqus. Uninterested in new login credentials, I backed out, and in the process, I evidently annihilated the text of my comment.

          What can I say? It’s a gift.

      2. Agammamon says:

        You don’t even really need to wait – its not like these games aren’t already available on the torrents.

        Steam could go belly-up tonight and I don’t think I would lose access to a significant number of the titles in my library should I really want them.

  31. Decius says:

    If Valve starts going into bankruptcy, I will be in court as a creditor, arguing that they have contractual obligations to me, personally, which are prior to their obligations to their other creditors. And then I’ll argue for transferring all the legacy contract providers to a ‘legacy Steam users’ organization that takes over the distribution and DRM authentication for (selected?) former Steam users; I’d get Jason Scott to suggest someone to lead the project, and probably end up paying a monthly subscription to the service that gives me access to my Steam library.

    Other creditors will have trouble fighting that solution, since it largely involves merely copying data, not spending money.

    1. Agammamon says:

      OK. But you’re an unsecured creditor. Literally the back of the line. If there’s any money left over after the secured creditors get paid then you can fight all the other unsecured creditors for your recompense.

  32. default_ex says:

    The point of who the intended customers are for the use case of multiple devices to hop between on the same location is one that boggled me about Stadia when reading up some of the promotional stuff so far. The only place you really see that style of computer usage taken seriously is in stores for point of sales systems. They are finicky and not at all user friendly due to the nature of networking, even under ideal conditions. That use case seems like a lofty pipe dream currently, really have a hard time picturing anyone using such a system for more than initial novelty of it.

  33. Moridin says:

    Honestly, I think the pricing on Stadia is pretty reasonable IF Google can deliver games at the equivalent of high settings. It’s basically everything else that’s the problem, and while selling games for cheaper would make some people overlook those problems, I don’t think any pricing model that actually results in a profit for Google will work unless they can first address all those other problems.

    A console costs several hundred dollars. That’s the free tier for stadia, in theory. A gaming PC capable of delivering [email protected] on high settings in most new games is going to be more like $1000, and then you need to upgrade the GPU for a few hundred dollars every three or four years(and more rarely, the rest of the platform). Compared to that $130+$10/month seems pretty reasonable even if games cost the same amount of money.

    Of course, what’ll actually happen is that the $10/month tier will deliver experience compared to consoles + lag, since apparently the video will be compressed to the point where it won’t even matter whether the game is running at the equivalent of high settings or not.

  34. Agammamon says:

    The idea is that you can seamlessly jump from your television to your tablet, to your mobile phone, to your non-gaming laptop, and be able to play the latest AAA games on any of them. You can change platforms seamlessly without needing to close and relaunch the game. It’s a neat trick, but the longer I look at it the more I wonder: Is this really a feature people need?

    I have to say – this is the part where I wonder what their base assumptions are. You’re not switching over to *mobile data* to play games, not if you don’t want increased latency (where you might already be on the edge of playability at home). If the draw is ‘I can play on a tablet in bed at home on my wifi network’ then there’s the issue that if you want to play ‘competitively’ you’ve hooked your system up with ethernet and its not on wifi and if you’re playing less demanding games . . . there are already apps that allow you to remote access your computer and mirror your monitor on your phone or tablet.

    So you can run your game on your own hardware and ship it over your home network to your mobile device. Right now.

    Its like Google is trying to sell to these people;

    https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2019/06/10

  35. Agammamon says:

    But to people above a Certain Age, 20 years seems like a relatively short time. Also, I’m still fond of games that came out 20 years ago.

    I still play games that came out 20+ years ago. There are 20+ year old games that are still in active development.

  36. Lars says:

    Hey Shamus. I’ve found your Stadia audience. And it’s a big one. An enormous one. We are thinking the wrong way. Stadia is not for Next-Gen Call of Whatsoever, it is for the Next-Gen League of Legends, the next Pokemon Go, the next PUBG Mobile. The market isn’t situated in the US. It is China!
    Newzoo stated that 782.8 million Chinese of 1.4 Billion do own a smart phone and 572.5 million of them do play games on them. Mostly Free2Play / Buy2Win games like the LoL clone Honor of Knights aka Arena of Valor or the Counter Strike Clone Crossfire. On Mobile. Stadias price model doesn’t apply to F2P-games. If you combine that information with 5G technology, where China is the inventing market you have a gigantic market for Stadia. A Stadia Pokemon Go could have graphics in movie quality, to which a smart phone would never have that power.
    A data center in one of their E-Sport-Cities like Hangzhou and that coup is perfect.

  37. Algeh says:

    I wonder if Stadia is targeted at the kind of people who currently “rent to own” consoles through places like RAC or Aarons? A brief look-see at the websites for those stores shows that they’re asking around $85-$100/month to “rent to own” a console.

