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LONG BLOG

Google Stadia and Streaming: The Future of Video Games? Part 1

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The Google stadia is a system I find interesting. Theoretically a streaming console is an interesting idea-imagine being able to stream a powerful, high quality game on a weaker piece of equipment with a strong internet connection. That's an appealing idea, especially to people who can’t afford a powerful rig. Hell even as someone with a gaming rig, being able to play on the go or have a way to play games from my rig or a data center would be appealing if it was at a sufficient quality level to be playable. And while there have been start and stop attempts to make this a reality, I think google is one of the biggest competitors to wade into this field. Their advertisements are all over youtube and the internet generally so even without being someone who focuses on games and gaming culture I would have heard about it eventually. They have the reach and capital to make a big push.

And yet. At every turn the console has had significant issues pop up and slowly hack away at its knees until it's become more and more agreed that its fundamentally flawed. Whether or not it makes it a year or two before exploding and dying, is anyone's guess but we’ll only know when we get there. I’d like to examine this system, and in so doing also ponder on what a successful streaming console would look like. 

Support

The playstation vita-WAIT COME BACK I SWEAR I’M GOING SOMEWHERE WITH THIS!

 

*Cough* Anyways, the playstation vita was a wonderful console in concept and design that had a decent shot at being successful. But one of the main things that hurt it was that sony gave up on it before it was released and didn’t offer it support. In retrospect this wasn’t that surprising-Sony's gaming division has a terrible history of supporting things external to their main product line. A company with a long history of shuttering or giving up products external to their main product is unlikely to be successful at doing so elsewhere, is one potential takeaway. 

 

And Google has a similar issue. 

“We are 91 days into the year, and so far, Google is racking up an unprecedented body count. If we just take the official shutdown dates that have already occurred in 2019, a Google-branded product, feature, or service has died, on average, about every nine days.”

This article examines all of this and also contextualizes the stadia in light of this. Its an important thing to consider of course, and I think it boils down to one important question. If you buy equipment and invest in the stadia ecosystem, what do you do if Stadias dead in a few years? Hell the same week the stadia came out, they shitcanned yet another service that was apparently decently popular.

“Doronichev added that Google Stadia will support the "Takeout" feature from day one. This allows players to download the metadata of their games, including game saves. However, games themselves cannot be downloaded, so if Stadia shuts down, players may not be able to access their games.”

The entire original statement is somewhat cagey in my opinion, but as many articles have parsed it this basically means that if the stadia dies you won’t be able to download the games proper-just the save data and metadata. And if you have a poorly performing system that might leave you stuck in about the same spot, but with tons of game data that is now essentially useless to you unless you rebuy the game. Given Googles history of support, that means that you stand to lose out should things fall through. This is true of many digital services of course, but established storefronts and systems as well as companies with a good track record tend to be safer investments. Theres also the problem of digital ownership-this erodes ownership even further than a digital copy of a game does because you don’t even get to keep the game locally on your rig. And with how the AAA industry has acted in recent years, giving them even more power is...unappealing to say the least. 

So what would an ideal solution be? Well setting aside having a good track record of support, you would want to have a digital storefront that has games for sale (I’ll get into pricing in due time) and also allows streaming. This way you’re a bit more secured-if the streaming service encounters issues or you decide to leave, or if its closed down then you could potentially simply download the games from the digital storefront later and just hold onto the metadata. Valve actually offers a good picture of this to some degree-you can stream games via their services but you also have a digital copy so if streaming doesn’t work for you, you can download your game on a computer capable of running it. I’ve tried it and flawed as it and its owner company is, its impressive to play DOOM on my laptop upstairs with solid gameplay and...not so solid visuals. Obviously this isn’t nearly the same as how the stadia does things but I think it serves the point. 

Pricing

Netflix was a revolutionary new system when it first became big. Rather than having to go out to the store to purchase rentals, you simply put them in a queue and had them sent to you. You didn’t have to rely on them having it when you went to the store, you just ordered it and didn’t even have to leave. It was less instant, but far more convenient and it ended up gutting blockbuster. Then came the advent of Netflix as a streaming service-thousands of movies, shows, documentaries, and Adam Sandler movies could be yours for a mere 10 bucks a month. Its a model of great appeal to gamers I would imagine, which is why I presume some people thought that this meant Stadia would follow a similar route. 

