As first spotted on The Verge, Google just announced that two titles will be added to the free games available in December to Stadia Pro subscribers, namely Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition and Farming Simulator 19. These two will join the two games previously announced: Samurai Shodown and Destiny 2. Now, for clarification, everyone that is actually using Stadia right now is a Stadia Pro subscriber as this is part of the Premiere Edition which just went live. Next year, Google will also offer a ‘base’ Stadia subscription which offers only a 1080p resolution (vs the ‘apparent’ 4K available to the Premiere people) and no Surround Sound but, notably, also does not include game discounts and recurring free games.
Given that the launch has been rocky at best and currently we see no way Stadia could realistically work in South Africa anytime soon given our internet/other technological barriers you may ask why we even care. Well, I don’t think it’s the technology that is Stadia’s main problem. Technology will eventually catch up. It always has… even here in SA. But… the free games lineup actually highlights the main gripe that many reviewers had testing out the system overseas: Stadia’s current subscription model where most games are not included in the monthly fee simply does not justify the cost.
While some games (like those mentioned at the outset) will be added for free on a regular basis to the premium tier, it’s so easy to look at Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition and Farming Simulator 19 and feel wildly unimpressed. Currently, Stadia just cannot be compared to similar offerings from PlayStation and especially Xbox. Sure, no console is needed and that will appeal to some. But even if the technology works fantastically (which it seemingly does in some places) it is still almost entirely dependent on outside factors (namely the quality of your internet). So you really need another hook to bring people to your new platform. Stadia’s current subscription model just won’t do that. In fact, it limits its audience even more.
I was really excited about the idea of Stadia and what it means for the future, and I still am to some degree. However, paying a premium monthly cost and only getting a smattering of disappointing free titles while you pay full-price for everything else cannot be the way forward. Especially when you are already dealing with a pretty substantial technological barrier to entry. And as so many people with much more insight than me have pointed out: unless Google updates their subscription model to something closer to Netflix, Stadia may be doomed to go the way of Google Glass. And it’s crazy to think that the reason for this demise may have little to do with the internet limitations we were all worried about when Stadia was first announced.
If for any reason you are reading this and have tried Stadia out and perhaps even purchased the two games that will be added next month, Google is apparently offering refunds if you’ve played under two hours. So I guess… that’s nice?