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Is Google Stadia set for a 2020 comeback?

After talk of ‘revolutionising’ gaming in early 2019, Google’s shot at following in the footsteps of console kings Sony and Microsoft fell catastrophically short. But could 2020 be the year the Stadia turns its fortunes around?

Google well and truly stole the show at the Game Developers Conference last March. A few teasing twitter posts proved to be the pre-cursor to a barnstorming keynote from the tech meccas. And despite some seriously grandiose claims, industry bigshots and gamers in attendance more than humoured corporate exec Phil Harrison. Logistically speaking, there was always room for serious hiccups with the Stadia’s features and business model, but the promise of running high-end titles across all our home devices – including laptops, desktops, phones, and smart TVs – on little more than a decent internet connection was one worth getting a little carried away with.

Sat here almost a year later, we can’t say much other than ‘you got us’. Google’s ambitious and unorthodox foray into the AAA gaming market has, to put it mildly, flopped harder than the Sega Dreamcast (or the Game Boy Micro for you Zers).

Was the launch really that bad?

It’s not that people think the Stadia is completely hopeless. The consensus is that in its current state the thing is just way too overpriced and underdeveloped. For me, The Verge’s Sean Hollister hit the nail on the head when he described the Stadia as a ‘beta that Google is charging real money for’. Retailing at £120, the Stadia to this day still requires players to purchase full price games despite talking up a free Netflix style ‘all-you-can-eat’ subscription at the GDC 2019.

As the Stadia approached launch time around October, Google disclosed that ‘for the time being’ Stadia owners would have to plug a USB-C cable into the wireless controller to make it compatible with PCs and phones – a fundamental problem that has yet to be rectified.

In November, Google studio lead Jade Raymond made the worrying admission that it may be ‘several years’ before a ‘big game’ takes advantage of the cloud and Google’s bespoke servers, heaping insult on injury with the humdinger that just a meagre 12 games would be available at launch. As you’d expect pre-orders suffered as a result. Those who continued to show faith against their better judgement would soon wish they hadn’t.

A few days later (and just six days before launch) Google hit gamers with yet another disheartening Reddit post disclosing a whole bunch of faulty features and altering of key selling points including; a limited inventory of Google Assistant prompts, an inability to stream 4K or even HDR to Chrome PCs, a complete absence of instant play games using Steam Connect, Crowd Play, and YouTube, and a complete lack of functionality with Chromecast Ultras (until a firmware patch was rolled out later).

What’s changing with the Stadia in 2020?

Usually a dodgy launch is enough to kill a project stone dead in the gaming industry. In the last 12 months we’ve had three prime examples in AnthemCrackdown 3, and Fallout 76… 76 flopped hard enough for everyone tbh. The standard of games nowadays are so high across all areas of production that when studios run afoul of them it really sticks out.  When talking actual consoles, you’d expect gamers are even more unforgiving then. You’d be right.

Despite their shaky start, Google are hoping they can be the ones to break the mould and get gamers back onside with the Stadia in 2020. Earlier this month, Google revealed that it’s currently on track to bring more than 120 games to its cloud gaming service over the year, including an impressive 10 exclusives in just the first half of the year. Just for reference, there’s one existing exclusive on the whole Stadia library, so that’s some improvement.

Those who have persisted with the Stadia and resisted a quick eBay listing will be pleased to hear that several missing launch features are in the devs’ pipeline to be rolled out over the next three months or so. We’re talking 4K gaming, support for more Android phone models, wireless support for the controller, and far wider functionality with Google Assistant.

Too little too late?

I guess time will tell if Google can really get gamers back onside. Usually once the general rapport between developer and consumer is broken, the dev doesn’t stand much of a chance of shifting public opinion back in their favour.

What does bode well for Google is the fact that Cloud gaming has the potential to create teaming worlds on a scale unlike anything we’ve ever seen, not to mention the immense improvements to latency and refresh rates. At some point streaming will become king. But whether or not the Stadia will be the driving force behind that remains to be seen.

Personally, I think they may have just handed the initiative to Microsoft with the xCloud. Everyone wants to be the one to pioneer exciting new ideas, but sometimes waiting in the wings and learning from your competitor’s mistakes can be far more valuable. Microsoft have done just that.