Google is promising the world with Stadia, their new streaming-only games platform that they revealed earlier this week. Creators, no longer limited by the hardware they must design games for. Customers, no longer shackled to having to spend hundreds of dollars on hardware every few years to be able to play the latest and greatest. People around the world, able to game anywhere, any time, any way they want. What’s not to like? It sounds like a utopia.
Except, of course, it’s not, yet. There are significant issues with a streaming-only platform, not the least of which are that it is in the end only viable for people who have high speed internet, no data caps, and live near a data center—on a Venn Diagram, that’s a very minuscule intersection of circles right there. Add to that other problems, such as, for instance, you lacking any ownership of your games—even more so than digital games, where something you download stays with you forever no matter what unless you choose to get rid of it, as opposed to streaming, where it is ephemeral and stops existing the minute servers go down—and you can see why it’s hard to take the notion of Stadia as an actual threat to the existing market paradigm seriously.
For instance, consider Sony. One could argue Sony is in the most precarious position with the entry of Stadia—Microsoft and Xbox have their own, far better accomplished cloud service in the offering which can counter Google, and Nintendo can get away with anything they want as long as they own IP like Zelda and Pokemon. One would argue, presumably, Sony on the other hand doesn’t have the infrastructure of Microsoft to weather the entry of an entrant like Google into the market. One would be wrong.
We’ve discussed this previously, but Sony on their own part have also been working to have at least a foothold with their various services over the last few years. PlayStation Now already exists to provide cloud streamed gaming options to users, and also has multiple pricing models. While I contend that the actual streaming quality is not anywhere close to what Stadia or xCloud purport to offer with PS Now, the fact is that Sony already has basic infrastructure and the content in place—from there, it’s just a matter of scaling up. Scaling up can be expensive, and even take some time, but presuming that Sony sees Stadia start to catch on, they can start doing it to keep their presence in the market where necessary.
So many ancillary features offered by Stadia are already covered by Sony’s various services—SharePlay offers a form of streaming-based co-op gameplay not dissimilar to what Google offers with Stadia (albeit Sony would need to enable SharePlay implementation for PS Now, which to my knowledge currently they do not offer). Remote Play technology allows Sony to offer users the chance to play their games anywhere they like (albeit Remote Play is still not offered on all devices as it should be—but again, this is a matter of scaling up). PS Now itself is offered on PCs, TVs, and consoles for now—again, it’s a simple matter to scale that up to include and encompass a broader offering of hardware from there.
Even Google’s YouTube integration with Stadia isn’t entirely unique—Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo all offer their own sharing functionality on their systems, and while nothing integrates as deeply with YouTube as Stadia does, that is more than made up for by the fact that not everyone really uses YouTube for streaming to begin with—they use Twitch, which as of right now Stadia’s competition is compatible with, while Stadia itself? Not that we know.
It’s also important to note that just as Sony has a foothold with its services to counter a potential transition to services, it also has the IP to ensure its bottom line is not degraded by Google, or any other similar entrants. At this point, Sony’s first party has a halo that is legendary, on par with Nintendo’s. People will buy the next PlayStation for the next new games from their first party studios. They will want to be privy to Sony’s first party, and the only place you can play Sony first party games is on their platforms.
That ultimate focus on games is what could save Sony and the PlayStation 5 in the end, more than even their investment in services. In terms of games, as of right now, what exactly is Google bringing to the table? DOOM Eternal and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are both great games, but they run on literally every other major gaming platform. What else does Google have to offer that might induce an en masse migration of 100 million PlayStation owners to them? Google had the foresight to invest in a first party game studio, headed by the legendary Jade Raymond, and that’s awesome. This studio will make games only for Stadia, which is great. So far, it also has not actually announced any games.
And if it does, if it puts out multiple games a generation, and all of them are amazing, would that be enough to get anyone to drop PlayStation or Xbox or Nintendo to go only to Stadia? At most you might supplement yourself with a Stadia subscription or purchase for the extent of playing that game, or those games—but will they be reason enough for you to just drop your investment into ecosystems with deeper libraries, actual game ownership, and no lag, as well as your existing online accounts, friends lists, achievements, and your game libraries?
Stadia may yet do well. Streaming may yet go on to do very well. I don’t mean to imply that Stadia or game streaming are doomed. They might introduce a brand new paradigm to the gaming market, and that is exciting to me as a fan of the medium. But any success Stadia has will be additive. It will grow the pie, not eat up the shares of PlayStation or Xbox or Nintendo. In the end, it will get more people playing games if it’s successful, which is great. But that doesn’t mean that its entry spells doom for any of the current big three, specially Sony and PS5.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.