The way editor Russell Holly (above) is playing Stadia is the way I think most people are likely to play. The streaming service is perfect for playing in areas where connecting to a console isn't possible. I like to grind strikes in Destiny 2 while I'm traveling, and playing the Stadia on my Surface Go or my phone is surprisingly good, even on hotel Wi-Fi.
Unfortunately, I can only grind strikes in Destiny 2 on Stadia; I can't play any of the PvP content because there aren't enough people to team up with. I have tried multiple times to play Gambit on the Stadia, but it can never find more than two other people to play with (you need eight players to play Gambit).
Because Stadia players are likely to use it as a second system, we need to be able to play with the people we usually play with, regardless of console.
Cross-play is the answer, at least for now
Sure, Google could spend millions on pushing Stadia into every space with advertising. It could offer free games, free memberships, and as many other things it can to get people to use its service, but none of those things will work as well as cross-play for getting people to sign on. For the uninitiated, cross-play is how players on, for example, PC can play with people playing on a console in games like Fortnite and Rocket League. It's a way to not only introduce the game to more people, therefore increasing the player base, but to allow them to then play with others regardless of platform.
Google already knows this is important, posting on Stadia's FAQ page that it's "committed to developing an accessible and welcoming environment for all gamers and plan on working with top-tier devs, which include those who want to enable cross-platform play." It's worth noting that this seems to put the onus on developers. By investing in cross-play systems for developers — remember, Stadia instances of games are essentially PC instances — Google will even have a player base already built-in. However, there is very little sign of that in the games it has released so far.
Cross-play has been slow to reach platforms before, with Sony being the primary holdout out of the major platforms. Players were distraught to find that if they played Fortnite on any other system, they couldn't use that same account on the PlayStation 4. The outrage grew and pressure mounted until finally Sony gave us what players wanted.
Google needs to capitalize on Sony's capitulation, but time is running out. Although not conclusive, I have been tracking the player base in Destiny 2, using the information from Warmind.io, and over the last three days, the player count for Stadia has not increased above zero percent. That doesn't mean nobody is playing, only that it is less than one percent of the active player base, and that the numbers are just too low to count.
Right now, the game lineup for Stadia is woeful, and most of the games that it comes with aren't designed for cross-play, but that needs to change. I never thought I'd say this, but Google could really do with Fortnite on its platform, a game that helped to show how cross-play could work in the mainstream. Unfortunately, Epic and Google have separate issues, but there are other developers to look to.
Give me more players, I don't care where they play
For Stadia to be a successful gaming platform for Google, it will have to push for more cross-play games. Mortal Kombat is supposed to be getting cross-play at some point, and Destiny's general manager suggested it's on the table for Destiny 2. Still, Google either needs to push these developers to make their games cross-play compatible, or it needs to bring games in that have it already. Google's parent company, Alphabet, is now a $1 trillion company, and it needs to leverage that money to help Google make Stadia a success.
I don't believe people are going to buy Stadia for exclusive games, or the single-player experiences. Google should be looking at the Stadia ecosystem as a supporting, mobile system so that players can swap in and out of the ecosystems without barriers.
If Stadia is to continue on as a service — and I really hope it does — then it will need to push developers to enable cross-play on their games, and it will need to bring in as many cross-play games as it can, before it's just me walking around the Tower, alone.
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