I hope Google Stadia crashes and burns. Hard.
For those of you not in the know, Stadia is Google’s cloud-based gaming platform. The idea is that you can take advantage of their super-powerful computers sequestered in datacenters all over the globe to stream digital delights to your TV or computer. No need for a console or high end dedicated gaming PC; as long as it can run Chrome, or is a modern Chromecast, it’ll be able to run Stadia.
There are a lot of genuine technical problems with the model. I beta-tested Stadia, and even on my desktop PC I couldn’t get consistent frame rates in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Never mind that I live less than three miles from one of their datacenters; the game would regularly hang for seconds at a time, and even when it wasn’t acting super glitchy the control lag was enough to make it feel floaty and disconnected. A large portion of the US still doesn’t have usable high-bandwidth Internet connectivity, making this sort of thing a non-starter for most rural areas.
But, no, that’s not why I want it to fail. I want it to fail because Stadia is the culmination of the “you don’t actually own the content” trend that’s been getting stronger and stronger over the years. Not only do you not own the game, you don’t even have access to the hardware the game’s running on. Once Google inevitably shuts Stadia down–and for those of you who fervently believe that this time, this time, Google won’t turn down a service prematurely: have I got a bridge in New York to sell you!–every game you “purchased” for Stadia will evaporate, turned to digital dust, never to be experienced again.
I’ve talked a bit about the Memory Hole here before. Sony and Microsoft and even Nintendo continue to move further and further away from physical media, from the ability to actually hold the thing you bought. One could make an argument that this console generation has never really had that ability, thanks to the ubiquitous nature of Day One patches; no one ever actually plays the game that’s on the disc any more, because the moment you pop it in your console downloads some 10 gigabyte patch to fix all the crap they didn’t have time to finish before the game got shipped off to mastering. I have extensive PS3 and PS4 digital libraries, and I know for a fact that some day, in the not too distant future, all of those games will simply no longer be available to me.
At least, some of them. Thanks to the hard work of emulator developers and pirates, some (but not all) of the digital storefronts have been cracked a bit, so that people can actually archive these games before they’re sacrificed to oblivion. The WiiWare store is done and dusted, which means that the excellent Rebirth series of Konami remake/reboots would be lost to the mists of time… except that pirates managed to crack it all and make them available for download. Yeah, you can tell me that we don’t have the right to those games after their market has been taken down… but I don’t care. I’m going to value preservation over corporate-mandated obsolescence every time.
It’s not just defunct systems that have this problem. Mojang, the Microsoft subsidiary that develops Minecraft, sent out a notice last week that their collaboration with Telltale Games, Minecraft: Story Mode, was going to start disappearing at the end of June. It’s not just going to become impossible to buy, which is one thing; it’s actually going to be removed from people’s libraries. The game will become an un-game, never to have existed.
At least with my PS3 I can pull it off the network and play all of the games I’ve bought digitally, until the hardware finally fails. With Google Stadia, you can’t even do that. They control the horizontal and the vertical, the method of pay and the method of play. You are explicitly paying for ephemera when you buy a game on a cloud service, and I don’t like it one bit. One bit at all.
(Here’s where I politely remind you that GOG.com, which is unfortunately part of a company that makes some pretty terrible social and business decisions at times, at least has DRM-free direct downloads for any and all games you buy from them. As long as you have a backup scheme, you can actually keep these games. What a pleasant change.)
Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done about this ephemeralization. Physical copies are, by and large, a mental sop more than an actual solution; most games “log in” to master servers nowadays even if they’re single-player only. And the trend only seems to be getting worse.
Time to break out the SNES, I guess?