Today, I’m going to say something that I imagine will be seen as fairly controversial among Stadia fans. Last month, I went ahead and canceled my Stadia Pro subscription, but not because I no longer believe in Google’s cloud gaming service. Instead, I did so as yet another one of my experiments. We live in a day and age where we no longer want for interactive experiences. I’d argue we’re becoming paralyzed by too much choice. The Epic Games Store, Stadia, Google Play Pass, Steam, Playstation Plus, Xbox Game Pass, and many others have begun a new trend of throwing free games at their users in an effort to “win” them over to their platform in the face of their competitors. In addition to that, where one does pay for a monthly subscription, new games are added almost weekly to sweeten the deal and retain your loyalty (and your wallet).
Not only do I have hundreds of games in each of these services, but I can also have many of them across each as duplicates, and can access several of them through GeForce NOW as well as a sort of portal. It’s overwhelming and that’s not anyone’s fault, I don’t think. When I think back to my childhood as a millennial and how I had a Gameboy Color with Pokemon Crystal, a Super Nintendo with Mario and Donkey Kong, I recall how my lack of variety fueled me to fall in love with these games and grind them out to completion – many times over. I explored every aspect of the game world, collected every single item, and uncovered every secret they had to offer.
By contrast, when I think of the way I play games now, I tend to pick up and play something for a few days before another game is handed to me or I buy something new. I quickly forget that the previous game even existed and move on to the next shiniest thing. I don’t think we have the bandwidth or capacity to juggle all of these titles simultaneously, so our brains are forced to go where we see the most value or have the most interest, naturally. Unfortunately, that’s ever-shifting and it’s not going to stop anytime soon.
Looking at my Stadia library, I’ve found that the titles I purchased were some of my most played experiences. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Watch Dogs 2, Final Fantasy XV, The Division, Far Cry 5, and so on – these are high-quality, AAA titles that one could sink hundreds of hours into each of, and at a much slower pace than most, I do so as a father who has largely de-prioritized gaming over the past few years. If I’m honest, it’s hard to keep up! I would much rather become immersed in the worlds found in the games I’ve purchased and play them to completion than to constantly tinker with hundreds of games that I didn’t personally handpick and pay full price for.
As an indie developer myself, I see the value in family, casual, and even quirky or artistic gaming experiences, but for many of the Pro titles I had – and I had a lot as I’ve been subscribed since day one – I only truly played them once or twice. Some of them I still haven’t had time to boot up at all! Besides, there’s something to be said about retaining a limited library of carefully curated titles that I feel much more connected to than to have yet another bundle of content that I simply can’t be bothered to deliberate over. Stadia Pro has largely given me the same feeling I get when I scroll through Netflix. Then again, I’m the kind of person that prefers only a few choices at restaurants, and quickly gets frustrated when I can’t make up my mind. I think this has less to do with me being indecisive for the sake of it, and more with the fact that I want every experience I have to count and be memorable.
Maybe I’m just getting old, but I very much want to feel ownership over my cloud gaming experience in the same way that I did my Super Nintendo back in the ’90s. I want to look at my library and say ‘this is mine. I chose these titles’. I don’t want to look at the selection of available games and feel as though I’m in a grocery store where I pay a monthly fee and can take anything off of the shelf and consume it – especially if those shelved items are of less interest to me.
I can already tell that many people will roll their eyes in response to this approach that I’ve taken, or become angry with my logic, but let me ask you something. Why is it that the retro games and experiences of our youth are so powerful and prevalent not only in our own hearts and minds but also in culture? It may be because they were pioneers, sure, but I believe it’s much more than that. I believe that we used to understand the value of slowing down and consuming the content in a way that was more meaningful. We connected with the characters and stories and made them our own in a more intrinsic way.
I can’t help but feel that we now just play through games to experience them for their mechanics or competitive nature, and then we shift over to the next release, quickly forgetting the deeper value that a game gave our lives. Since I canceled my Stadia Pro subscription, I’ve played more Stadia than ever. I’ve become an Assassin and indulged in the culture of 1800s London, and have become a prince who rose up into a king and defeated evil. It’s genuinely felt great to settle into something and see it all the way through – something I never did when I had too much to choose from.
Tomorrow, Stadia becomes available to play on Google TV via the company’s new Chromecast, as well as other televisions and set-top boxes. I’ll no doubt re-activate my Pro subscription now that I’ve ended my experiment as I believe it provides immense value compared to its competitors. I’ll then default to the Stadia Enhanced Chrome extension to hide games that I’m not going to be playing as often so that I can pick something and jump in to play with much less friction.
My son and the rest of my family will enjoy Cake Bash and other games well-suited for parties or lazy afternoons together on our living room TV, but going forward, I am going to be much more intentional about what I play so that I can look back on these days and get more of the same feelings that I did when I first fell in love with games. I’m no longer going to play everything haphazardously just to say that I did. Instead, I’m going to slow down, treat each game as a piece of art that deserves careful consideration, and enjoy it for all it’s worth.
I’d encourage you to do the same – it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality, and Stadia has that in spades. Pick a game and commit to it. Really immerse yourself in the story and the characters. Become the hero, and explore everything it has to offer. Find those few games that you keep coming back to and create memories of your own. If those games happen to be a part of your Stadia Pro subscription, great! I’m not saying to cancel Pro, I’m just saying that for me, cutting the clutter helped me appreciate things even more.