You Are Not the Intended Customer
After reading a lot of the recent coverage of Google Stadia, I find some of the comments and reactions from existing PC and console gamers just as “interesting” as the actual product itself. As for the basic concept of games running remotely at a datacentre, which does all the “heavy lifting”, we’ve been here before. On Live tried this in the UK back in 2009. They also had bespoke controllers just like Google Stadia but ultimately there was too many people in the UK at the time with low end internet connections, so the business failed. I believe Sony ended up buying all their patents. Obviously, technology has moved on in the last decade and certainly Google has more resources that it can bring to bear on the development of this product. But as I said, I find the way the news of this product was greeted to be of equal interest, because as ever core gamers are blinkered by their own erroneous perspective. They see themselves as the target demographic of any new service or game, which is not the case in this instance.
Google Stadia is a service can run top titles on most domestic platforms. Does everyone have a PC or console? No. Does everyone have a TV and a smartphone? Yes (or as near as damnit). So I would hazard a guess that this new service is viewed by Google as a means to expand the reach of games to those who are currently either playing on the margins, or our entrenched in bespoke market such as cell phone games. Google do not seem to be offering anything to core PC gamers, who will more than likely not be interested in such a service. Game mods, high end graphics on “über” gaming rigs, and live streaming are some of the aspects of PC gaming culture that keep it distinctly separate from other video games communities. If anything, Google Stadia could be more of a threat to the console market. However, irrespective of both these issues, if Google can get casual gamers who play mobile games via a phone, to expand the scope of their hobby and start paying to play the latest console/PC titles, they could be on to a winner.
Potentially pitching to this particular quarter of the gaming diaspora, could prove extremely lucrative. Mobile revenue accounts for more than 50% of the global video games market. As of last year that was $65.4 billion. For those who don’t have a console or do not wish to purchase the latest titles at their current retail price, a gaming service such as Google Stadia, pitched at a comparable cost to something like Netflix could be a major hit. Naturally this service will not necessarily appeal to competitive gamers for obvious technical reasons such as lag. Nor will it be embraced by the PC Master Race/professional malcontents/zealous gamer purists who are disdainful of anything outside of their purview. But again, they’re not the target demographic and frankly they’re not a group that endears itself to either marketing departments or the wider gaming community. Gaming has become an everyday pastime in recent years and the term itself has also evolved. Making gaming even more accessible is naturally a logical business goal.
However change always has winners and losers. Although I see the business sense in a service such as Google Stadia, it also represents yet another nail in the coffin of “ownership”. I’m old fashioned and in some respects very much a product of the era I grew up in. I like to pay once for something and move on, and so do not warm to concepts such a recurring charges and live services. But I’m wise enough to understand that markets evolve and that the business models of the past are not immutable. You only have to look at the decline of physical media, especially in the music industry for proof. This is the age of “games as a service” and Google Stadia could potentially be the “killer” product that helps to normalise that, just as iTunes drove a stake through the heart of CD sales and made us all subscribers with virtual collections.