Google Stadia Announcement Leaves Me Skeptical

Will Stadia gain traction? Should it?

The video game industry continues to expand, so it’s no surprise that one of the largest companies in the world has announced a gaming service that will be released later this year. Google Stadia promises compelling convenience and exciting features, but will it gain traction? Has it been designed around the interests of players? Although there is still a great deal to be learned about Stadia, this article offers a preliminary look at how Google has positioned itself in the market.

In March, Google announced Stadia, a streaming service for playing “video games across all kinds of screens.” Powered by Google’s cloud infrastructure, Stadia will enable play from anywhere on any Internet-connected device, including phones, tablets, computers, and televisions. Google claims that games will be available in up to 4K HDR at 60 FPS, a standard not consistently met by today’s consoles!

What’s Promising?

Google Stadia Features

  • YouTube will be deeply integrated, allowing a seamless transition between watching a game and playing it. This interactivity is designed to provide convenience while capitalizing on streaming, which continues to grow in popularity. In fact, Crowd Play even allows viewers to join a streamer’s game.
  • Google’s cloud infrastructure is always improving, meaning that Stadia will scale with the demands of new software. In theory, Stadia will always support the latest AAA games by providing players consistent access to cutting edge hardware.
  • A streaming approach eliminates the need for downloading games and increasingly-frequent updates. Instead, players can start games in seconds.

What’s Problematic?

Despite advances in convenience and the promise of AAA games on any device, there’s reason to be skeptical of Google Stadia.

  • Google often launches products and sunsets them. Consider the list of products Google has shuttered: Inbox, Google+, Wave, and Glass. One might argue that it’s a strength to create and close projects swiftly to see what sticks, but gamers could be forgiven for their hesitance to go all-in on something that might not last.
  • Lag is the player’s enemy. Many games, from first-person shooters to challenging platformers, require the feeling of instantaneous feedback. Any noticeable lag is unacceptable. While I believe in Google’s ability to optimize the delivery of content and the input from my controller, I don’t have confidence in my broadband connection. Google recommends 25 megabits per second for 1080p/60 frames per second and 30 megabits per second for 4k. I have the best available connection in my area, which isn’t particularly rural, and I can only receive half of what Google suggests. Plus, as you’ll see in the image below, my Internet speed is “typical.” This could spell disaster for many players trying to use Stadia.

  • Google is primarily in the advertising business. I love GSuite. Gmail and Google Docs are revolutionary products, making collaboration incredibly easy and productive. However, I worry about how Stadia’s integration of YouTube and the likely implementation of voice chat could be used to harvest data from millions of children. Will Google “listen in” on players’ conversations in order to allow ad targeting? Will YouTube be curated more thoughtfully in the future? As Bloomberg has noted, YouTube has allowed “nonsense to flourish,” including conspiracy theories and damaging misinformation about vaccines. And perhaps most importantly, will player behavior and conversations (especially children’s) be sold to third parties? Google should clearly address these questions so users can make informed decisions that are best for themselves and their families.

There’s more we don’t know, including what Stadia will cost and what games will be available, but I believe Google is smart enough to launch with enticing titles at an affordable price. In all likelihood, engagement is more important than profit at the start of Stadia’s life. But will enough people be engaged if lag is an issue? And should people be engaged if they’re surrendering large amounts of personal data for the convenience of streaming games? The answers to these questions and more will ultimately determine if Stadia is a success. Until then, I’m approaching this promising service with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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