Since the dawn of time, the wretched console wars have plagued the gaming lands, pitting fanboy against fanboy in the eternal struggle for domination. "Enough!" Google now cries, as it seeks to put a stop to it once and for all by creating a single hardware godhead, parking it out back and letting everyone have a go playing Earthworm Jim on it. But as with all revolutionary paradigm shifts that could forever change the very face of an art form, it has failed to answer the most important question: At what cost?
No, literally. How are we going to pay for this?
This week, Google unveiled the Google Stadia, which despite sounding more like a 1995 budget sedan car, is already being heralded as the final console killer. That's because instead of having to buy games and hardware, Stadia will allow you to stream games through its dedicated servers. All you need is the controller and an internet connection, and you can theoretically play every game on any screen you point it at, from your tablet while stuck in traffic to the hospital TV (after you tried to play Assassin's Creed on your tablet while stuck in traffic).
And despite some early grumblings about inevitable technical limitations, Google does seem to have ushered in a brand new(ish) way to let us play games. But has it also found a new way to make us pay for playing games? Google is obviously selling people on a bargain gaming experience akin to the golden age of Netflix streaming, but would've been a lot more exciting if they hadn't announced it on the same day Disney and Fox took that gold and melted it into a chain to beat Netflix to death with.
So gamers should prepare for the inevitability that whatever monthly subscription Google will announce in the future won't be the only price to pay for this service. And we're not just talking about the hundreds of dollars you'll have to spend on internet costs trying to play Fortnite in 4K until your mom tells you to go to bed. We're talking about ads. Ads and data mining. This is Google, of the YouTube model of interrupting whatever you're watching every three minutes to see how you react to an ad about cheap car insurance. And if you think microtransactions and Day 1 paid DLC were annoying, wait until you try to immerse yourself into a fantasy elven kingdom while being blasted by a Doritos commercial during the loading screen -- unless you pay for the premium subscription, of course.
That would put the Stadia in a weird identity crisis, where it might offer the greatest revolution since the B button, but only to the kind people who can actually afford all the hardware it's trying to get rid of. Meanwhile, the people who can't afford hardware probably can't afford the Stadia's hidden bandwidth costs and tiered premium whatevers either, leaving them with a sponsored 240p experience akin to pausing an Atari 2600 to go look at a can of Coke for ten seconds. If that's the case, by trying to become everything for everyone, the Stadia might wind up not being attractive to a single demographic, except maybe the people who already self-pleasure to laundry commercials while waiting for the next Apex round.
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Some things that appear fun and wacky have dark secrets at their core.
It's time for these fictional characters to have some accountability.