Earlier this month Google officially revealed some important information about Stadia to the world, not the least of which was when people would finally get their hands on it and be able to stream some games. Another piece of important information was the cost of this new gaming platform. What would consumers be required to give up monetarily in order to play games on Stadia?
The answer to that is $9.99. Except it's also not the answer. See, from a recurring cost standpoint this is exactly what customers can expect to pay each and every month, unless they choose to augment their subscription with the optional add-ons - those being the publisher-specific subscriptions that will be coming to the platform, the first of which seems to be Ubisoft's recently-announced Uplay+.
There's also the upfront cost to consider. While no one probably expected to be able to jump right into Stadia without having to buy some piece of hardware, which in this case is the controller, surely there were plenty of people that thought they would be able to purchase the controller and the controller alone and then simply pay for the service on top of it.
That isn't the case. Not for anyone who wants to play games on Stadia from launch day. Google states that it will be a requirement for consumers to buy the Founder's Edition bundle if they want to access Stadia when it launches in November. This is for the foreseeable future as Google makes no mention of when this entry barrier will disappear, or when Stadia Base will pop up.
All that's been confirmed at this point is that Stadia Base is coming and that it will be available sometime in 2020. That's all well and good but what about the people that wanted to pay for Stadia Pro and use their existing Chromecast Ultra devices? These customers theoretically should be able to buy just the Stadia controller and then pay for Stadia Pro and log right in.
Yes, they'd be giving up the three months of Stadia Pro for free, and they wouldn't be getting things like the exclusive Stadia name before other users, or the Destiny 2 experience or Night Blue controller which is of course limited edition, so there is value there in those things for some.
Still A Great Value
Let's be clear. The Stadia Founder's Edition Bundle is great and there are no doubt lots of consumers who were interested in Stadia that have jumped at the chance to get it. It makes perfect sense for this to be an optional buying choice because there are many people who don't own a Chromecast Ultra and may want the free months of Stadia Pro.
Google is essentially giving you the first three months for free, too, in addition to cutting $10 off the Chromecast Ultra price point which can be found on Amazon for $70. There's no doubt the Founder's Edition Bundle is a great value, but only for people who want the additional freebies and may not already own the Chromecast Ultra that you need in order to play on the TV.
There's also the issue of those who may just want to access Stadia from a different computer or laptop, or the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3a. For these devices the Chromecast Ultra isn't required, only the controller is needed. In these scenarios, anyone buying the Founder's Edition Bundle that doesn't intend to play on the TV or care about the freebies is basically buying something that they don't really need.
What About The Buddy Pass?
Another included freebie, the Buddy Pass, is intended to allow Founder's Edition buyers to gift Stadia Pro to a friend, allowing them to access it for free for three months as well so they can play together.
Google's Stadia landing page notes, however, that this will be delivered "within" six months of the delivery of the Founder's bundle which means the intended Buddy Pass friend and the original buyer likely won't be able to play together for up to six months.
That is, unless that other friend buys a Founder's Edition bundle of their own, which defeats the purpose of the Buddy Pass altogether, or unless Google actually delivers the Buddy Pass in a timely manner after the Founder's Edition bundles begin to arrive on doorsteps.
Potential Server Overload?
Google probably has reasons for making these decisions. Maybe it wants more people to buy into the Founder's Edition. Maybe it wants to sell more Chromecast Ultras and this is a way for it to do that. Maybe it simply wants to limit the amount of people on Stadia at the "official launch" so it doesn't overload the servers.
Lord knows what a disaster it can be for companies if the servers crash on launch day for a new game, and one only needs to look at the launch of Diablo 3 as a perfect example as the game was nigh unplayable for close to a day for many players due to server issues.
Blizzard simply wasn't prepared for the amount of people that would try to login and play the game the moment it went live on day one, and maybe Google is trying to avoid something similar. If that's the case it's certainly understandable, but if that is the case then it would better serve potential users to be upfront about the fact that it wants to stagger bringing people online to offset this problem.
This is all speculative, of course. There's nothing to suggest that Google has any sort of issues with its Stadia servers that would cause them to crack under pressure. Though the immense load they could be put under from too many people all trying to stream games in 4K at the same time could certainly put a damper on things, Google may have already thought of this and perhaps it's worked that out.
That still doesn't get rid of the feeling that the Founder's Edition Bundle feels like a forced purchase. There doesn't seem to be any reason why users who already have a Chromecast Ultra can't just buy the Stadia controller and sign up for the $10 a month for Stadia Pro, and begin playing games. The controllers are already available in the Google Store too, so it's not a matter of inventory on the controllers themselves.
Even if Google didn't intend for its access requirements to build up sales, there's still the possibility that Founder's Edition bundles could run out. Google hasn't been shy about letting people know that the Founder's Edition was available only in limited quantities. It does so in its Stadia video that describes the benefits of the bundle. It also mentioned it during the live stream of Stadia Connect. It's even reiterating the fact on Twitter.
Google is making sure that consumers don't forget that the Founder's Edition is limited, thus creating the illusion that there isn't going to be enough supply to meet demand.
If there isn't enough supply though and the demand actually turns out to be quite high, much higher than what's available for the bundles, then this is essentially locking out tons of potential subscribers who would pay the monthly fee and buy a controller (or two or three) so that they can play immediately, which would only mean more money for Google and more subscribers for the service.
Stadia is likely to be an excellent service that if nothing else will help push the industry to improve and innovate. Hopefully that isn't the case and Stadia is more than that, flourishing and becoming its own fleshed out platform to continue giving gamers choices on how and where to play the games they love. To do that though, Google will need to make it available to more people first, including those who aren't Stadia Founders.