In announcing Stadia this March, Google executives sold their streamed-gaming ambitions as a way to revolutionize the gaming business and the community surrounding it. With today’s announcement of Stadia’s pricing and business model, though, the company seems to be stuck in a decidedly old-fashioned mode that doesn’t really exploit streaming’s biggest benefits.
It starts with the initial hardware purchase requirements. A big part of Google’s sales pitch for Stadia was the fact that the service would work on any computer with a Web browser, as well as generic mobile phones and tablets, using non-proprietary USB controllers. Requiring early adopters to purchase $129 worth of Chromecast Ultra and Stadia Controller hardware cuts against that “open to anyone” messaging. In a world where an Xbox One with a bundled game routinely sells for under $250, asking for a $129 hardware commitment to use Stadia’s platform doesn’t seem especially revolutionary.
Yes, that “Founder’s Edition” purchase requirement (and the attendant $9.99 Pro-tier monthly subscription) will go away sometime in 2020—likely after Google has confirmed its game streaming servers can work at scale. But by then Google will have already lost the initial impact it could have had with a launch to billions of Chrome users. Requiring mobile users to have a Google Pixel 3/3a phone similarly deadens the market impact of Stadia’s planned November rollout.