By Lewis Empson, cover image by Cristiano Pinto (Unsplash)
Google entered the mainstream gaming market with what could graciously be called a whimper at the end of 2019 with Stadia. It looked to broach the industry with a fresh, cloud-based approach with no physical ownership of a console or games; all you’d need is a laptop, computer, tablet, smartphone or Chromecast to get started (Google also offers a bluetooth Stadia controller, however PlayStation and Xbox controllers are compatible as well as keyboard and mouse). The philosophy was “no one wants big, expensive, plasticy boxes cluttering their home entertainment system”, so why not offer a totally digital streaming alternative? Whilst that’s not a bad concept, Google managed to squander it with its frankly aimless and subpar service as well as overlooking the fact that even the most casual gamers don’t really mind owning a console. And now just over a year on, Stadia is looking a little worse for wear; is it time for Google to accept defeat and realise that going toe-to-to with likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo in the console wars was a really, really stupid idea? Absolutely.
Starting off with my biggest bone to pick with Stadia is its pricing. Stadia as standard is free can work like a regular digital store much like the PSN store but it also offers a “pro grade” subscription for £8.99/month in which you can grab exclusive discounts and claim some decent, if not slightly aging, titles for free such as HITMAN – The Complete First Season, Hotline Miami and Enter The Gungeon. It’s worth comparing this to Xbox Games Pass Ultimate as it’s a very similar system, albeit Stadia coming in at £2 cheaper a month. However, Game Pass is leaps and bounds ahead with its huge library of games, almost all of Xbox’s first party titles included in that and access to Xbox Game Streaming (check out my impressions on that here) – although you do need an Xbox console or PC to take advantage of Game Pass. So therefore Stadia probably looks like a steal; no need to buy an expensive Xbox when all you need is a Chromecast (£30 on the Google Store at time of writing) and a controller (the Stadia controller is £59 at time of writing, or you can get a bundle with both of these for £89.99). No brainer right – well here’s where Stadia manage to absolutely screw themselves over.
I would like to speak to whoever has the unbridled audacity to set the prices for Stadia games. Keeping in mind you will never actually own these games and when those servers inevitably go offline then your purchase will be lost to time, let’s take a look at some of the prices. I will be comparing them to the PS4 physical copy prices found on Amazon, brand new at time of writing (Friday March 5th 2021), #notsponsored. Bear in mind they would be even cheaper used from the likes of CeX or Game. If you’re a fan of Assassin’s Creed then you can pick up 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins for £59.99 (£15 for the PS4 physical copy), yes a game from 2017 for almost sixty pounds and its sequel, Odyssey, is £54.99 (£21 for the PS4). Red Dead Redemption 2 from 2018 is a cool £54.99 (£20.44 for the PS4) and Borderlands 3 takes the winner for the “Absolute Audacity Award” at £49.99 (or £9.50 for the PS4 physical copy). It’s frankly laughable once you also take into account that when you are done playing these games, you can sell them on, trade them in for a new game or lend them to a friend – why would you ever choose Stadia?
“Oh but you’ve forgotten the whole point of Stadia is that you don’t need to shell out for an expensive console” I hear you cry, and you’re partially right. A 1TB Xbox One S and a 500GB PS4 sit around the £250 mark brand new, but if you explore the second hand market and are the casual demographic that Stadia is targeting, then you can pick up a console for as cheap as £150 on eBay. And once again you can sell that console one once you have finished with it, alongside its games, so the “expensive console” philosophy simply falls apart at the seams. In fact I’ve done something I like to avoid at all costs… maths. Totalling up the savings of the aforementioned games above you save £154.46 by buying a physical copies and for those savings you can just get a used console – and that’s only 4 games. Sorry Stadia but your wishy-washy philosophy is bullshit. Hell if you want the bleeding edge of console gaming right now, the Xbox Series S is £250 and paired up with a Game Pass subscription, it still feels like an obvious choice over Stadia.
I think Google senses that the end is near as they have closed all internal development studios for Stadia which has caused problems in itself as a major bug was found in Journey To The Savage Planet that cannot be fixed now due to Google firing the developers… ouch. Attempts have been made to calculate how many Stadia users are out there, estimates sit in the 2 million ballpark, in comparison PlayStation Network had 114 million active monthly users as of December 2020 so no competition there really. I would almost feel sympathetic for Stadia if it wasn’t so poorly executed, the concept is a great way of making a more inclusive community that anyone with a device and internet connection can join in with. It’s a shame that Google squandered this opportunity because they are one of, if not the biggest name in technology, they had the resources to pull this off and it just fell flat on its face. Well let this be a lesson for the future and let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself… wait what is Amazon Luna? Oh you’ve got to be kidding.