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Stadia expands: Google isn’t giving up yet

7th March 2020 Print

Even if they manage to pull things back from the position they currently find themselves in, it’s fair to say that Google got a few things wrong about the launch of their ‘Stadia’ gaming platform. In fact, in years to come, they may look back upon it as a masterclass in the art of not getting things right. The product appears to have been launched too soon, with not enough games available, not enough technical support, and not enough care taken to ensure that it would run smoothly for users. 

Tellingly, Google went almost silent about its new gaming software and hardware almost as soon as they released it. In case you missed it - which would have been easy - Google Stadia went live in November 2019. A small army of hardcore Google fans bought the necessary hardware and was immediately disappointed by connection speeds and lack of games to play on the new platform. For a short while, Google promised they would provide more games and more news soon. After that, they fell silent, and some of the press wondered whether Stadia was already dead

This isn't how things were meant to go. Based on the promotional material that came with its announcement, Stadia was supposed to be a gamer's Netflix, or perhaps more accurately, an online slots casino of games. Thirty years ago, playing slots meant visiting a physical slot cabinet, and playing the one game that if offered. Now, the existence of online slots means that players can go to one website and play as many UK Online Slots as they wish. The better online slots websites even let you play through your phone while you're on the move. Stadia promised users all of this and more - so long as you had a net-connected device with a screen, and a controller handy, you could play any game in the world. 

What Google should have been focusing on in their marketing material was the potential of the platform, rather than its immediate practicality. You can, in theory, play games through any device that has a screen, so long as the internet connection available to that advice is running at the sort of speed you'd usually associate with fiber-optic broadband. You can play games on the move with your phone, but at launch, that was only true if you had a Google Pixel handset. The technology and potential to make all of Google's claims true is clearly there, but the execution isn't quite there yet. Things might be changing, though. After that long silence we mentioned earlier, Google is finally expanding the availability of Stadia. 

As of February 20th, owners of Razer, Asus, and Samsung phones will be able to operate Stadia in exactly the same way as Google Pixel users can at the moment. The news isn't much use to anyone who already has access to Stadia and simply wants better compatibility or more games, but it is at least a sign that Google is still there, and is still actively working on Stadia as a platform. There had been some concern among the (very) small community of Stadia players that the company had already given up on their pet project, but for now, at least, that doesn't appear to be the case. 

There's also a little ray of light when it comes to the availability of new games. Back in November, Google talked about 'hundreds' of new games becoming available for Stadia within the coming twelve months but failed to provide any further information when they were quizzed on the issue. The platform had launched with far fewer games than players had been led to expect would be available, and the community was restless. We're still a long way short of being able to report that 'hundreds' of new games are on the horizon, but there are a few more on the way, and with any luck, they'll be the start of a steady stream of new titles that will appear on the platform in the year to come. 

What's slightly less exciting if the nature of the games themselves. They're not exactly the top-end, market-leading games that the majority of gamers would switch their consoles on to play. Instead, there's a remake of 'Panzer Dragoon,' 'Serious Sam Collection,' 'Stacks On Stacks' (which is basically digitized Jenga), 'Splitlings,' and 'Lost Worlds: Beyond The Page.' All of them have the look and feel of something that you'd find available for less than ten dollars in the budget section of the PlayStation Store, or possibly even for free in the Xbox Arcade. 

There are signs that progress is being made elsewhere, too. One of the biggest criticisms that Stadia came in for at the time of its launch was that 4K support wasn’t available through the Chrome browser. As Google makes both Chrome and Stadia, it never made sense that 4K support wasn’t there from the start, and we’re now happy to say that the issue has been fixed. That means the best possible experience of playing Stadia games is now likely to be through your computer as opposed to a phone, or even a smart television. 

Given the tweaking of the Chrome compatibility and the focus on availability for various different mobile phone handsets, it now appears likely that Google’s Stadia team has spent much of its time over the past three months focusing on compatibility issues. Now that’s been done, they’re hopefully free to focus on speaking to developers and persuading them that Stadia is the right place for their latest releases to go. It won’t matter how many devices Stadia works on six months from now if there’s nobody left to play the games, and no developers providing games to entice players to give the platform a try. We suspect that the true potential - and probably longevity - of Stadia will only become known once the long-promised ‘free tier’ emerges later in 2020 and gives the company an indication of how many players are willing to give their platform a cursory look. 

Stadia might have a future, and it's even conceivable that its future might be rosy. Should that happen, though, it will have been through luck far more than by design. Google should remember everything that went wrong with this product launch, and endeavor not to make such glaring mistakes again.