Google’s keynote presentation at GDC2019 has certainly got the games industry talking about Stadia. While many are eagerly awaiting more information about this new gaming platform, others are more cautious. Many are critical of the technology, citing potential issues surrounding latency both of the service itself and of the controller. It’s capacity to deliver when so many of Google’s other projects have fallen by the wayside is also of concern to some. It has left a few unanswered questions about Stadia, which still need addressing before the service goes live.
Nothing was mentioned during the keynote about any form of pricing or price model for Stadia. What was referred to repeatedly was how quickly games could be started. This would imply that a form of pre-payment system would be set in place. If games needed to be purchased individually, players would need to buy each game prior to playing them, delaying the experience. While this would make sense for developers and players if games were sold individually, it would slow down the service and not offer the instant access as promised.
What this would imply is that Stadia is going to use a subscription based approach. Google already have the infrastructure in place to handle the payment side of things thanks to the Google Play store. This copes easily with millions of transactions a day for apps not to mention microtransactions. Add to that the additional services Google offer for movies, books, magazines and music and shopping using Google Pay. Everything is already set up and running for a seamless payment system.
Subscriptions Or Single Purchases
The real question is which works best. Netflix and Amazon Prime work incredibly well as business models for movies and television. Spotify and Amazon Music seem to do well for music. Certainly the end user gets real value for money for their subscription fees, but it is viable for content providers? Music services often pay creators an amount based on the number of times their tracks are played and a percentage of the subscriber’s fee is given accordingly. But unless it is a major recording artist these services won’t generate enough of an income to make a living from.
When it comes to Stadia, for a subscription model to work it would have to be appealing to gamers AND developers. While people may argue that we don’t want to pay to effectively rent games, for many of us we are doing that alaready. Services like Games With Gold and PlayStation Plus are doing just that. The rights to digital downloads could be withdrawn from us at any time. And a lot of gamers sell on retail titles once they complete them, in effect renting them for a short while.
Where Stadia has to strike the right balance is what gamers will consider to be acceptable (bearing in mind that most of us have other streaming subscriptions). If people are paying anything up to $10 a month for Netflix, and have cable or satellite subscription fees, other movie services, and other game packages, Stadia has to be competitive. For Stadia to be commercially viable for developers, they need to be able to earn a comparable amount to what they would releasing their game on a new platform – be it PC or console.
The Need For Speed
While it wasn’t mentioned in the keynote speed, it was stated afterwards that Stadia requires an internet connection of 25mbps or faster to work. Now that’s to deliver their 1080p 60FPS target service (I believe 30mbps was suggested for streaming back of your own gameplay). The reality however is that most people still don’t have that sort of speed. There has been a steady increase in the uptake of fibre broadband globally over the last decade, and speeds for standard broadband have also been improving. It’s still not quite there though. It’s clear that there’s inconsistency, even within regions, let alone countries and this needs to be addressed.
Things can get better though. History has proven that technology progresses to meet demand of its users. When it comes to internet providers, certainly in the UK at least, speeds have been pushed up because consumers have had the ability to shop around and swap providers. Increased competition and the need for better performance (for online gaming, streaming and so on) has forced the providers to play catch up.
With the advent of Stadia this will add even more pressure for companies to deliver faster internet services on a wider scale. Companies that don’t deliver this will be left behind. It’s in Google’s best interest to use their business muscle and work with telecoms providers to improve their infrastructures as well. Stadia (and its rivals) could be good for the industry as a whole bringing faster internet to us all, regardless of whether we are interested in Stadia or not.
This could also drive change for users in America. Currently, ISPs are causing problems for countless users with unfair capping limits on bandwidth. While the speed may be there for much of the country, the capping limits allowed with prevent Stadia from being an effective gaming system. Google, Microsoft and Sony will be able to bring collective pressure for change on the industry to have this capping culture removed.
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I’m an animal lover and vegetarian.
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