A Reddit AMA featuring Stadia director of product Andrey Doronichev that took place yesterday didn't serve up a lot of new information about what we can look forward to in Google's upcoming streaming games service. But it did offer a little bit of insight into what the service is (and is not), and what will happen to your games if Stadia goes the way of Google Plus.
"To be clear, Stadia Pro is not 'Netflix for Games' like some people have mentioned, a closer comparison would be like Xbox Live Gold or Playstation Plus. The Pro subscribers get 4K/HDR streaming, 5.1 sound, exclusive discounts and access to some free games. Roughly one free game per month give or take," Doronichev wrote.
Pro subscribers who let their subscriptions lapse will lose those free games, he exaplined, but will get them back if they re-sub. They will not be given any free games they missed while they were unsubscribed, however. Actual free-to-play games may be coming to the platform as well, but Doronichev said Google isn't ready to share information on that just yet.
Aside from the free games for Pro subscribers, Stadia users will have to purchase their games through the service—hence the 'not Netflix' comment—and while pricing models haven't been announced yet, Stadia head Phil Harrison said last month that he expects they'll cost the same as on any other platform or storefront. So what happens to those games (and that money) if Stadia is discontinued?
"We get this a lot. I hear you. Moving to the cloud is scary. I felt the same way when music was transitioning from files to streaming. I still have all my old CDs in the garage… although it's hard to find a CD player these days," Doronichev wrote.
"The same happened to Movies and Photos and my Docs and other files… And it’s great! Games are no different. Eventually all of our games will be safely in the cloud too and we'll feel great about it. We’ve been investing a ton in tech, infrastructure and partnerships over the past few years. Nothing in life is certain, but we’re committed to making Stadia a success."
"The games you buy on Stadia are yours to play. From day one we’ll support Takeout, so that you can download your game metadata, including saves if you want to. Of course, it’s ok to doubt my words. Theres nothing I can say now to make you believe if you don't. But what we can do is to launch the service and continue investing in it for years to come. Exactly how we've been doing with gMail, Docs, Music, Movies and Photos. That’s exactly what we’re committed to."
"Yours to play" is a far cry from "yours," but Google has made no secret that this is what it's offering in Stadia, and in fact has touted it as a feature. Harrison said last month that the games industry is moving away from an "ownership consumption model," and that the benefits of streaming—including universal accessibility and no up-front outlay for a gaming PC or console setup—justify charging full price for games you won't actually own.
The "ownership" model has already changed dramatically from the days when PC games were purchased from retail storefronts. Most games, especially major releases, are reliant on the existence of digital services for operation: The few PC games that are still purchased at retail often include partial data on a game disc and require the rest to be downloaded, or come with just a code for Steam or Origin.
It's possible in some cases to install a game from Steam and then back it up to disc or flash drive for a "fully owned" copy, and some die-hards (like me) still buy DRM-free copies whenever possible. But for mainstream gamers, access to games is dependent on access to services: If Steam goes away, so does their collection. For them—which is to say, most of Google's target audience—it's not a wholesale change so much as an evolution of a system we've spent the last 15 years getting used to.
Stadia Pro is expected to go live in November. A Founders Edition, which includes a Chromecast Ultra, a limited edition controller, and three months of Stadia Pro, is also available for preorder for $129.