How Google can sell Stadia during quarantine time
I think it’s fair to say that Stadia is struggling. It had a troubled launch, and still lacks games and features that are common to other platforms. I expected it to struggle along and then get canceled like so many other Google ventures before it.
But the COVID-19 outbreak changes my calculations. Worldwide, everyone is stuck inside. Businesses are closing up shop and people are being laid off. Families have every child at home, including some college students home from their canceled spring semester with no job prospects in sight. No one knows for sure how long social distancing policies will remain in place. There are a lot of people stuck indoors who need affordable distractions.
This is where Stadia can carve out a place for themselves in the gaming industry.
Recalibrate their marketing
Game streaming services have always targeted the wrong kind of gamer. They target the traditional, hardcore gaming audience, all of whom already own consoles and gaming PCs. We (I count myself amongst this number) don’t need streaming game services, and they pale in comparison to what we already own.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: currently, a decent gaming PC or console will whoop Stadia’s ass. The experience is just better. That is not and never has been in question, except perhaps in Google marketing department boardrooms. Google will not convince people who already own PlayStations and Xboxes to abandon them for Stadia. It just won’t happen.
Rather, Stadia should advertise itself in one of two ways. First, Stadia should push itself as an accompaniment, not a replacement for an existing gaming platform like a gaming PC or a console. Suddenly, a home that got by just fine on a single console now has everyone at home vying for the couch and the controller. You can’t go outside. You can’t go hang out at a friend’s house. That is a tough situation. Couch multiplayer can alleviate the situation a bit, but not entirely.
Google should promote Stadia as a solution to this problem. Any cheap HDTV can be a gaming box with a Chromecast Ultra. Google has made some serious moves in education, giving away millions of Chromebooks to kids. Every single one of them should be viable Stadia machines.
Second, Stadia should promote itself to casual audiences. The Wii crushed its competition when it did this in the mid-2000s. Gaming’s price of entry can be intimidating for someone who isn’t used to spending hundreds of dollars on gaming equipment. Folks who might not be willing take the plunge on more expensive hardware might give Stadia a try for $129. Compared to Sony and Microsoft’s mid-generation upgrade confusion and the complexity of building a gaming PC, Stadia offers a single, simple choice.
Also creatives who would like to game, but burned their bank accounts on Macbooks and iMacs are a prime target for Stadia service. Apple computers simply cannot run most AAA games. They don’t have the grunt and installing Windows on a Mac can be daunting (and, if purchased legally, almost as expensive as buying a Stadia). Stadia can turn any Mac computer with a fast internet connection into a gaming PC.
These are the people who might buy a Stadia, not the well-outfitted hardcore gamers that Google has currently been targeting. Let me repeat that, Google: WE DON’T NEED YOU. STOP TALKING TO US. Stop trying to sell sand to people who paid to live on a beach. Sell to people who live inland and would like to visit the beach every once in a while.
For the love of god, get more games
The Stadia game selection is pitiful. At the time of writing, there are 36 unique titles available for purchase on the Stadia platform. This isn’t counting deluxe versions, etc. as separate games. The meager number is depressing.
That is embarrassing. Whoever let an entire gaming service roll out with fewer games than I have last-gen game discs in my living room should be launched into space with a high-speed catapult (speaking of which, Stadia should have Kerbal Space Program).
A new gaming platform needs to launch with killer apps. The original Xbox had Halo. The original PlayStation had Final Fantasy VII. The NES had Super Mario Bros. Stadia launched with… Gylt? A neat idea but at a 68 on Metacritic, hardly a must play. We can’t turn back time and fix this launch and any exclusive that starts development today won’t be out for a year or more. So Google needs to harvest the best of what’s currently available now to provide entertainment to the quarantined masses.
Stadia doesn’t need any more AAA hardcore games. It’s cute that they have Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Red Dead Redemption 2 and even the just-released and totally awesome Doom Eternal. But remember what I said about hardcore gamers? We shouldn’t be the target audience. There is no one who desperately wants to play Destiny 2 or AC:O and hasn’t already via their platform of choice.
Stadia needs Minecraft and Roblox for the kids stuck at home with school canceled. It needs every walking simulator from Firewatch to The Walking Dead to Life Is Strange for casual gamers who dig on narrative, cinematic experiences. Oxenfree and Papers, Please too, while you’re at it. If someone can give me a good reason why you can’t play Tetris Effect on Stadia, I’d love to hear it.
Everyone is at home, let them use the service for free, and add value
The free service needs to launch right the hell now. People are broke and won’t be investing in gaming computers or consoles for the foreseeable future, which means Stadia has an opening. Free Stadia service means that anyone can log in and start playing in minutes for zero dollars. This is the real promise of streaming. Offer a walking simulator and a puzzle game for free. Give a casual audience a reason to explore the service. And offer cheap indies that casual players might impulse buy and not $60 AAA titles that raise the question of “Well, what happens to the games if the service folds?”
Stadia Pro memberships should provide access to the entire Stadia game library for free. I’ve had a Stadia Pro membership for three months, and while I get a few free games, the main attraction seems to be discounts on titles in their meager game library. Paying money to pay more money is a pretty weak sell. Paying money to get access to every title available on the service? That’s something that people will consider, especially if there’s no commitment.
And provide cross play for all multiplayer games. Just do it. There’s no excuse to not to in 2020.
Get ready to lose money, Google
If this all seems like a tall order for a service that’s already struggling, that’s because it is. Google should’ve laid out a vast array of planning, marketing, and infrastructure over the course of years before Stadia’s launch. Now it needs to make up a lot of lost ground in a short amount of time. Will doing all of the things I suggested lead to Google taking a pretty significant loss on the Stadia service? Yep. Welcome to the video game market. Years of losses are required to attain a foothold.
Google undertook a tech-sector-style soft launch when the video game market demands that platforms hard launch with absolutely everything - good hardware, infrastructure for online play, developer buy-in, killer apps, filler games, and the big titles that everyone else gets. Stadia launched with a fraction of that. It brought a Silicon Valley knife to a video game market gun fight. But global events have provided Stadia a chance, and if it wants to survive, it has no choice but to take it.