Google Stadia hasn’t really been in the mainstream spotlight since its high-profile launch in 2019. And outside of bad news and poor reviews, it mainly disappeared from most gaming sites and YouTube channels. But the players who’ve invested hundreds or even thousands of hours into Google’s video game streaming service don’t seem to care what others think. To them, Google Stadia is the perfect solution to a hobby that they feel has become too expensive, complicated, and restrictive.
For most of you reading this, Google Stadia is that cloud-based streaming video game service Google launched a few years ago which may or may not be around still. It’s likely not something you engage with beyond reading occasional stories on Kotaku and other sites about how poorly things are going for the streaming service. From high-ranking execs bailing to reports of Google entirely ditching the platform, Stadia hasn’t had a great few years in the press, and some gamers seem to outright hate it.
But after three rough years, lawsuits, and studio closures, Stadia is still alive and kicking, still getting new features and updates. One would assume that means some people are still paying for, and using, Google Stadia in 2022. And perhaps your first question might be…why?
The Stadia Super-Fans
Marco, a married father of a 16-month-old boy who lives in Europe, told me that every free minute he has is precious, and modern consoles just don’t work for his daily life.
“Whenever I start up my PS4 right now I always have updates,” Marco said. “Even though I use rest mode, I sometimes need to wait 15 minutes to play.” While that might not seem like a lot, for Marco it could be nearly half his free time that night. “The updating is hell,” he said.
But with Google Stadia, there are no updates for games, as that is all handled on Google’s servers. There are also no installations or large downloads. You just hit play and a few moments later the game is going and that’s that. And this speed and lack of downtime is a key factor for why so many of the players I spoke to keep playing Stadia.
“The tech is so good,” Deaddog52, a Stadia player with 1800 hours invested into the service, told Kotaku. “[Stadia] starts up quick and plays great. I often forget I’m not playing on local hardware.”
But for Deaddog52, it’s not just Stadia’s speed that has kept him coming back to play day after day. Another big factor is how much cheaper and flexible Stadia is for him and his family compared to consoles. After years of owning and playing multiple consoles, he grew tired of it all.
“When consoles come out they are expensive and hard to get,” said Deaddog52. “Then there are the disappointing consoles. Even a successful console only has about five years before it starts collecting dust. Then the storage space issues and frequent downloads started to irritate me, but what really bothered me was the loud noise my console fan would make.”
Deaddog52 gave up on gaming for a few years, until a friend showed him Stadia shortly after its launch. Impressed, he became excited to play games all over again. And while he knows that the quality of Stadia isn’t quite as good as that of a powerful PC or new “next-gen” console, for him the low price and ease of use more than make up for it.
“On top of no cost and no maintenance, I can play on any screen,” said Deaddog52. “I will literally have three streams going at the same time (my two kids and me) and have no issues. To have that same luxury [without Stadia] I would have to spend $US1500 ($2,082) on hardware with consoles.”
Deaddog52, like others I spoke to, has basically not touched a console like the Nintendo Switch or PS4 since joining Stadia. And for some, the idea of going back to traditional gaming worries them. Should Stadia be shuttered, some did suggest they might try other streaming options, like Game Pass or Amazon Luna, while others said they would reluctantly return to consoles or PC. But some players feel too connected to the Stadia ecosystem and the freedom it offers, letting them play anywhere via the internet and their phone or tablet.
“To be honest: there is nothing better for me than Stadia right now,” said Marco.
Ravenlock, another user who has been a Stadia customer since day one, also told me that while its library isn’t the best, the flexibility streaming offers is hard to beat.
“I can and do get my Elder Scrolls Online or Destiny 2 dailies done on any screen, anytime, without worrying about having huge games installed in a bunch of places,” said Ravenlock. “My whole Stadia library is as portable as my phone, my tablet, my Chromecast, whatever I want to toss in my bag”
Google’s History Of Destruction
The elephant in the room when talking about anything Google-related is of course the tech giant’s long history of shutting down or otherwise ending apps and services, only to replace them with different apps which it will also, eventually, shut down. Yet when I asked these Stadia super-fans if they were worried about Google pulling the plug on the streaming service, none of them seemed concerned at all. Many held onto the idea that Google rarely shuts down paid services.
“They’ve very rarely killed projects people were actively paying for,” said Ravenlock, “And they have plenty of announced partnerships and plans going forward at least for the next year or so that would make shutting it down even more awkward and unpleasant for them than it would already be.”
This was a sentiment that nearly every Stadia player I spoke to shared: Google won’t shut down Stadia because people pay for it and it’s popular. To be clear: Google has shut down popular paid services and apps, like Google Play Music, in the past. Still, I spoke to over half a dozen people and all of them were confident that Stadia wasn’t going anywhere, even as Google seems to downplay the service’s future. I got the impression some of them were too invested in Stadia to even dream of a future without it.
If you’ve ever dived into the comments on a negative Stadia story or tweet, you’ve likely encountered some Stadia super-fans who aggressively defend the service and its games against anything they perceive as attacks. And in my conversations with Stadia users, I encountered some of this. A few were worried I’d twist their words to fit my “agenda,” and others argued that gaming sites and most gamers are “biased” against Stadia.
“I think a lot of [the press] was always biased and negative about Stadia since the start,” said Marco. “Nobody ever really tried to explain what Stadia is. Instead, [they] just focused on the things that went wrong. But when things are good, nobody is there. PlayStation launches two games in PS Plus and they write about it. Stadia launches seven games in Pro and not even one [outlet] writes about it.”
Others pointed out that sites like IGN and popular YouTubers never mention Stadia when listing what platforms games are coming out on, or take the time to review Stadia versions of games upon their release. They argue this is an example of how the press and influencers have tried to paint Stadia in a bad light. (The reality is that most sites, including Kotaku, don’t have the staff and resources needed to create ongoing, dedicated coverage of a comparatively niche platform like Stadia.)
Perfect For Them
However, the biggest takeaway from my time speaking to all these various Google Stadia users wasn’t that they’re angry or bitter. It wasn’t that they felt ignored or treated poorly. I observed little doom or gloom about the service’s future, or what its streaming model might mean for digital ownership moving forward. Instead, most were just happy the service was still around and even existed in the first place, as it felt like the perfect way for them to play games in 2022.
They didn’t want to get into debates about the viability of streaming or about which platform was better. No, they just wanted to talk about all the games they were playing. It’s easy to assume that the only people left playing Stadia are weirdos or people who don’t play much, but it’s not hard to normal players who’ve clocked thousands of hours into the service.
At this point, they know that Google’s video game streaming platform isn’t going to change the world. But they don’t care. As long as they get to keep playing all their favourite games on any internet-connected device without downloads or other downtime, they’re happy to keep investing in Stadia.
“I’m still playing because I like the service,” said Ravenlock. “Not because I’m expecting it to conquer the world.”