A brief glance at any outlet’s current Google Stadia coverage will tell you everything you need to know about its launch. Games don’t run in true 4K despite that being the main selling point of its Pro subscription. The library is spartan and filled with games everyone finished playing months or years ago. Games that are there aren’t even guaranteed to be fully updated builds. On top of all that, the revolutionary hooks into the greater Google ecosystem just aren’t ready yet.
Whether taken as “Early Access” foibles or evidence of a rotten core, Stadia’s first month has been a disaster in terms of public perception. None of that is going to suddenly change, but with Google still acquiring studios and promising big things, it seems the company is still in it for some sort of long haul. But with such a rocky launch, can Google Stadia compete with the big boys after such an implosive debut? It’s possible, even if it isn’t entirely plausible.
Is Google Stadia for everyone?
For one thing, Google needs to be realistic about Stadia’s target audience. Is Google really going after established gamers? Or is it trying to bring gaming to a wider audience who don’t already own dedicated hardware? If it’s the former, there are moves you can make that can make what’s in place an appealing prospect. For one, letting gamers play games they own elsewhere on Stadia would be an amazing bonus that gives the platform a new life. Likewise, buying exclusives à la Epic Games would give you a leg to stand on, although it wouldn’t win a lot of good PR. However, now that we’re weeks after launch, these actions would be mere bandages covering a gaping wound.
Realistically, by requiring customers to buy games at full price, it’s going to be very hard to attract a significant portion of current players. They own the games you’re selling and they care about visual fidelity, something that Stadia isn’t able to deliver in its current state. Despite the warning signs, Google seems to be specifically going after existing gamers, playing up how it will replace consoles and trying to sell a 4K experience that just doesn’t exist. These players will come for exclusives, but Google seems to be just starting work on developing its own games. We may not see a AAA Stadia exclusive until 2021, and that’s being generous. There’s simply nothing here to make this audience stand up and take notice.
How can Google Stadia carve out its own niche?
After this past November, Stadia’s biggest potential audience is mostly those who don’t follow games all that closely. In fact, these are the people that Google should have targeted from the jump. These are players who don’t mind diving into an older game who have no interest in shelling out for an entire console. Maybe they only play games on their computer or phone, they gave up the hobby, or they just want to give this cowboy game a shot after their friend chews their ear off at work. Whatever the case, Google can provide an acceptable experience for someone curious about the wide world of games but unwilling to fully dive in.
And you attract this kind of player by breaking down every barrier currently in place. Despite the promises of a more open gaming marketplace, Stadia currently has some wild restrictions in place. If you want to game on your phone, you need a Google Pixel device. Want to play on TV? Better have Google’s Chromecast Ultra. All that has to go ASAP.
The ideal Stadia experience would be downloading it from an app store and hooking up hardware you already have. Whether on a smart TV or a phone, you should want Stadia to exist everywhere. That’s how you get impulse purchases, that’s how you capture curious onlookers and how you win over the crowd who prefers Netflix and digital rentals to pulling a Blu-ray off the shelf. Convenience is king.
It’s convenient to buy this games either, as most of them sell for full price. Not only is it a horrible deal for something you don’t own locally, but it just doesn’t fit the platform. Being able to stream all or most of the games through a subscription fee would be one of the biggest things the platform could do to better fit the convenience of Netflix, which this service seems to always get compared to anyway.
Wii would like to play Google Stadia
You also have to speak to them on their terms and do what Nintendo has done so well in the past and bring Stadia to the masses. While the right ads in the right places could help, Google could drop big bucks on ports of games like The Sims that attract mass audiences in addition to the latest AAA hits. Even a redo of something as simple as Peggle or Tetris would be welcome. Stadia’s minuscule library pales in comparison to almost anything else in the gaming market, especially in the area that would most likely call to those who don’t have or want a console.
Microsoft and Sony do attempt to go after more casual audiences, but mobile platforms are still more convenient. Microsoft is heading this way with Xbox Game Streaming, but Google has a chance to beat them to the punch if they pull things together in the coming year. That feeling of beating others to the punch probably explains why Google felt the need to launch this year rather than waiting for a feature-rich experience. This was probably the wrong move in hindsight, but it could benefit the company if it shifts to an audience that doesn’t already see the Stadia name as worthy of laughter.
Even if Google pulls it off, it has made the road much harder than it needed to be, and it will be interesting to see if the critics predicting the platform’s demise will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s time to turn it around, granted the tech giant can pivot to a crowd and business model that would fit the platform’s style a little more smoothly. However, it’s hard to ignore Google’s failings, and it will be even harder to capture the attention of others again unless things really turn around fast in the new year.