It’s official: the launch of Google Stadia, Google’s streaming video game platform, was a total mess. The tech didn’t quite work as it should have at launch; many gamers complained of not being able to stream games in 4k despite having the correct connection strength, while others bemoaned the lack of launch games and a weird issue whereby those who backed the Founders’ Edition weren’t able to access the service at launch.
Stadia simply hasn’t performed as Google wanted it to, and there are likely to be a number of reasons for that. First, the launch lineup simply wasn’t there. Stadia launched with a host of games people had already played on consoles, as well as one or two unremarkable originals which would make nice PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold extras but won’t sell a system by themselves. Second, the tech wasn’t ready for primetime, and third, even if it was, many don’t have the required connection speed.
So, what will Microsoft and Sony do to respond to this fiasco? It’s no secret that the former company is testing its xCloud service and wants to be a pioneer in the world of cloud gaming, while Sony is going in on its PlayStation Now service and plans to maintain it into the PS5 era. Both companies will undoubtedly be looking at Stadia and wondering what kind of lessons they can learn from its rocky launch. There are several ways they could respond.
First, both Sony and Microsoft could look at the failure of Stadia and decide to drop their streaming plans. This isn’t likely; cloud gaming could make ultra-high quality gaming available to those who can’t quite afford top-of-the-range hardware, so it’s a very attractive option for both companies. Still, if Stadia can’t manage it, Sony and Microsoft could decide to simply hedge their bets and back off. This is the least likely option, but it’s possible.
The second way the two companies could respond is to go in harder. With the failure of Stadia, a gap has been left in the market which needs to be filled. Streaming and cloud gaming aren’t likely to go away anytime soon; as loading times get more intense and games grow in size, streaming presents itself as a very attractive alternative to loaded hard drives and endless load times. Sony and Microsoft could double down on their streaming efforts to fill the void left by Stadia.
Indeed, this seems like the most obvious way that both companies can capitalise on Google’s failure. It seems that the tech giant just doesn’t quite understand gaming yet. That’s to be expected; Stadia is its first foray into the gaming industry, while Sony and Microsoft are old hands who have been working in this world for many years. There’s a reason the two companies are still sticking to conventional hardware for now; they’re probably planning to ramp up their streaming plans once the PS5 and Xbox Series X bases have been established.
Right now, PlayStation Now isn’t really a viable rival to Stadia. Despite Stadia’s purported inability to reach 4k and 60fps on every game, PlayStation Now can barely manage 1080p. That’s simply unacceptable in a world where gaming is routinely done in 4k. Microsoft isn’t offering any kind of streaming alternative at the moment; Project xCloud is in beta, and it’s not widely available to consumers yet. When it is, it might be a game-changer.
There’s one major dark horse player we haven’t mentioned yet: Nintendo. Though it’s extremely unlikely that Nintendo will want to pursue streaming tech for its games – at least right now – there’s every chance that it will strongly inform both Sony and Microsoft’s business direction. The Switch is very much billing itself as a traditional console experience; though it has some modern features, it’s mostly about being able to simply pick it up and play it, either in handheld or docked mode.
That means that Sony and Microsoft will likely want to corner the streaming market even more aggressively. The Switch probably won’t be offering this functionality in the near future, although it would be an excellent solution to some of the console’s more pressing graphical shortcomings. With Nintendo hunkering down in the trad console market, Sony and Microsoft aiming for streaming makes perfect sense; they’ll want to occupy a different niche to the Japanese gaming legend.
It’s hard to argue with the idea that streaming is the future of gaming. Many games now routinely reach upwards of 70-80GB in size, and loading times are becoming ridiculous on all but the most high-end PCs and console hardware. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are both looking like absolutely monstrous machines, but streaming would unlock their potential even further and allow them to shine far beyond their own hardware capabilities. Expect this war to intensify before it subsides.