The price of digital freedom

Just as I put out last post about how Stadia will be pushing game streaming further, Google’s Phil Harrison was interviewed about the price of games at Eurogamer. In addition to a subscription fee, with free model coming out sometime 2020, games would cost your normal game price. He is right in questioning why the games should be cheaper on Stadia compared to any other digital console platform. Streaming games is not the same thing as streaming video. Forcing television or movie model unto games has never been all that successful, and this applies doubly on the whole market side of things. While it is easy to use Netflix as a point of comparison while talking with Stadia, it is also relatively inaccurate. It should be compared to other games streaming services, and seeing only Sony’s has some moderate success with it despite having issues outside PS4, there really isn’t any reason for streamable games to be any less expensive than their other digital counterparts. Google’s PR department just uses this as a point of comparison, because game streaming has not been mainstream consumer product before.

After all, in both scenarios you’re paying for bits and bytes and only. With streaming, you don’y even need to put money into building high-end rig. Just stream it to your Android phone or similar, and you’re good to go. Harrison’s theory isn’t all that applicable about the quality of their games. I have serious doubt any Stadia version of any multiplatform game will be the highest possible quality. Let the PR do its job there though.

Xbox Game Pass and Sony’s PS Now are more like Netflix model, where you pay a monthly free to access slew of games. The consumers who use these two have already gotten used to the idea, as has other markets with Netflix’s style subscription model. However, it is more apparent that Stadia has been modelled after Steam, if anything. After all, with gaming Valve has been the one to push the digital-only model further and further with Steam. Stadia is mostly just the next natural next step in this. First consumer didn’t have to own the physical item, owning the digital data was fine. Then it moved to subscription license, no need to own anything. With Stadia, even needing space for that digital data is unnecessary. While people applaud moving towards digital-only environment, most of them have ignored the loss of ownership in all of its forms. With Stadia, you’re giving all control to Google on the data you’ve purchased, i.e. subscribed to.

Digital-only solution like Steam took nice roots because of its easy availability and unnecessary bells and whistles. Well, there aren’t much compared to it and buying a game from a store, but people are really goddamn lazy at their core when it comes things like this. Having a digital option is just more convenient at the cost of ownership and freedom. That’s where Stadia wants to compete in. Spell doom and gloom for Stadia, but as long as it has ease of use and convenience, people will pay that money for Google’s service. Steam, Bandcamp, GOG, Netflix, and so on and so on. The main reason they’ve become success is because they’re convenient and easy to use.

Of course, some games are going to be free to play and some games will have lower subscription fee. There’s no “buying” as such in digital systems like Steam and Stadia, despite the term used there. Valve could’ve already overtaken this market by making moves towards using streaming for some titles, but as envelope pushing as Steam was, it now has become more or less the tried and tested example to use as a basis rather than anything else. Much like how the NES or Atari could be described for consoles. There is, nevertheless, an overlapping market between Steam and possible Stadia users. Some people who are enthusiastic about the whole streaming thing will jump on the wagon as soon as possible, and the rest of the consumers who find enough value in theoretically fully mobile super computer via Stadia with them all the time. I admit, the idea of throwing a small device to a television on a trip to play a large library of games akin to Steam’s does sound attractive, but the principle of ownership removes me as a possible consumer for Stadia.

Stadia is one of the next steps in digital-only gaming. We’re on full-course to a world where consumers have very little control over their purchased goods withing the digital landscape. Maybe the service model in itself completely acceptable, but the delivery still isn’t. You know my old song at this point already; the ‘net infrastructure to deliver the promised high-end content isn’t there yet, or is available to extremely limited amount of consumers in comparison. High-end Internet connections are still relatively costly outside large population centers, but maybe that’s an issue that doesn’t matter. Perhaps the convenience just beats the slight lag and drop in visual quality will trump the need to have a gaming computer or a console to play these games.

I don’t predict doom and gloom, or success, for Stadia. No system has been great at the start, though NES had Super Mario Bros. in the US and Europe. No, it is far more likely that if Stadia will become success, it will be after a period of hardship and adjusting to the market demands and needs. People want to play the games, those are there. Now the rest just has to find its niche to expand from.

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