Google still has no idea how to pitch Stadia

Yesterday’s Google Stadia Connect stream fell flat, and Google is going to have to find a way to do better if it wants anyone to stay interested in the service.

The event focused on games, and only games, which meant that Google showed a series of trailers for games we (mostly) already knew existed. That game you want to play? Why not buy it for a streaming service you can’t get yet!

Google is going to have a hard time selling people on Stadia this year, and this latest misstep isn’t going to make it any easier.

How do you pitch Google Stadia?

It’s a good question, and I don’t have a good answer. The value of Google Stadia isn’t in the games you’ll be playing on it, but how you’ll be playing them. And Google tried to explain those details in its first announcement event, but many of the details sounded like word salad and it was hard to understand exactly what the company is selling, and why people would want it over a traditional console. Getting someone to understand the pricing structure or even the broad details of Stadia isn’t an easy task.

The basic pitch is that you can enjoy games with amazing visuals, without lengthy downloads or patches, and without having to buy a PC or a console. You will be able to play every game you buy on Stadia on many of your existing devices — like your laptop, smart phone, or tablet — as long as you also have a fast internet connection. The product that Stadia is selling is freedom, more or less. The service, if it works as advertised, will do a lot of cool things.


Inside Google Stadia

Of course, you actually do need to buy a bundle to use the service at launch, so that kinda muddies things. The ability to just buy the service, or even play Stadia games with lower-quality visuals without having to pay for the service, is coming later.

It’s a difficult marketing challenge, because we’re so used to thinking of mandatory internet connections as a bad thing, something that limits how we can play our games, and now Google is trying to sell us that requirement as a service. It’s being presented as a good thing, a step forward. But it’s going to take some reprogramming to get players to go along with that, especially when the initial cost of entry is $129.99.

Stadia’s biggest enemy may be YouTube

And then there is the fact that many people couldn’t even stream yesterday’s presentation in standard resolutions without getting hiccups or stutters. Google owns YouTube, and that product has been around for years. If Google can’t even deliver streaming video at a lower quality than what it’s promising for Stadia, what hopes does it have to successfully stream games?

The counter-argument is that Stadia is being built from the ground up to do exactly that, and being a new product means that it doesn’t have the tech debt or compromises that often come with older, mainstream services like YouTube. But that sort of nuance is hard to get across when you’re exhibiting poor performance on one service while trying to sell people on the idea that this new service you’re asking them to pay for will be able to do it well. And people noticed.

Reassuring people that the service will work as advertised, and explaining how, as simply as possible, is a huge challenge. What Stadia is trying to do is complicated, and other companies have tried and failed to make game streaming work as a service. None of them have had the infrastructure and resources of Google however. But that’s a hard argument to make to players before they can try the service for themselves. That’s Stadia’s marketing challenge, and so far Google has been failing miserably at it.

Games are important — the service can’t survive without them — but focusing on the games right now doesn’t help players understand why they should pay for Stadia. Showing off footage from games that have already been announced without giving release dates for any of them on Stadia makes it seem like the service is already old news.

And for a service that charges a monthly fee, on top of charging you full price for games that will only work on Stadia, the game list just isn’t that great yet. It feels like a dangerous investment right now.

And that’s the sort of fear that Google needs to be fighting, especially when its competition is talking about launching streaming services that make a lot more sense for players. This is a great comment on the Google Stadia stream that shows why Microsoft is in such a better position than Google when it comes to streaming:

Microsoft’s option of having free streaming from your home console with the games you already own is much more interesting to me for example. I don’t need to buy a game on a platform with no history, and I also know that if the streaming platform dies, I still have a device I can play in offline mode for example. If Stadia stops existing, what are you getting? You’re also completely dependent on the platform. Worst case with Microsoft’s I have to get in a better signal strength area or just go home, with Google if the problem is on their end there isn’t anything else I can do.

Right now Google Stadia has a limited number of games with few solid release dates, and Google has a history of ending services that don’t gain the necessary traction. I can still play Xbox 360 games even though Microsoft doesn’t actively support the platform anymore, but Stadia goes away completely if Google leaves it behind.

Microsoft, and likely Sony’s, options for streaming services are going to be much stronger if they can offer streaming for titles that also work like traditional games without an internet connection. They both know how to play this game, but Google is struggling to communicate the effectiveness of its own offering.

Maybe getting customers isn’t the point yet

It’s possible that there isn’t a way to really sell people on Stadia yet, and the initial $129.99 bundle being offered this year is a way to limit the number of people on the service while Google tests performance and server load. Showing off games at this point may make Google look silly, or even ill-prepared for launch, but I’m not sure there’s anything better to be done until everyone can try the service for free in 2020.

That’s going to be the real challenge: Getting people to try it, and making sure they like what they see enough to continue paying. 2019 may be little more than a beta test, and Google is mostly focused on getting the name and idea out there more than worrying about paying customers. The company has the money and the ill to take the long road to success, if it chooses.

Google Stadia is an interesting service with a lot of potential upside, but focusing on non-exclusive games gives the impression that Google has nothing else to talk about. Meanwhile, discussion of the possible downsides dominate social media. There is a good way to promote Google Stadia, but yesterday’s presentation was not one of them.

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