Cloud gaming video game controller (Shutterstock/Martial Red)
Google is leading the way in the nascent business of streaming games through the internet, announcing pricing and a raft of new titles for its Stadia service ahead of its competitors.
Stadia, which the Alphabet Inc. unit unveiled in March, will launch in November with titles from major game developers including Ubisoft Entertainment SA and Bungie Inc. Access to Stadia’s library of games will cost $9.99 a month, while a free version will let people buy games outright and play them through the system.
The price point sets a standard that other forthcoming streaming services will be judged by. Microsoft Corp. and Sony Inc. have teamed up to build their own system, but haven’t said how much it will cost. Nor has Apple Inc., which also announced its Arcade streaming service in March. Microsoft, Google’s main rival, hasn’t said when its service will launch, but public tests will begin this year.
Technological developments that allow people to play high-quality games over the internet without buying an expensive console or computer are shaking up gaming by giving the tech giants a new entry point to the $180 billion industry. Instead of the usual model of purchasing games individually for as much as $80, Google, Microsoft and Apple are beginning to outline a future where Netflix-like monthly subscriptions start being the norm.
With titles like Destiny 2 and Ghost Recon, Google is hoping hardcore gamers -- those who spend dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars on gaming -- will be enticed to sign up for Stadia. The company is offering a $130 "founder’s edition" which comes with a unique controller to anyone who pre-orders the service.
It may be a hard sell.
“We view it as unlikely that hardcore gamers -- who have a strong preference for owning content and storing it locally -- will adopt streaming until the service is much more mature and proven,” Matthew Kanterman, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, wrote in a note.
Another obstacle could be that people who already own some of the titles on Stadia will have to buy them again through Google to play them on the service. It’s also only available through Chrome or on Google devices, meaning iPhone owners won’t be able to take advantage of playing Stadia on their phones. The team is working to bring it to more phones eventually, a spokesman said.
Google’s biggest advantage is its global network of lightning-fast internet cables and data centers. They allow the company to run games in the cloud and stream them out to peoples’ computers, TVs and phones. Only Amazon, Microsoft and China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. have systems that are comparable.
But that only works if individual gamers have good internet connections themselves. Phil Harrison, an industry veteran who now runs Google’s gaming division, said the company has developed technology to make streaming work even with middling connections. Multiplayer -- which requires even more bandwidth -- will be as fast as single player, a spokesman said.
“We will surprise people with how low the bandwidth requirements are,” Harrison said. Hardcore gamers generally already have strong connections, and those are the people Google is going for first, Harrison said. “We want to get to as many people as possible, but it’s not possible to reach everyone at the same time, so we start with the more core enthusiast gamers.”