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If this is how Google treats early adopters, Stadia is in trouble
It’s been well over two months since Google Stadia “atoms” started arriving at the doorsteps of Founder’s Edition purchasers around the world, but the “bits” still appear to be lagging behind. For all the promises that Stadia will get better and implement new features, Founders (myself included) have been largely left in the dark for the past two months.
Case in point, the official Stadia subreddit is currently dominated by a post titled “Stadia has officially gone 40 days without a new game announcement/release, feature update, or real community update. It has been out for 69 days. It’s time we demand better.”
And they’re right. The subreddit has largely been a haven for fans of Google’s cloud gaming service, but this particular post has struck a chord with the community. It’s the most upvoted post in the short history of the subreddit, and the comments are full of disgruntled Stadia early adopters that are fearful for the platform’s future.
The cold shoulder
Cloud gaming has been plagued by usability issues since its inception, but Stadia seemed poised to fix all of that. Gaming in 4K on any screen in your house with minimal lag and frictionless access with no downloads or updates sounded like a glimpse of the future, but it’s a future that still hasn’t come to pass.
Not only are most of the cool features toted during pre-launch events still AWOL, Founders are also still waiting for even basic features to drop. The platform is only available on the few screens it had at launch, with no news of expanding support to more Android devices, let alone iOS. You can’t even share a screenshot taken with the dedicated button on the controller, for crying out loud.
When it comes to keeping its most loyal users excited and informed, Google Stadia has failed spectacularly.
Founders are upset by the lack of feature updates, but what’s really concerning is the lack of transparency from the Stadia team themselves. Those most excited to watch the future of gaming unfold before their eyes were left out in the cold, wondering “is this it?”
Here’s a quick recap of the past few months to give you an idea of how muddled the communication from the Stadia team has been. When Stadia first launched, there were daily community announcements on the official forum detailing what was going on behind the scenes, which gave the sense that this new and exciting platform was moving fast. Then, these were changed to weekly announcements, followed by bi-weekly announcements, the last of which was December 20.
The strategy shifted to monthly Stadia Savepoint posts on the official Google blog. The first of these went live in mid-December, and it was really just a rehash of announcements made earlier in the month. To really stay up to date, you have to read the “This Week on Stadia” posts on the community forum blog, which despite the headline are posted somewhere between bi-weekly and monthly.
It's not even clear that the Stadia PR team knows what's going on with the platform.
After nearly a month with no news whatsoever (it was the holiday season to be fair), the team returned to the community forums once again for a big announcement: 120 games coming in 2020, plus a roadmap for features planned in Q1. One of those features is 4K support on the web, which you might remember as one of the main selling points of the paid Stadia Pro subscription announced back in March 2019.
As for those 120 games, your guess is as good as anyone’s as to what they are or when they’re coming. The last game to be added to Stadia was Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint on December 18, with no news on what the next game will be. In an age where new games are announced years in advance, it shouldn’t be hard to pin down a date for what will likely end up being ports of two- or three-year-old games.
Read also: Google Stadia games: Here’s the full list
For its part, the Stadia team has a stickied an official comment on the aforementioned Reddit thread (score hidden), though it’s nothing more than a “we hear you” canned response. A few hours after the thread started to gain traction, 9to5Google (perhaps too) conveniently announced some good news for Founders with the upcoming Stadia Pro games for February. This was later echoed in a second Stadia Savepoint post, as well as the first “This Week on Stadia” update in over a month.
With these two new titles added, seven of the 26 games available on the platform have now been included in the subscription service.
The clock is ticking
I’ve been bullish on cloud gaming and Stadia from the start, and to be honest, my experience with the platform has been nothing short of miraculous. My 100Mbps home connection is enough to enjoy the highest quality without any perceptible input latency.
But the way things are going, there’s just no reason to stick with Stadia Pro once the three-month subscription included in the Founder’s Edition ends in a few weeks. The main benefit of 4K 60fps just isn’t there for most titles and the Stadia Pro discounts have petered off with the dearth of new games to purchase.
The thing is, I don’t even know what happens if I don’t renew Stadia Pro. Obviously I lose access to certain features and the library of Stadia Pro games, but with no news on the free version of Stadia (dubbed Stadia Base) available, will I be able to access the service at all? Unless Google extends the
beta early access Founders-only period, it may be lights off entirely.
If the majority of Stadia Pro’s subscriber base abandons ship, Google’s cloud gaming gambit may quickly begin to lose favor with decision-makers at the very top. And we all know what happens to underperforming products at Google.
If this is how Google handles paid subscribers, how will it treat free Stadia users?
Granted, the free version of Stadia promised for 2020 could be a game-changer for widespread adoption. Stadia Pro is getting all of the attention now because it’s the only way to play, but streaming games at 1080p 60fps for no service fee is a much better value for those without a gaming PC or console.
When (or maybe if) we do get to that point, the Stadia team will need to improve its communication strategy. Stadia founders paid $130 to be a part of what is essentially a glorified beta, while perfectly valid criticisms led many others to cancel their pre-orders all together. Instead of being treated like true ambassadors for the platform, they’ve been met with a chilling radio silence that doesn’t instill confidence in the future of the service.
If Google is really committed to making Stadia work, it’s time to show it.