Keep in mind that I write all of this as someone who preordered the Stadia Founder’s Edition the moment it was up for pre-sale. I believe in the idea of Stadia. I believe that we’re on the precipice of a major change in the future of games. Stadia fundamentally solves a ton of the problems inherent to gaming on a console (updates, download/installation, being tethered to a single screen), but it introduces a number of difficulties of its own. Google has pieces of the answer in the same way that Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and the PC platforms all have their own unique pros and cons. In a perfect world? Google holds the keys to the streaming kingdom, but it needs to partner with the likes of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, rather than competing with them in order to convince players to adopt it.
The reason I was so quick to adopt Stadia wasn’t the ability to buy ethereal full-priced games to play from the cloud on any screen. No, as a matter of fact, that part of Stadia is downright nerve-wracking to me. My PlayStation will always be the go-to place to purchase and download big releases for me, partly because I’m so ingrained in the ecosystem (thanks, Trophies…) and partly because I like the relative security of having a physical piece of hardware (even if my games have transitioned into a largely digital catalog. The reason I preordered Stadia was because of Destiny 2.
I play a lot of Destiny 2, to the point of lugging around my PS4 in a GAEMS case when I travel in order to make sure I can get in grinding whatever I’m working towards that particular week. When I heard cross save would allow me to play my Guardian(s) on any platform, and when I heard that the Stadia Founder’s Edition preorder came with Destiny 2 and all of its relevant expansions and Annual Pass subscription for the next year’s worth of content, it was an easy decision for me to make. But Stadia will never replace my PlayStation as my primary platform, and if other games don’t also support cross-saving to carry my progress, there is no reason for me to double purchase big titles.
In competing, Google sets Stadia up for failure against the titans of the video game industry. The idea is sound. The tech is great, but the execution puts the burden on consumers where Stadia has no offline option and no way to link purchases or saves with other platforms (save for Destiny). Players end up having to pay more for multiple copies, deal with being always connected, and have that constant nagging fear of not actually owning or having direct access to something they paid $60 for. Instead, imagine for a moment what would happen if Google were to partner with Sony and/or Microsoft.
What a Partnership With Google and Sony Could Look Like
Let me paint the ideal scenario floating around in my head: You subscribe to Google Stadia and link your PSN account. At that point, Stadia can access your PSN library and offer the same cloud services that Stadia currently boasts using your existing games and saves. Stadia still employs the ability to move from screen to screen, but one of those “screens” is your PS4 (and in the future, your PS5). If Stadia was a supporting cloud service instead of a competing platform, players would be able to reap all the benefits without any of the downsides.
How does this deal benefit Stadia? Well, I’d be much more inclined to pay a subscription that would allow me to access my PlayStation games and saves on any screen, especially because it takes away the idea of paying another $60 for games I’ll buy on my PlayStation anyway. Perhaps Sony could bundle it in with a premium version of PS Plus? It lets Google do the heavy lifting on cloud services while Sony focuses on what it’s been doing best. If Google could pitch Stadia as a service that allowed you to access your current console ecosystem, there would be a ton of value in a subscription to that.
I’ve been thinking about this idea for a long time, but it really struck me during the Stadia Connect live stream ahead of gamescom this week. They showed off a bunch of games coming to Stadia, but no real incentive to pay full price in order to make the purchase on that ethereal platform. When you have multiple platforms competing for sales of games, I think very few people are going to opt to buy Cyberpunk, for example, on Stadia, versus having it on PS4 or Xbox One, and again, without the ability to transfer saves, it’s an even tougher sell.
Let me be clear again that I don’t think Stadia as a whole is going to be a complete failure. Stadia stands on the cutting edge of technologies that will become standard in years to come. I do think, however, that Stadia is inserting itself into a difficult place in a well established industry. It’s trying to change things a little too radically for comfort, a mistake we saw Microsoft make with the reveal and launch of the Xbox One. Gamers are resistant to too much change at any one time (while at the same time demanding heaps of change), and if Google found ways to partner with the other platforms, it could present a much more attractive transition to a streaming feature.
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