Google Stadia was Google’s attempt at a console-style Game Pass. Was it successful? Kinda.
Google has had failed attempts at games before. Why should the Stadia be any different? Factoring in the terrible odds against it (like competing with two other top-of-the-line consoles, one of which was only a year old), the Stadia was nearly guaranteed to DOA. However, Google kept at it, certain that this time, things would be different. They really did try. They promised things like 4K, 60 FPS streaming. They promised compatibility with other platforms. They promised that their content library was going to expand at launch, so the line-up they had wasn’t supposed to get in the way.
This was a very genuine attempt at breaking into the market, it just didn’t have enough of the right stuff.
It even prophesized it’s own death, by featuring other failed attempts at industry break-ins next to the newly announced Stadia in a promotional pic. Picture the Sega Saturn lined up next to the Genesis, and then the Saturn also comparing itself to the PS2, with the added bonus of needing your own high-speed internet and game-capable computer/phone/etc. to use it. That’s the kind of uphill battle Google would have had to prepare for.
Still, many people were hopeful.
Stadia was supposed to function much like a Game Pass. Play as many games as you want for a low monthly fee of 10$ and do it on your own device, no upfront cost for a console necessary. There were web-based apps to run it on laptops, regular apps for phones and compatible TVs, and it had a lot of games, for the same price as the Playstation’s PS Now and the Xbox’s Game pass. The BYOD nature of the Stadia app was a double-edged sword, but it meant that it was possible to bring your Stadia account to a better device at a friend’s house.
Stadia’s initial release library featured such classics as Orcs Must Die! And Hitman – by all accounts, the Stadia should have been an excellent example of what game streaming services had to offer. Services like Gamefly might have fallen off, but surely the idea was still a good one, right?
Where did it all go wrong?
Well, firstly, the BYOD set-up. Some people have fantastic computers, others rely on consoles to provide the high-quality gaming they desire, and keep a computer for simple things that don’t take too much computing power. After all, it doesn’t take a quad-core 256 GB rig to book an appointment for a haircut. For many people who already had a console, the Stadia was just the PS Now pass or the Game Pass with more steps, and less power behind it.
Secondly, it lagged behind for game releases. The Stadia system didn’t have many proprietary games to its name, and it didn’t get to release many before its game development studios shuttered, sixteen months after launch. Google Stadia is still around today, but it’s one or two Resident Evil games behind on its releases – understandably, consoles and online retailers like Steam get the first of the first.
This brings up the other major issue: Stadia was monthly. Steam is not. Consoles can use a mix of bought games and game-pass style content – they have access to the newest and best games on the market. Steam, which doesn’t use a game pass system (as of this article) has very regular sale events and caters to small indie games, as well as the largest of the large triple A studios. Stadia fell somewhere between the two, not having access to the latest and greatest, but not having enough small-studio content to pad out its library. And you wouldn’t own the game. Ten dollars a month for games that are behind what they already have access to via Steam or their consoles just wasn’t worth it to most consumers. It wasn’t a niche that needed filling, even though the idea itself could have been compelling if executed right.
Another major issue that reviewers note is Stadia’s strange behavior when the connection’s not quite strong enough. Audio de-syncs, but the video doesn’t de-sync with it – a Tom’s Guide reviewer compared it to a skipping record. The ultra-high quality at launch usually meant bad things for the actual gameplay, especially for weaker internet. That alone put out people with poor connections, the same way ‘Always On’ did.
Stadia is still up and running today, but it’s lack of widespread use means it gets those same high-value games even later than it was getting them before. But hey, it’s been a wild couple of years – maybe it could make a comeback now that 5G internet and better devices are on the horizon.