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How Google’s Stadia Game Streaming Service Can Succeed

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Google has finally revealed its pricing structure for Stadia, and it’s a bit disappointing. We all hoped for a “Netflix for games” with a single all-you-can-play subscription. However, Stadia has both subscriptions and per-game purchases. Stadia probably won’t set the gaming world on fire when it launches in late 2019, but it might still be the gaming platform of the future. Google’s going to have to stick with it, though.

The Two Tiers

Stadia will come in two flavors: Pro and Base. At launch, Stadia Pro will be the only game in town, and you’ll have to purchase the $ 130 Founder’s Edition bundle to use it. That’s a big buy-in, but you do get your money’s worth with a controller, Chromecast Ultra, three months of Stadia Pro, and a copy of Destiny II. After the three-month deal, Stadia Pro is $ 10 per month.

Stadia Pro will stream at up to 4k resolution and 60fps. You also get some free games (not the ones you probably want) and 5.1 sound. $ 10 per month is not an unreasonable amount for gamers to pay — after all, millions of XboxSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce owners have been paying a similar amount for Xbox Live Gold for a decade or more. You do still have to buy the games, but that’s true of console and PC gaming as well.

On the other hand, Stadia Base will launch a few months after Pro. This version of the service is capped at 1080p and has stereo sound. The games cost money, of course, but there’s no monthly fee to use Stadia Base.

Free Might Be Good Enough

The paid Pro tier might be Google’s “flagship” gaming product, but I’d argue it’s Stadia Base that gives it a leg up on the competition. It solves so many of the problems that have hobbled other game streaming services. Honestly, Google should be leading with Stadia Base.

Stadia will stream to many devices like phones, tablets, laptops, and TVs (via Chromecast Ultra). On most of those devices, the benefit of 4K is minimal. On a phone or small laptop, there’s literally zero benefit. 1080p streaming should be more than good enough, and you don’t have to pay Google money just to stream your games.

Several game streaming services were killed by the simple fact that your games were locked up behind a monthly subscription. You could have uncountable hours poured into a game, but it was all for nothing if you stopped paying the monthly fee. Even if you decide to start using Stadia Pro when it launches, you can drop down to the free Base tier at any time and still play all your games. This helps give Stadia the “permanence” of games you purchase in more traditional ways.

Stadia Base opens the door to AAA gaming on virtually any device with almost no additional hardware investment. What if you only have a cheap Chromebook or Chromecast Ultra? Congratulations, you can play Baldur’s Gate III or Doom Eternal for $ 60 just like people who spend hundreds of dollars on video cards or game consoles.

A Play for the Future

There are still a lot of unknowns with Stadia. Has the quality improved since the Project Stream demo? How many free games come with Pro? What happens if Google shutters the service in a couple of years? Any of these could be deal-breaking flaws, but Stadia has a real shot if Google can stick with it.

Game streaming bandwidth is a concern for many potential subscribers as many ISPs have started enforcing bandwidth caps. If you stream 4k video in order to play your games, you could run through many gigabytes of data in a few hours. Plus, you need a fast connection to even have a hope of streaming 4k.

A 5G millimeter wave cell site in Minneapolis on a light pole.

Stadia feels like a service that’s aimed at the future. When 5G becomes ubiquitous, bandwidth caps should be much less oppressive (or even nonexistent). Verizon doesn’t cap 5G data on its network at all. 5G could also make it feasible to play high-end games on a mobile device anyplace you’ve got a good signal, something we can’t even fathom today.

However, none of that will matter if Google can’t stick it out. The company is developing a reputation for neglecting services and then killing them. 5G could be what makes Stadia truly engaging, and those networks won’t be robust for several more years at least. If people are going to buy games from Stadia and enjoy them in the era of 5G, Google has to play the long game.

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