Stadia under fire for weak portfolio, pending originals push

Google’s cloud gaming platform Stadia dominated headlines the world over earlier this year and returned to the limelight late last week as the company released pricing and content details. Already though, the offer’s disruptive potential has come under heavy criticism in early reviews – sparking early trepidation in a market which is notoriously impenetrable.

Just 31 games were unveiled as part of the Stadia Pro service costing $9.99 a month. Google’s preorder offering, called Stadia Founder’s Edition, costs $129 upfront including a Chromecast Ultra streaming dongle, Stadia controller and 3 months of Stadia Pro. As well as a limited initial line up of gaming diversity, Stadia’s main issue appears to be exclusivity, with just 1 of its 31 games currently exclusive to the Google platform.

Describing Stadia as the Netflix of gaming was a fundamental mistake. Clearly the platform is much more like a traditional console experience than it was tipped to be during early development, and in its current form will not throw the gaming market into disarray. It goes without saying that Netflix has thousands of titles catering for a huge diversity of tastes, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Realizing its original content ambitions to this day remains hard graft for Netflix in turns of return on investment, so the comparison really is obsolete, although Stadia has similarly ambitious original content plans.

Stadia follows in the footsteps of Sony’s OnLive, plus PlayStation Now and Gaikai, while Microsoft has also had a crack at the nut with a project coined xCloud. These are all cloud gaming platforms which ultimately saw lower than expected uptake. That said, Microsoft unveiled some extra xCloud info during a press conference over the weekend, interestingly revealing that xCloud will not be positioned as a standalone streaming service, but a sort of TV Everywhere for gaming, in the sense that Xbox console users can play games on the go with mobile devices, via an attached controller.

Microsoft also announced Xbox Project Scarlett, a new console tipped to be 4 times more powerful than the Xbox One X with 8K graphics supporting 120 fps. Xbox Scarlett will be released sometime in 2020.

Some gaming news outlets fret that Google has rushed Stadia to launch.

Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush, told the Hollywood Reporter he expects Stadia to amass maybe one million or two million subscribers, but nothing like the 20 million-strong success story touted by some.

On the technical side, readers may recall the uproar upon Stadia’s unveiling back in March, with consumers worried that the bandwidth-gorging service will only offer a low latency experience for households paying top dollar for a high-end broadband package in areas installed with fiber network infrastructure. Ultimately, the worry is that Stadia won’t be available to the average Joe anytime soon. However, Google says it already has 7,500 edge nodes and those will be sufficient to support Stadia in the markets where it will be available.

There are two fundamental key elements on which Stadia’s success is riding. First of all, Google’s big claim for overcoming obstacles which have otherwise stifled those before it is its datacenter clout, yet VP Phil Harrison told Eurogamer in March that by using some very intelligent networking routing, Google can churn out the required performance at the datacenter level. The second ingredient is YouTube, involving tight integration on a technical level, as well as the user experience level.

Google’s datacenter dexterity might indeed be difficult to rival, yet some industry analysts have cited the likes of Microsoft, with its advanced Azure architecture, along with Chinese giant Tencent which boasts a hefty content portfolio, as being two examples of technology giants better positioned to launch cloud gaming services – in terms of a combination of technology might and content clout.

If Stadia succeeds in proving wrong the many doubters of Google’s cloud computing prowess, then it still has to scale the major hurdle of rolling out a compelling content portfolio – and Google hopes to attract top developers into building games for Stadia by claiming development on the new cloud gaming platform will be as easy as developing for PlayStation and Xbox. It will take some time for Google’s developer push to bear fruit, so early criticism of its content line up is perhaps unfair given its ambitions to become a self-sufficient beast. Stadia’s potential to become an original content powerhouse should certainly be cause for concern for Ubisoft and other prominent gaming developer houses.

It’s also worth noting that Sony and Microsoft stunned the gaming community a few weeks back by joining hands in the development of cloud gaming technology, apparently to the shock and dismay of the Sony PlayStation team, who Bloomberg said had to be reassured that the next PlayStation console would not be affected. It’s impossible to read this any other way than a precursor to the eventual phasing out of both Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox consoles in a few years.