However this is not the case. First lets get into tiers. 

There are two tiers, as you can see above. In order to get up to 4K streaming, surround sound quality audio, free games regularly and discounts on select game purchases, you’ll have to pony up 10 bucks a month. And while it is good that you will be able to play the games you’ve already purchased if your pro sub lapses, there's some important caveats to consider. Its also been shown that even launch games for the stadia don’t always support 4K and that the developers make the call there. 

First of all, I think it's worth noting that the very first free game is a game that's already given itself away for free multiple times elsewhere, and has gone F2P anyways. I believe it does come with the rest of the content that's around right now so it's not like theres no value to it however, depending on what you want. 

 Second of all, yes, you still have to buy your games. Discounts are offered on “select” games so how widespread they are is up in the air, as is future sales. This is somewhat similar to pricing for PS+ and offers similar benefits aside from the ability to play multiplayer which as of now I’ll assume is included even in the free subs. How this impacts games they might possibly give away, I’m unsure of. Whether or not this constitutes unreasonable pricing is up to one's personal tastes. However, netflix for games this is not and I think that hurt the appeal of the system to a fair few people hoping for something similar to that service. 

 

Personally I think that the cost overall is not to one's benefit compared to the options currently on the market.  A solid gaming rig can be had for 800 dollars or so, perhaps even lower as parts drop in price. Thats a big upfront cost, especially if you want to invest in a rig that can play newer games at higher settings, but there's no monthly fee to playing your games at a higher fidelity and you have added security in having games on hand even if services go down. You can get a used PS4 for 200 dollars, which means that even at the highest tier you’ll have a cheaper way to have access to games, albeit at a lower quality, within two years though to get discounts, free games, and MP you have to pay 10 dollars a month for. I assume similar factors can be found on the Xbox one. The Switch has access to far fewer games, and at less fidelity however it is also portable and has a paltry 20 dollar fee for a year of online services and access to old games-though this does not include discounts or free games aside from older games as well as being around 300 dollars new, with a cheaper more limited model at 200 dollars. All three of the games consoles also have one important strength over the stadia-physical games. In addition to the security of being able to download full games, you can purchase physical copies of games and get them at large discounts in used game formats and even sell them in to buy new games. In the long run this can potentially mean that any of the alternatives are cheaper than the stadia at its paid tier. 

 

Because of a digital existence, theoretically the Stadia doesn’t require upgrading-their service will get upgraded as time goes on. In some ways Stadia is an appealing prospect pricewise-even though a great gaming rig ultimately outclasses it in the long run for my money, that's a long period of time and might be an easier price to swallow for people as opposed to a large up front investment that has to be upgraded at least once in a while to keep up with current tech. Its cheaper, apparently firmware updates etc aren’t a big deal especially since the things being streamed out, it apparently can boot/load some games pretty darn fast, and it's not reliant on a physical unit so you could stream a game anywhere with a good enough internet connection so you wouldn’t have to lug anything anywhere-though for now it requires a chromecast (which appears to have overheating issues). Like I said, I see some appealing aspects to this machine-even if the downsides are greater than the benefits for me personally. 

 

Honestly if I had to price things out, I’m unsure if I would do it much differently that Stadia has done it-yes you have to buy games but arguably the benefits it provides elsewhere might justify that. You still get 1080p 60FPS on the free version, which opens the door to people who want to test it out and don’t care as much about the nicer features. And people who pony up a bit more get access to a better service that also offers discounts on certain games. I don’t think this is super unreasonable pricing wise. Especially for something you can theoretically play on several devices anywhere. Theoretically.

But we'll pick up that thread next week-this thing turned out to be more monstrously large than I expected so I'll have to cut it into two. Preciate you reading, feel free to share any thoughts or your own feels below. 

- “If you don't like bacteria, you're on the wrong planet.” ― Stewart Brand


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About Gamemaniac3434one of us since 11:25 PM on 02.01.2013

Who am I? I'm an avid gamer, beer snob, coffee snob and aspiring microbiologist. I love all sorts of different genres of games and different games from different years and as of recent years I've tried to get more into multiplayer games. I also really love microbiology and if you get me started on it, you will never get me to shut up about it.
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