Since the announcement of Google Stadia, more details have come forward about Google’s new streaming service which are starting to reveal Stadia’s true nature. Simply put, on top of paying for the subscription, games you want to play on the streaming service will be fully priced and require you to buy them in order to play them. “Netflix for games” Stadia is not.
To be fair, it was never marketed that way. However, when people think “streaming service”, services like Netflix or Xbox Game Pass immediately come to mind. In a streaming service model, the idea is that you pay a monthly fee and X number of titles fall within that subscription fee. However, according to a recent interview with Google Stadia’s Chief, Phil Harrison, he “doesn’t know why a Stadia title would be cheaper” than any other version.
We’ll get back to Phil in a second, but first, let’s look at what we know so far.
When Google Stadia launches in November, there will be a monthly subscription roughly priced around £8.99, or $9.99 U.S., or a “free” version which will release in 2020. Paying for Stadia Pro gives you access to a “growing library” of titles, so far only including Destiny 2 at launch, and all of these titles will stream at 60FPS with 4K resolution. The Base model lets you stream games up to 1080p, but restricts access to titles you buy, not the library that comes with Stadia Pro.
With EITHER option though, you will be required to purchase titles you want to play… for no less than a full priced console game. So to clarify, you’re paying for both the subscription AND a full priced game if you want the Stadia Pro package. With the base model, you’re just paying for a full priced game, but hey, you can stream that title anywhere. Woo?
As of right now, the games that will be available to play on Stadia are Mortal Kombat 11, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Doom Eternal, Final Fantasy 15, Baldur’s Gate 3, Borderlands 3, Football Manager 2020, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Rage 2, and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.
These games will be available on Stadia, but if you want to play them, you’ll need to buy them first.
Up until now, it was unclear what Google’s business model would be, or if these titles would, in fact, come with their own price tag on top of the subscription. I mean, we’ll only be able to stream these titles, there is no digital ownership, or any physical copies available to us once we hand over $60. According to Mr. Harrison though, these titles will cost the same as they do on any other console, and I’m restating this for emphasis here, going on to say that “I don’t know why it would be cheaper.”
Apparently, according to Harrison, the ability to play these games on ANY screen we have justifies the full price value. Really?
Harrison argued that “The value you get from the game on Stadia means you can play it on any screen in your life – TV, PC, laptop, tablet, phone. I think that is going to be valuable to players.” He also stated, “In theory, the Stadia version of a game is going to be at the highest possible quality of innovation and sophistication on the game engine side.”
To make things even better, Phil couldn’t even confirm the actual price of a game on Stadia, instead, putting the responsibility of that decision on the developers themselves!
“The publisher or the developer is in as much control of the prices as we are, so it’s a bit difficult for me to say what the prices will be right now,” he said. “But, we’re obviously going to be very aware of prevailing prices in the marketplace.”
It honestly sounds like he’s trying to brace us for some upcoming surprise regarding a “Stadia-priced” title. As of right now, we can expect to pay the $9.99 subscription fee AND $60 for a game, putting the cost of a Stadia game already $10 above a typical video game purchase.
Since the Stadia announcement, there has been this assumption, based on what and how everything was presented, that Stadia Pro would, or could, function similarly to Xbox Games Pass or PS Now. You pay a flat fee, and a pre-determined library of titles is instantly at your disposal. Like Netflix, when a new title drops, you can just play it, without any additional fees. Our assumptions were clearly very wrong.
This means that your subscription fee basically covers your “access” to your purchased titles, but you still need to BUY said titles to use them. Phil defended this concept by stating the following;
“We’re definitely in a great moment of transition and inflection in the industry, going from an ownership consumption model. Around the world we’re already way past the physical digital tipping point. Particularly in the UK, that’s accelerating as time goes by.”
Basically, because we aren’t dishing out hundreds of dollars upfront for a new console AND game, it’s “OK” that Stadia is going with this business model. This apparently offers the consumer “choice”, according to Mr. Harrison. I disagree Phil.
“The industry is in transition,” he defended. “Not every developer and publisher is ready to move to subscription yet. Frankly, not every gamer is ready to move to subscription yet. So we wanted to give gamers a choice so they could engage in the games they wanted in the way they wanted – and in all cases, without the very high upfront cost of buying a sophisticated device to put under their TV or on their desk.”
Right, but even if you just gave us a library of pre-determined titles we would still have a “choice” about which games we wanted to play. Putting a fee in front of a game, along with a subscription cost, certainly gives us a choice. “I’m going to buy a game on another device that is cheaper” seems more like the choice players will be making.
When Stadia launches in November, the Founder’s Edition will give you access to three months of the Pro membership, a three month Buddy Pass so you can gift Stadia Pro to a friend, a limited edition controller, a Founder’s Stadia Name, and of course the Google Chromecast Ultra so you can stream titles right to your tv of choice. All of this can be yours for £119, or $130 U.S., BUT you’ll need to purchase whatever title you want to play or stream anywhere. That brings this alluring $130 price point more around if not over, $200; a very different price-tag.
On top of this, we still have no clue what Stadia’s launch library will offer us other than Destiny 2 at this point. They promised that this library will continue to grow as developers that Google has invested in making exclusive content for the new streaming service. However, if you want to play other new, relevant titles like Doom Eternal or Baldur’s Gate 3 you’ll need to drop money on them just like you would for any other console.
As more information is revealed about this new service, the draw to it becomes less and less appealing. Add to this that Google is notorious for just giving up on projects, and it quickly becomes apparent that, as of right now, maybe Stadia won’t or can’t deliver what we would want it to, in the way we want it at least.
What happens if Google doesn’t get the kind of support they thought they would for this new endeavor? If they pull the plug on Stadia, what happens to all of those games I purchased at a premium cost? I have no digital version downloaded anywhere, I have no physical copy that I can pop into a console. Does that mean we just lose out on all of that money we spent to grow our library of titles on a streaming-only service? Maybe they have considered this and have an answer they just haven’t told us yet, but I doubt it.
One thing is certain, I’d rather pay for a service like Xbox Games Pass before I drop money on a subscription that requires me to also pay full price for a “streaming only” game, without question.