    (For the non-Americans, these are basically places that overcharge poor people for things by letting people with little cash and poor credit “rent to own” furniture/electronics/etc. for inflated prices. If you miss payments, they take the stuff back since you’re just renting it. If you make all the payments, you’ve paid 2-3 times as much to buy through them as opposed to buying up front. It is, in every way, a worse deal than buying that same item using a credit card and making minimum payments each month, which is already not a good plan for luxury/optional purchases such as game consoles. Basically, rent-to-own is never a good way to buy something and should only be used when that thing is absolutely needed and it is your least bad option.)

    Now, that sounds like an objectively terrible idea to me, someone who can just go buy a console paying cash, or even wildly-less-sensible me who would be willing to charge a console to a credit card and pay the minimum each month rather than save up until I could afford one, but clearly there is a group of people who rent-to-own these things given how easy it was to find them on the websites for these companies. Stadia would be a good deal in comparison as long as there is eventually a format that costs less than $80 in upfront costs and can be paid for in an ongoing way using gift cards rather than credit/debit cards. I just have no idea how large that market is.

    1. Richard says:

      I think it’s a safe bet that market doesn’t exist, because of the other things you have to have for Stadia to be theoretically viable.

      You need extremely low-latency, high-bandwidth Internet.
      That’s a premium product, costing well over $100 pcm.

      That kind of over-the-top internet access is pretty much the first thing that gets cut off or cut back if you start getting into financial difficulty. Or cut off if you don’t pay the bills.

      Stadia is only possible for those who are relatively well-off and live relatively close to a Google datacenter with a really good (probably fibre-to-the-premises) internet connection.
      – Or work somewhere that has that and doesn’t mind them using the business premises after-hours.

      That probably describes a lot of Google employees.
      I rather suspect Stadia is something a fair few Google employees might buy, rather than something that has a market outside of Google. That might even be enough for it to survive.

      1. Algeh says:

        Latency matters a lot more for some games than others, but I suspect “people who enjoy playing turn-based strategy games that involve a lot of detailed planning” and “people who buy rent-to-own furniture” is a small overlap indeed.

  38. DosFreak says:

    You don’t have to wait for for Steam (or other game service) to close shop to make you games not require Steam or 3rd party DRM: https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=64038

    Most people don’t seem to do what I do though instead they download the games from torrents which sounds nice but usually the games are modified in various ways and they don’t stay around forever. Torrents aren’t a good backup method although potentially they could be.

    Also it appears that the Bioshock DVD recently lost the ability to download the game executable so the game will not install without jumping through hoops because someone decided to change the website and not do a redirect:
    https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=61&t=67992&hilit=bioshock

    Why bother fixing any of that though, may as well purchase the game again that you already “own”.

  39. I agree on all of your points and your general scepticism towards a cloud gaming platform. However, I think there is one area that has the potential to be pretty big: that would be large persistent massively multiplayer worlds. The problem is that anyone actually developing these specifically for Stadia seems extremely unlikely. But the potential is huge. You have entire well connected and powerful data centers to do all the player to player communication and storing world state. Including custom hardware for running AI (TPUs). This would simplify the programming model for the backend significantly and Stadia’s streaming architecture would take care of the gnarly problem of getting the data to players. Importantly, this data would not have to include any of the actual world state, but just the image pixels. Guaranteed no cheating. Guaranteed same version of the game. Guaranteed perfect player to player connectivity. In a way this would allow developers to outsource a lot of the trickiest bits of MMO development to Google. However unlikely this scenario might be, I really hope someone explores it and tries to come up with a tailored game design specifically for this kind of infrastructure. Minecraft with a million concurrent players (probably not, griefing etc needs to be solved)? Something entirely new?

    Disclaimer: I work for Google, but not on anything related to Stadia. These are my personal opinions.

  40. Felblood says:

    Anyone throwing money at Stadia should be thinking carefully about what happened to any company that put money into building a presence on Google Plus.

  41. Taxi says:

    When it comes to PC, I only buy DRM-free, so that’s basically GOG and some odd title in itch.io. So those will probably last as long as x86 or compatible is around, tho it’s hard to say how long that will be. I already use my PC so rarely I didn’t even bother connecting my speakers when I moved 2 months ago.

    I already can’t play many games that I got for my old iPod Touch since they aren’t compatible with the newer versions, and will be completely gone for me soon since I won’t be getting new Apple devices.

    PS3? Still have it, but how long will it last? How will I transfer my digital games once it’s no longer supported and I’ll want a backup machine?

    Got a bunch of games in my Android phones but those vanish with newer versions of the OS and will vanish for good soonet or later.

    Whatever has happened to so many good Flash games? Or mobile Java games? I’d like to play Doom RPG again, it was pretty kick ass. Hm…

    In 20 years, I bet 80% (by the 80/20 rule) of current games will be gone and in 30 years, nothing from 20 years before will be remembered, much less playable.

    It’s the new software order.

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