Up For Debate – Who even are the audience for game streaming tech like Google Stadia?

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We’ve been told for ages that streaming games from the mysterious ‘cloud’ is going to be our future. Of course the publishing goliaths would say this though. Cloud gaming would equal the total elimination of game ownership. And of modding, playing offline, and removing DRM. If you think digital game ownership is flaky, try never even having the game exist on your PC in playable form ever. It’s being piped in from some remote location over which the provider of the game has 100% control. They can patch it, delete it, ban you, restrict you, put the price of access up. They can do just about whatever the hell they want and there will be next to nothing you can do about it.

So our question is, who exactly is gaming streaming for and why on earth would people be willing to pay money for it? We’ll start off with the elephant in the room – Google Stadia. Launching in November 2019, Stadia is Google’s answer to game streaming and probably the biggest push the technology has received up to this point. 

At launch, Google Stadia will require either: a $129 Stadia Founder’s Edition, Google Pixel 3 smartphone, or any PC with a Chrome Browser. You can stream up to 1080p for free, while high-resolution 4K support will set you back $9.99 per month. Games will be full price and 4K players will need to pay for the game plus the monthly subscription. Google will also be giving away a game every month or so (they are hilariously non-specific with this), starting with Destiny 2, a game which goes free-to-play this Autumn.

That’s the lay of the land then, so the people who can play Google Stadia at launch fall into a few different camps. There’ll be those who splash out $129 for the Stadia Founder’s Edition; those who own an $800 Google Pixel 3 phone, and those already have a PC. If you’ve got an $800 phone, it’s safe to say you can probably afford a $200 games console such as the Xbox One S, and one with a library hundreds of times larger. If you’re paying $129 for the Stadia Founder’s Edition plus the monthly subscription, you’re now getting remarkably close to the cost of a brand new console and certainly enough to cover the costs of a decent-ish video card on eBay. 

The other big competitors are Microsoft with Project xCloud and Sony with PlayStation Now. Microsoft has the core infrastructure and catalogue of titles to make Project xCloud work, although it still feels a way from reality. And PS now has been available for a number of years now and is yet to really find its feet. While it’s possible to use a web browser, the experience isn’t great. PS Now is at its best while running on a PS4 but, at that point, why the heck are we even using cloud streaming when we’ve got the local hardware right there. It doesn’t even make sense and I can’t figure out who PS Now is for aside from expanding into a Game Pass-type catalogue of titles. At that point, the streaming is secondary though, and most users would surely just prefer to download and play the games locally (possible with PS4 games). 

Despite all this, there are a growing number of voices suggesting the likes of Google Stadia will work. That typical gamers are looking at this all wrong and that it isn’t for them. Gaming has never been cheaper or more accessible. Who is this mysterious group of people who don’t want the hassle of a PC or a console but they’ll happily slap 60 bucks on a cloud copy of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey to sit in a server bank 300 miles away? 

There’s the argument that cloud gaming is cheaper, which I don’t think holds much sway. If you can’t afford a $200 games console or a budget PC, is it realistic to expect you’ve also got a 40Mb internet connection? I don’t think so. Anyone who’s majorly strapped for cash probably has cheaper internet as well, At that point, most would say you’re probably a fool for not pirating everything in sight. The Venn diagram of potential Stadia users just shrinks and shrinks the more you look at it, leaving us with a subset of folks who have a moderate amount of disposable income and don’t care enough about gaming to buy a gaming box. Are they not just going to get their fix from the Android store?  Do these people really want 100-hour games which demand their full attention?

Where does this leave us and game streaming tech? Do you think Google Stadia, PS Now and Project xCloud have what it takes to change the gaming landscape? Who are these technologies aimed? Let us know your thoughts below!