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Comment: Google Stadia won’t matter for a year

Google Stadia’s early reviews are less than stellar and it’s bringing up a lot of negativity around the service. In a lively debate with some friends about the future of the platform, something became very clear to me — Google Stadia won’t matter for about a year.

Google’s marketing message for Stadia’s launch is a disaster

Stadia, as it stands right now, is not a finished product. In fact, it’s far from it. The catalog of games is tiny and most of the platform’s defining features aren’t present right now. The core of Stadia is here and, based on those early reviews, it’s pretty good too.

However, in its current state, Stadia is not ready for the vast majority of consumers. If Google had labeled this week’s launch as a beta or even “early access” – both very common in the gaming community – much of the negativity currently out there probably wouldn’t exist.

Instead, Google is actively marketing Stadia as it stands today as a fully-fledged product that you should go spend $130 on and that’s just not what it is. My colleague Stephen Hall will have a lot more to say on that front soon, but the TL;DR on all of this is that Google’s message with Stadia today is severely flawed.

Google Stadia is launching in 2019, but not the version most people should use

In my mind, though, none of that is to say that Google Stadia is going to be a bad product.

Stadia’s free tier will be its make or break moment

The biggest part of Stadia that most people don’t fully realize exists is the platform’s free tier. Stadia Base is launching in 2020 – I’d guess around the time that the 3-month Pro trial from Founder’s Edition expires – and will be a game-changer for the platform.

Why? When Stadia Base is available, the platform is no longer an investment so much as a proper alternative. Users curious about the platform won’t have to think about a $10 subscription charge, $129 bundle, and the games they want to play, but rather, they would just have to buy the games they want to play. This is a pretty huge deal because it takes away the barrier to entry in a way that other platforms simply can’t match.

Imagine playing that new game you want without owning a console

Want to try out that new Avengers game in May but don’t have any hardware capable of playing it? You could go to the store and pick up a PS4 and the game and spend $250, or you could just buy the game and play it on Stadia Base with your laptop. If advertised properly, this is the “feature” that will give Stadia its moment in the sun.

PlayStation 5 and Xbox Project Scarlett will make Stadia attractive

That point will only be further emphasized later on in 2020. When new consoles hit the market and, with them, new games, Stadia will be an attractive alternative. The PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Project Scarlett will have exclusive titles surely, but Stadia will have the same next-generation games without the $500 investment of a new console.

Looking to the specifications too, Stadia holds an advantage here. As consoles get new generations, the same Stadia you have access to will be continually upgraded in the background. Even if next-gen consoles support 8K, Stadia is already slated to get support for that higher resolution.

During the holidays especially this could be very attractive. Imagine being a parent and seeing the option to buy that new game for your child without having to buy a console too! This scenario and ones like it are where I think Stadia will really shine. Google’s platform has the ability to be a game-changer going forward, but it needs to nail the messaging in late 2020 perfectly in order to set that up.

Those ads Google covered the web with ahead of Stadia’s “launch” this week? Let’s get those going again, but with a different angle. “Want to play [insert next-gen game title] without a new console? Try it on Stadia.”

But Stadia will need a ‘free trial’

What I’ve explained here is, from my point of view, the dream of Google Stadia. That dream will only get better over time with support for more smartphones too. However, the most important aspect of selling a new user on Stadia is something that Google can’t control – the network.

Just looking at the difference in experiences of Stadia in reviews, it’s clear that network differences greatly affect how playable Stadia is. To that end, Google is going to need more than a network test to ensure the service is right for all users. I’d suggest a “free trial” for that purpose. Specifically, a Stadia game that you can play for a day or two without spending any money to play on your computer or smartphone with existing equipment just to see how your network fares.

Google Stadia Speedtest Tool

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Ben is a writer and video producer for 9to5Google.

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