Last week, amidst a slew of other impressive products, Amazon announced a new gaming service, Luna, that competes directly with Google Stadia. But before you count Google out of the game streaming war, it’s important to remember that there’s one thing Stadia has that neither Xbox Game Pass nor Amazon Luna can offer — ownership.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is threading the needle of truth.
First, Xbox Game Pass does allow ownership, as you can buy basically any game on Game Pass for a discounted amount. When you do this, you own the game forever, whether you subscribe to Game Pass or not. To their point, currently you can not stream those purchased games over the internet via Microsoft’s game streaming tech they just released. I would say a “yet” might be appropriate to add to the end of that last sentence, as would an asterisk, because if you have an Xbox One, you can stream those owned games to your phone via the Game Pass app (it streams from your Xbox, not the cloud though).
Second, “owning” games on Stadia has always been a fishy statement to me. Think about what owning a piece of media means to you and then consider what “owning” a game on Stadia means. You probably envision either owning the movie/music/game on physical media, or at least owning the bits on your hard drive that you can do whatever you want with.
You likely don’t mean “I get a license to play the game for as long as Google keeps it available.” That’s what ownership on Stadia is right now. You pay $60 for a game, you can stream it from Stadia, but if the game ever gets removed from Stadia for some reason, then you can’t play it anymore. Or if Stadia ever stops being a thing in the first place, your entire library goes away. Maybe in that case Google will give you a way to download local versions of your games, but the whole point of Stadia is to play games on lower end hardware, so the odds are you won’t even be able to play the games unless you have a beefy Windows PC.
In my opinion, Stadia is the worst possible way to buy video games today. It has all the downsides of a streaming games service…
- Feasts on bandwidth
- Has more input lag than is acceptable for many games
- Doesn’t have an offline mode because that’s fundamentally incompatible with the concept of streaming
- “Owning” games means getting to play them as long as Google says you can
…with none of the typical benefits of a streaming service…
- Lower cost
- Wider selection
For me this is why Game Pass, at $9.99/month (or Ultimate for $14.99) is a better deal than Stadia. Game Pass lets you try out a bunch of games at a lower cost than it would to buy them all outright. If you love a game, you can buy it and play it locally on your PC or Xbox. If the game can stream via xCloud, then you can play there too. If it leaves Game Pass, then you can keep playing on your owned copy of the game. Stadia doesn’t have a monthly fee, but it’s concept of “ownership” is so far removed from any reasonable conception of the term that I simply can’t justify it.