Contrary to those shouting loudly on the internet, Google Stadia isn’t dead. And as I’ve written previously, it’s really rather good. In fact, the last post I published on Stadia provoked a lot of great discussion about the platform. There’s plenty to love and enjoy, but there are legitimate concerns and areas that could be improved.
The Stadia team knows this and again, contrary to opinion in some corners of the internet, is working very hard on making the platform better. Among the comments and discussions that came out of that last post, though, one point stuck and got me thinking.
It comes down to the business model. Very few deny how good the technology of Stadia is but Google’s business model for it doesn’t sit right. For some, the idea of buying games that only live in the cloud doesn’t appeal to them. That plus Google’s pinchant for canceling products over the years does not incite any particular confidence in consumers. I can’t say I’m not worried about this, because I am a little. Nobody really knows what would happen. But thinking deeper, this model was possibly the wrong path to begin with and I think for Stadia to have a brighter future, selling games should potentially be off the table.
Google Stadia is modeled like a traditional console
In the present day, Google Stadia and its games catalog are operated like any other games console or PC store. You rock up with your wallet, hand over some cash, and buy a game.
You can also pay a monthly fee for Stadia Pro which puts fresh titles in your library every month. Or so long as you remain a subscriber, it does. Stadia Pro is fantastic, with about 50 games players can claim at the time of writing. You don’t have that on PlayStation Plus or Xbox Games With Gold. Even the Epic Games Store and its weekly freebies fall behind on quantity.
The way Stadia, accounts, and Pro have been handled since launch hasn’t been the slickest operation, but it’s in a good place now. You don’t actually need a Stadia account anymore for some basic features or even to play some of the demos. But I think the best thing Google could do is double down on Stadia Pro and stop selling games entirely.
Stadia should move to an entirely subscription-based platform like its cloud competitors. If people don’t need to fork over money to “own” the games they want to play, it could relieve some of the negativity and worry that Google pulls the plug someday.
Amazon, Microsoft, and NVIDIA all have a better model
When you look at the respective business models, you could make an argument Stadia’s model is the worst. That’s because the current main competition from Amazon, Microsoft, and NVIDIA, all operate on a subscription model. Just like you subscribe to Netflix and binge on your favorite shows, you can subscribe to their services and binge on your favorite games.
NVIDIA GeForce Now is a little different, in so much as you can only play games through it that you’ve purchased on other stores, including Steam, Epic, and Ubisoft. In this case, there’s as close to no risk as any subscription service because you’re basically just renting a powerful PC in the cloud to get your own stuff. But Microsoft has a subscription for the cloud with Game Pass and Amazon operates a subscription model with Luna.
Luna is particularly interesting as the pricing is split down more like a television package than anything else. When signed up, you can choose different ‘channels’ to subscribe to, alongside a free rotation for Amazon Prime subscribers. If you only want kid’s games, for example, you can subscribe to the family channel.
Microsoft bundles its cloud gaming offering into Game Pass Ultimate at the moment, though that is starting to loosen up with the arrival of Fortnite for all to play. It isn’t every game in Game Pass, but there’s a large catalog and of course, you don’t have to buy any games to play them through the cloud.
Each of these leans into the subscription model, whereas on Stadia it just feels like a bonus. A necessary bonus.
Google should consider moving Stadia to subscription-only
Some of the work has already been done. Stadia Pro has a huge library, and with over 100 games in my personal Stadia account, most can be attributed to being available through Pro. If you play on Stadia, you need to have Stadia Pro lest ye never truly get the best from the platform. Ubisoft+ is also available through Stadia, providing access to all the publisher’s available titles for a monthly fee.
It sucks that everything in life is moving to a subscription, but that’s apparently what both, the businesses and the masses want. Given the trepidation many have over buying games from Google with that nagging feeling in the back of their mind that one day the plug will be pulled, it seems like it could be a good idea.
Reshaping the business model could potentially make it an easier sell to publishers as well. Microsoft seems to be doing well with Game Pass after all. When you have a pool of subscribers, there’s already a captive audience for new games added. The current Stadia Pro subscription is really good value, unlocking regular ‘free’ titles as well as 4K and HDR gaming. A small increase in the monthly charge or adding additional tiers I think would go down well with existing players and certainly attract those who are on the fence because they don’t want to spend $60 on a game on Stadia.
Will this ever happen? Who knows. Google remains committed to Stadia for the foreseeable future, but how long will that last if the player numbers don’t meet expectations? The Stadia community is much larger than many give it credit for, but something probably needs to change fundamentally with how the platform is operated if it’s going to have a bright future. Be that an idea like this, offering a subscription plan alongside purchasing such as Game Pass offers or cheaper access but serving ads. There’s a lot that Google could do with Stadia. How would you change it?
An affordable way to play Stadia on your TV with the added bonus of running Google TV. Pair up your favorite controller and you’re good to go!