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Game On: Goodbye and good riddance to Google Stadia

Pictured with its signature controller, Google announced on Sept. 29 that it would be winding down its Stadia game-streaming service on Jan. 18. The company is offering refunds for everything but subscription costs.  (Google LLC)
Pictured with its signature controller, Google announced on Sept. 29 that it would be winding down its Stadia game-streaming service on Jan. 18. The company is offering refunds for everything but subscription costs. (Google LLC)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

On Sept. 29, Google announced it would be discontinuing Stadia, its cloud gaming service. The platform utilized Google’s world-class network infrastructure to offer video game streaming – essentially, pick a game and all of the processing would be performed on Google’s end before being streamed to your device.

There are numerous advantages to this – there’s no need to download games, load times are significantly reduced and you don’t need a powerful computer to play games in this manner, so even graphically intense games like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Cyberpunk 2077 theoretically run like a dream.

Here’s the kicker – you need an excellent internet connection for Stadia to work anywhere near as advertised.

Even in ideal conditions, testers quickly discovered there was significant input lag when Stadia launched in November 2019. While a few frames of delay aren’t a huge deal with many single-player, story-driven experiences, no one in their right mind would go to Stadia to play any platformer, fighting game, rhythm game, or really any multiplayer title whatsoever.

I don’t believe this drawback single handedly sunk the Stadia, however. The Nintendo Switch is in many ways underpowered compared to its competition, but people still gravitate toward the platform for its portability. Stadia could’ve been a great solution for casual, low-tech gamers who don’t have access to expensive PCs – but how many people do you know who own an underpowered computer but pay for super-high internet speeds?

Another potential source of subscribers could’ve been Mac and Linux gamers. With most computer games being optimized for Windows alone and Mac computers being notoriously underpowered in the gaming department, Stadia could’ve been a great solution for non-Windows users. But Google didn’t integrate iOS compatibility until December 2020, 13 months after Stadia was released.

Ultimately, Stadia was the ideal gaming solution for a very small demographic. I was able to identify this pitfall very quickly as someone who grew up with rural internet access, and my only surprise is that the platform lasted as long as it did. Stadia offered zero exclusive titles, relying entirely on third-party support to fill out its game library.

Surprisingly, it did manage to amass a library of 289 games and attract some renowned titles – Destiny 2, Baldur’s Gate III, Resident Evil Village and Far Cry 6 among them. But these are all games that can be played better on other platforms.

Stadia will formally go offline on Jan. 18. To Google’s credit, they are going out of their way to refund players’ purchases – hardware, games and add-on content – everything, and they are aiming to have all refunds completed by mid-January. They’re not legally obligated to do this – the Ouya, a similar gaming flop from 2013, did nothing of the sort.

These flops show time and again how dicey it is for gamers to invest in new online services. It’s already a risk to buy games digitally, where your license to play can be potentially lost compared to the sureness of a physical CD. But if players are investing in Steam, Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft – companies that have been in the game for multiple decades – that risk is minimized.

Stadia charged $10/month for its services on top of the cost of individual games. With Xbox Game Pass asking $15/month to access over a hundred titles at no additional cost – indie, AAA and every game in-between – Google’s offering was laughable in comparison. Not only did they fail with regards to streaming, but they lost in the subscription competition too.

Just because Stadia died doesn’t mean cloud gaming died with it. Microsoft and Sony are experimenting with xCloud and PSNow, respectively, and Amazon’s Luna – which is very similar to Stadia – seems to be succeeding in some small capacity with the advantage of a bigger game lineup, cheaper price models and special offers for Prime members.

These offerings aren’t popular just yet, but cloud gaming is a fantastic idea in theory. It won’t surprise me if it becomes a popular gaming method in the years to come when technology catches up.

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