This time last year (or close enough – the announcement came at GDC 2019 on the 19th of March), Google were busy hyping up their incredible looking games streaming service – Stadia. It was a massive and presumably very expensive event, for a service that was – again, presumably – very costly to develop and launch. Pre-orders for the Founders Edition of the console-without-a-console sold out pretty quick amid the waves of hype and genuinely impressive looking games and features.
Then it launched.
You’d be forgiven for forgetting the launch. Phil Harrison, the man in charge of Stadia, sure did – he didn’t tweet about Stadia once on launch day – so it’d be no surprise if you forgot too.
The frosty reception from the press – many sites doing their best to give the hardware a try, but having serious connection and/or quality issues with the service – at and around launch time didn’t help matters.
Over the days, weeks and months since launch, Stadia’s list of games has increased from 22 to 28 (thanks to Chris Scullion for bringing this to my attention on Twitter yesterday – though apparently, according to a response to the below tweet, that number has just increased to 30).
The ‘Founders Edition’ (currently the only way to play, I believe – but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that) benefits and discounts have been confusingly half-explained throughout, which really doesn’t help. What has always been the biggest point of contention, however, is that people were expecting a ‘Netflix-for-games’ style service, which Stadia most definitely is not. You’re expected to pay full price for the games and you don’t even download them – they’re entirely streamed without actually being stored locally. All of those fears that people have about their digital libraries being taken away at some point are increased by several orders of magnitude with Stadia’s model; you don’t even have the ability to store and access your games locally if the service is taken down or the game removed from sale.
Stadia’s chief figurehead, the aforementioned Phil Harrison, seems to be completely AWOL, at least on Twitter. His last Stadia related tweet was on the 19th of December and his last tweet altogether was the 25th of December. Regardless of the level of success of the platform, it’s hardly a good sign if the person in charge can’t muster up the enthusiasm to even pretend to be representing the brand.
Things look a lot rosier and busier on the official Stadia account. Whoever is running that deserves a raise! They’re engaging, helpful and friendly, even with the negativity they often face.
It’s a shame that they’re being let down by the offering itself and those in charge. Google have a history of letting services die when they don’t see immediate success; it certainly feels like that’s what’s happening with Stadia and – according to recent reports, developers fear the same thing, which is partly why the service has seen such little support since launch. Another reason that’s been cited recently is that publishers aren’t being offered enough incentives to bring their games to Stadia; with the near-enough bottomless reserves of cash at Google, you’d think that they’d throw as much money at developers as they need to get the service going, at least.
Though the official account has responded to say that the non-Founders Edition service, Stadia Base (which is free to access, albeit with a cost to play the games of course), is launching ‘in the next few months’, will it be too little, too late? Will Google keep it alive that long?
Stadia already feels like a missed opportunity, but time will tell.
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