Google's new Stadia service is still technically in early access, but it's giving away free games that not everyone can get, creating a kind of gated-off exclusivity aimed at appeasing its userbase at the detriment of possible subscribers.
Stadia is kind of confusing. Right now the service is exclusive to those who bought the $129 premium editions. You can't just buy a $10 a month Stadia Pro membership and call it a day, nor can you play the upcoming free Stadia version. Both simply aren't out yet. Your only option is to buy the expensive bundle or sit and wait until the club opens up and lets you in. This is a tremendously disadvantageous business model for any kind of subscription service that's predicated on widespread accessibility and ease-of-use.
Moreover, those who bought into the Founder's and Premiere Editions also get access to monthly free games. The games rotate out though, just like Xbox LIVE and PlayStation Plus games, so you have to get them while they're still free. So anyone who purchases Stadia on February 1 doesn't get access to last month's free games (Rise of the Tomb Raider and Samurai Shodown). This is pretty rough for someone who bought the early access platform for $129, and annoying for those who just want to jump in and try the service without making a big commitment.
This trend continues in February with two more free games: Metro Exodus and indie game Gylt.
Monthly free games aren't a bad tactic. It's helped supplement PS Plus and Xbox LIVE for a long, long time, and has extremely boosted the Epic Game Store's numbers. Everyone likes free.
But these Stadia Pro games are given as a make-up gift or a kind of emolument to current backers, who seem to be frustrated with the service. Will we see these kinds of AAA games given out with the $10 Stadia Pro subscription? Paying $10 to access Metro Exodus seems like a good deal, even if it's just for a month. Then again, Xbox Game Pass offers the same thing with access to over 100+ games to boot...so it's not out of the norm.
The main point is this: Stadia is at a weird point right now and Google doesn't know how to operate its business model. It's like they jumped the gun on the free games offering--you want to do free games after people buy into your service en masse, not before, because then they're missing out on something. And missing out is the death knell to any subscription.
The fear of missing out can help propel any service or live game (just look at Destiny 2), but actually having consumers miss out and be gated off? That's a recipe for disaster.
Google Stadia has all the potential to be something amazing. Being able to play a game instantly without any downloads is powerful and it could change the games industry forever. Google just needs to align things properly, open up the gates, and make sure its benefits are just as widely accessible as its paid service is.
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