Source: Michael Crider
Google “Stadia is Dead” and you’ll find countless analyses about the fall of Stadia and the reasons it flopped. Two reasons stand out to me:
1. It overpromised and underdelivered. Stadia promised streaming games, like you stream movies, with virtually no lag and on any device. This seemed like a game changer, making gaming more accessible than ever. And if anybody could deliver, it’d be the omnipotent tech giant Google.
But it launched with several problems: it essentially launched as a console that you had to pay a monthly subscription for—without any noteworthy games, and often with dropped frames and input lag that made for a frustrating gaming experience.
2. …And that’s not what people wanted – we wanted Stadia to be the Netflix of games. Netflix changed what we expect from the world of streaming entertainment – pay one monthly price for unlimited access to movies, TV shows, music, etc. at no extra cost. Then watch them on any device, virtually anywhere.
Rather than follow the Netflix model that people have come to expect, Stadia positioned itself as a “subscription-based console” that wanted a slice of the market share – a virtual Xbox or PlayStation of sorts—and then wanted users to pay for games in its anemic library of games. Stadia’s model at launch was like paying for (read as: renting – the same way cable boxes are rented then returned to the company once you leave) a console for life, on top of paying full price for each game you want to play – without ever being able to truly own the game.
Stadia’s Identity Crisis
The reasons for Stadia’s flop and (now) identity crisis have a common thread – Stadia does not truly know who Stadia is made for. Is it for anyone? Xbox gamers? Diehard PlayStation fans? Mobile gamers?
A Let-Down for People Who Can’t Get the Latest Hardware
Stadia was supposed to make gaming accessible to anyone and everyone, solving the pain point of needing the latest hardware to play the latest games. Google’s vice president Phil Harrison said Stadia was focused on “bringing gaming experiences to people who wouldn’t normally be able to get the latest hardware in their home.” Working class parents living paycheck-to-paycheck, for instance, could finally buy their kids the latest games without shelling out for a console. While compelling, Stadia’s debut proved too good to be true, delivering subpar and often unusable gaming experiences for many. In essence, the “finished” product was really just a beta – an overpromise that communicates to those who can’t get the latest hardware “sorry, you’ll have to buy an Xbox or PS4 for your kid after all.”
Getting Gamers to Let Go
As a target audience, serious gamers are the low-hanging fruit for Stadia – they’ve got games they want to play (and the money for them) and so they’re often looking for the best gaming experience possible. Despite this ripe-for-picking group, Stadia’s struggles stem from its inability to show gamers that it can provide a next-level gaming experience that gamers are looking for and need. While it solves some pain points that have long plagued gamers, like eliminating long download times, and doing away with hard drive space and the need to buy a dedicated console and hardware, it creates new pain points players may not have experienced. For example, gamers can only play their Stadia games online, and don’t truly “own” the game they paid for – they’re essentially locked into a lifetime lease of the Stadia platform if they want to keep their games or else lose the countless hours of grinding and progress. This pain point is easily solved by going back to consoles or PCs, where players are likely to continue their loyalty because they’ve built an established library of games for the platform.
Stadia’s flop shows us that the core of gaming is not necessarily the console or the platform, but the games themselves. Gamers buy games first and foremost – then they choose the platform that gives them the best playing experience. When Stadia launched, the only games you could play were either games you didn’t want to play, probably never heard of, or games you could play on consoles you already own. And without noteworthy, Stadia-exclusive titles or a fundamentally different gaming experience than what a console/PC could afford, gamers asked, “Do I really need Stadia?”
What do you wish Stadia would fix/publish next?
Source: Reddit, poll posted October 2021
That question is even more pressing now that Stadia won’t have any exclusive titles. Even into the months before the shutting down of its internal game development department, people were already wondering about Stadia’s impending doom:
Source: Reddit, posted January 21, 2021'
…and once it officially shut down in February 2021, word that Stadia is “dead” made its way around.
Source: YouTube, DreamcastGuy
But Google says Stadia is “alive and well,” even though it has only “hundreds of thousands” of active users left according to some reports.
Even though Stadia abandoned its endeavor as a game developer, it’s trying to stay “alive and well” by becoming a gaming platform that wants to compete with Xbox and PlayStation by offering third-party titles people actually want to play. But without any Stadia-exclusive titles, is Stadia’s cloud-based service compelling enough to get hardcore gamers to ditch their consoles, and start building a digital game library from scratch? Or on the flip side, can it give gamers (or would-be gamers) without the latest hardware an experience that rivals that of consoles without a hefty price tag?
Not All Hope is Lost. What Can Stadia Do to Gain Back Momentum?
Talk to (not at) the players.
Every successful product or service is designed with a target consumer in mind, and Stadia is no different. The idea of Stadia – being able to play Triple A titles over the internet on a device you already own – is unique in that it is both niche and appeals to the masses, a product that gamers (should) love and that brings gaming to people who otherwise may not be able to game. But Stadia needs to figure out how to reach out to two very different audiences and tailor its messaging to each, rather put out a lukewarm, one-size-fits-all message that appeals to neither.
Use the 2021 global chip shortage as an advantage – show consumers the value of being able to game during a time where demand for consoles and GPUs outweighs supply.
In global chip shortage crisis where Xbox and PS5 consoles are fresh out of stock everywhere and bots are buying up GPUs in a matter of seconds, playing the latest console and PC games means waiting months for hardware to go back in stock, or paying scalper prices. Stadia can show the world that it can offer a console- or PC-like gaming experience without having to buy new hardware. If there was a time to show gamers why they should “free themselves” from their PlayStations and Xboxes, it would be now.
Remember why Stadia was created – to bring innovation and accessibility to the gaming space.
When Stadia was announced, it aimed to disrupt the status quo when it came to how people bought and experienced games. Naturally, word on the street was Stadia would be the “Netflix of games.” But Google pushed back on this concept and said Stadia was meant to be like its competitors, Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus.
But time and time again, we see that a new product’s success isn’t dictated by its similarities to its competitors (take the iPhone, for example, and how it changed the way the average person used their phone without copying Blackberry, a primitive “smart” phone designed for business users). A product’s success comes from innovation, how it shows consumers it’s different (and better) than its competitors – and most importantly, is made for the consumer.
When Stadia was announced, people saw innovation in the gaming space as the ability to game on their own terms - to stream games they wanted to play for an affordable monthly price without being limited to a particular platform, much like how Netflix allows consumers to watch content from anywhere on virtually any device. If Stadia can deliver the Netflix experience to consumers in the gaming space, it would fulfill its original purpose - to radically change the way people buy and experience games – and utterings that “Stadia is dead” will be a thing of the past.
UPDATE: As of October 21, 2021, Ars Technica reported that Stadia would be converted into a “Google Cloud Gaming Platform,” a back-end service that enables developers to “deliver games directly to their players.” Google believes this new strategy “is the best path to building Stadia into a long-term, sustainable business.”