In a Reddit AMA yesterday, Google Stadia Director of Product Andrey Doronichev provided a few more tidbits about what features will and will not be available when the streaming game service launches in November. But as he did so, he had to convince some skeptical potential customers that Stadia won’t end up in the same corporate graveyard as many other Google service experiments.
Doronichev compared Google’s commitment to Stadia to services like Gmail, Docs, Music, Movies and Photos, which have persisted for years with no sign of imminent shutdown. “We’ve been investing a ton in tech, infrastructure, and partnerships [for Stadia] over the past few years,” Doronichev said. “Nothing in life is certain, but we’re committed to making Stadia a success… Of course, it’s OK to doubt my words. There’s nothing I can say now to make you believe if you don’t. But what we can do is to launch the service and continue investing in it for years to come.”
Doronichev also compared the transition to streaming gaming to similar transitions that have already largely taken place in the movie and music industries, and with cloud storage of personal files like photos and written documents. While acknowledging that “moving to the cloud is scary,” he also insisted that “eventually all of our games will be safely in the cloud, too, and we’ll feel great about it.”
Why Stadia is different
What Doronichev didn’t address, though, are the differences between those cloud-based success stories and Stadia’s more traditional business model. With personal files, you can maintain a local backup in case that convenient cloud storage goes up in smoke some day. And with the most popular streaming video and music services, you pay a small monthly fee for access to a large, curated selection of titles rather than buying “permanent” access a la carte.
While Stadia will support subscription plans like Ubisoft’s upcoming UPlay+, Google is mainly stressing individual game purchases that players “should expect… to be competitive with other platforms” price-wise, according to Doronichev. “After all it’s about developers making money off their amazing work they do.” And while Doronichev said he “certainly hope[s] to have a few free-to-play games to announce in the next few months,” that area doesn’t seem to be an immediate focus for Stadia at the moment, either.
If there was any confusion on this point, Doronichev clarified it elsewhere in the AMA, saying, “To be clear, Stadia Pro is not ‘Netflix for Games’ like some people have mentioned. A closer comparison would be like Xbox Live Gold or Playstation Plus. The Pro subscribers get 4K/HDR streaming, 5.1 sound, exclusive discounts and access to some free games. Roughly one free game per month give or take. Starting with Destiny 2.”
Focusing on individual purchases rather than subscriptions is a fine direction for Google to choose, though it seems a little conservative for a service being billed as revolutionary. More to the point, though, asking people to buy individual units of entertainment in a form they can’t even download to a local machine is something of a new frontier for a mass market, cloud-based service. Every other cloud-based entertainment success story either sells time-based subscriptions to large catalogs (Netflix, Spotify, PlayStation Now, etc.) or allows for some form of local download for individual purchases in addition to direct cloud streaming (iTunes, Google Play, etc.). Stadia, in a way, is combining these into a worst-of-both-worlds “buy it on the cloud” approach.
The medium- to long-term viability of those individual, cloud-exclusive purchases is a valid concern for a new service that has yet to prove itself in the marketplace. Google’s only answer to that concern, so far, has essentially been “trust us, we’re in this for the long haul.” (And if not, you’ll be able to use Google Takeout to port your save data, at least). Given Google’s own history with new services and the disappearance of all those OnLive game purchases years ago, that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Other Stadia tidbits from the AMA:
- Achievements will not be available on Stadia at launch but are planned for the future.
- The UI for the service won’t be revealed until November.
- “At launch you’ll be able to manage your friends list, create parties and use platform-level voice chat.”
- While Chromecast Ultra is the only way to stream Stadia to a TV at launch, “we’re going to add more options for all of our TV gamers” in the future. “Once we harden the tech and it’s ready to scale we’ll expand to more devices starting with the most popular ones.”
- Family Sharing for Stadia purchases will be available “early next year.”
- Stadia will offer full support for all HID-compliant game controllers.