Google Stadia Made Many Pre-Launch Day Mistakes. Can It Win Over Its Critics?
Seeking inroads to the console and PC gaming market, Google launches its new cloud-based gaming service Stadia on Tuesday. And though no one has even mashed a button on its new hardware-free platform, experts say the chances of Stadia taking the video game world by storm when it’s released may be slim—if not zero.
Stadia games can be streamed over the internet to televisions, computers, and mobile devices, where players can pick up where they left off and play games in 4K resolution. When the search giant unveiled Stadia in March, the company pitched it as the future of gaming.
Alongside competing cloud services like Microsoft’s xCloud and to a lesser extent, Apple Arcade, Stadia aims to provide gamers with an alternative to buying expensive hardware to play the most recent and popular titles. Google charges $10 per month for access to Stadia (with a free version coming next year, featuring with lower resolution and a less-desirable gameplay experience), but players will still need to pay full price for some titles, which can run up to $90.
In a perfect Stadia world, consoles and PCs would give way to the all-powerful cloud—and Google would reap the rewards. But with pre-launch problems and an anemic launch lineup, Stadia is already starting off flawed.
Soon after Google unveiled Stadia, the company and its developer partners revealed details that quickly angered early adopters. In June, for instance, game developer Bungie said that Destiny 2, which will be streaming on Stadia at launch, will be a “closed ecosystem” and won’t allow gamers to play the game’s online multiplayer against anyone on another platform, like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.
Last month, Google revealed for the first time that in order to use Stadia’s controller on PCs and smartphones at launch, users would need to plug a USB-C cable into it. Then, days later, Google told customers who had pre-ordered Stadia that they may not get their $129 Founder’s Edition bundle on launch day, due to shipping quirks.
But what angered gamers most was Stadia’s slate of just 12 launch games. The dozen titles included popular games, like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but offered nothing new or exclusive.
Then on Sunday, in a surprise move, Google said it had worked with developers to expand the launch’s lineup of games. But the addition of ten more games, including Football Manager 2020 and Rage 2, underwhelmed critics—especially considering that Microsoft’s xCloud, which is still in a closed beta, already has 50 streaming titles.
“The last-minute increase of the launch titles is a welcome news for those who have pre-ordered,”Ovum analyst George Jijiashvili says, “but it will do little to convince the unconvinced.”
Too little, too soon?
Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter says Google Stadia has little to no chance of succeeding. He says the service needed more launch titles to attract shoppers, and charging players full price on games they may already have is a bad move. He ultimately believes that for most players, “a console purchase makes more sense.”
Jijiashvili believes Google should have spent more time figuring out Stadia before releasing it. He says the company moved too quickly, delivered too little, and will now pay for it.
“I think Google took a big gamble to release Stadia without many key features or latest games,” Jijiashvili says. “Temptation for having Stadia up and running in time for the all-important holiday season was too great.”
But Google’s desire to push into the cloud-gaming market this year makes some sense. Microsoft’s offering isn’t available publicly, yet, and Apple Arcade focuses on simpler, casual games. Google’s strategy is to focus on higher-end and more sophisticated titles, giving it a first-mover advantage in a market that promises big growth. Google did not respond to Fortune‘s request for comment on this story.
According to Ovum, cloud gaming currently accounts for less than 1%, or about $1 billion, of the $120 billion global gaming market. Within five years, it will grow to $8 billion, the research company says. After that, cloud gaming revenue is expected to continue its meteoric rise.
The big question, however, is whether Google Stadia will ultimately be the major player in that growing market.
“At this stage, Microsoft is more strongly positioned,” IHS Markit analyst Piers Harding-Rolls says of the cloud-gaming market. “It has the cloud infrastructure, existing games business with key subscription services, third-party relationships, and content to succeed in this space.”
Jijiashvili agrees that Microsoft’s strategy has given it an advantage. Instead of rushing to the market, the analyst says, Microsoft took a “more sensible” route by testing the technology and user interest.
“It makes sense to offer a free preview program, with the aim of ironing out the kinks before calling it a finished product and charging users subscription fees,” Jijiashvili says.
For Google, however, its time is now. On Tuesday, ready or not, Stadia is launching. Just don’t be surprised if it ends in a train wreck.
“It’s analogous to a 3D TV,” Pachter says. “Nice to have, but not at that price.” If Google sticks with to this expensive business model, its mistakes will be irrelevant, he adds, because “nobody will sign up.”
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