I have admittedly been a Stadia skeptic ever since its announcement. Not because I believed the service would be bad or that it couldn't deliver its promises of instant game streaming, but because I didn't know who it was for. I certainly wasn't its target audience, and I didn't understand what it could offer that other services or consoles couldn't. I still don't, and that makes me feel like Google Stadia will ultimately lose the game streaming war unless it undergoes a major overhaul.
Stadia launched as a premium service back in November 2019. Still, it wasn't until recently in February that I got to play using a Buddy Pass — to which I can thank Android Central's own Daniel Bader. Being able to play Metro Exodus immediately, no loading screens or downloads required, felt like I was witnessing magic. It's hard to overstate or even describe that feeling until you try Stadia for yourself.
That sense of awe, though, was replaced by disappointment. I realized that nothing of what I experienced had changed my initial opinion. I'm still not going to continue my Stadia Pro subscription after it expires, and I won't be using the free version either. Why pay full price for games I'd much rather play on my Xbox One X or PS4 Pro? There's no reason to. This is what hurts Stadia most, in my opinion, but a lot of other factors add up to compound the problems.
When it comes to setting itself apart from the competition, it will be all about what games and features are offered on your service. Frankly, Google is lacking. State Share is not yet available. Crowd Play is nowhere to be seen. And that awesome Google Assistant button that the company bragged about on Stadia's controller? Well, it's severely limited right now and isn't at all able to perform many of its initial promises of helping players while actually playing a game.
Google Stadia is a husk of what it should be right now.
But just because these features aren't supported now doesn't mean they aren't coming. Google is still working on adding them. My point is that in its current form, Stadia is essentially a beta product. Google is giving time for competitors to catch up, release full-fledged products, and do it better. There's no room for complacency here. Google does have the advantage of being Google — and that offers enormous benefits and infrastructure at its disposal — but that doesn't guarantee success if it does nothing with its resources.
I keep getting emails about new game streaming services every day. Many aren't worth anything, but some could pose a real threat to Stadia like GeForce Now and Project xCloud, two of which I am infinitely more interested in because they allow you to play games you already own.
With the number of services growing, I'm just not going to subscribe to all of them. It's ridiculous enough that our television and movie streaming is being split between services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, DC Universe, HBO Now, CBS All Access, and Disney+, to name a handful. I don't need the same problem with game streaming. If this trend continues, I'll go to whichever offers a better value. And considering Stadia is a husk of what it should be and asks you to pay full price for games on top of your subscription, it's not winning me over. I'm not saying there isn't room for more than one, but there isn't room for more than a few.
You could argue the only way that Stadia could initially entice developers to its service was by selling games at full price. Publishers need to make a profit somehow. Whether the platform continues to do things like this remains unknown. I'd be much happier to pay $10 or even $20 a month to gain access to an entire catalog of games I can stream without buying outright, like what Xbox Game Pass offers.
I'll go to whichever service offers a better value.
I upgraded to an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership when Microsoft had the $1 deal going on, extending it throughout my remaining Xbox Live Gold membership. I've been so impressed with Xbox Game Pass that there's no doubt in my mind I'll be continuing my subscription once it's set to end. I realize comparing Xbox Game Pass to Stadia is a bit like comparing apples and oranges — I've already paid for my $500 Xbox One X to be able to use it, whereas I don't need specialized hardware to run Stadia — but the fact remains that they're both streaming services, and Xbox offers a lot more value.
Exclusive games could arguably bring me back to Stadia, but even then, I would only stream using the free version of it. As it stands, what few games are available on it right now are either games that I've already played, games I have no interest in, or games that I'd rather buy on my Xbox or PS4 instead. Stadia-exclusive Gylt is cool, but not enough to keep my attention. Stadia also has a dedicated game developer at Google now, but it could be years before we see anything worth mentioning come to fruition.
What is clear to me is that Google was not prepared to launch Stadia, and it's going to take a tremendous amount of effort to avoid becoming irrelevant unless the entire competition drops the ball spectacularly.